OUR FIRST TRIP TO DR
RENEE M. DOUYON
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela.
On Wednesday, June 26, 2015, the students from Long Island University (LIU) who are the Subcommittee for the United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDP) visited ASCALA, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), located in San Pedro de Macoris, at one hour’s drive east of Santo Domingo, an area, where there is a large immigrant’s population.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Edmund, Burke. This quote testifies to the virtue of a couple of dedicated nuns from Brazil. Four years ago, the Executive Director for ASCALA, Idalina, Bordignon, Marizete Schiavon, the Administrator, and Neusa Spagnol the Secretary, left their country Brazil, to offer their whole hearted and committed services because they could not turn their back on the call to help the Haitians community living in the bateyes, (la batey, in creole), San Pedro. Idalina Bordignon, who is the director of this NGO, enlightens us (the students) on how for 20 years they have been working as a church, organizing through the parishes committees that attended the needs of the bateyes. This group of missionaries, a part of the congregation of St. Charles Borromeo, the Scalabrinians work with the poor in many countries and is a part of the Catholic Church.
ASCALA‘s movement started from the church. There, they began construction of the Centro de Atencion Jesus Peregrino. They found a necessity to build a center to attack the needs of the people (the migrant population, people with low income, and vulnerable people). There are major violations that occur due to lack of knowledge on the part of immigrants; therefore, ASCALA strives to shorten the gap and provide knowledge to these people and tell them about their rights and to strive to provide equal rights to them.
ASCALA Addresses Five Major Tasks: 1. Legal services (asesoria) – As an organization, they work with a group of lawyers to provide legal services to the Haitian population. ASCALA is working towards the current naturalization issue process for the immigrant population (Haiti). They also provide access to legal documents such as passports, birth certificate, etc.… 2. The second task is Enterprise Development: which is a project or plan Initiatives for the workers to have something during the off-season that would generate income. These Haitians are provided with alternate jobs or projects to sustain livelihood during the times when the crop doesn’t grow. They set up an initiative in 2010 by the name of (Emprendedurismo) with the intention to lend small loans in the sum of approximately $ 4, 500 dollars to individuals which in turns built small stores where the migrants or workers can sell their goods at a lower price and receive full benefit and full returns by selling their products. From 2010, to 2014, they have helped 8 individuals to set up their own stores. When the loan is returned, they use it to help another individual. They also provide plots to this population in 2013, in order for individual to grow their own crops and can sell it to their stores.
Education – They have programs that educate adults and children as well as programs that teach about agriculture. They collaborate with UNICEF on kids’ education, financially too, in 25 areas in the whole area, not just here. These projects are called Education Opportunities. UNICEF has been supporting them financially and providing resources to educate the kids in their areas. UNICEF and ASCALA have about 25 schools set up for the agriculture, training in all areas.
Social Services, which is making – health facilities and hospitals accessible to the migrant population regardless of their financial or legal status. ASCALA also educate the migrant population concerning their rights since there is a high violation on rights of labor.
Hospitality – ASCALA provides housing for 38 people, including volunteers, in addition to space for student volunteers from all around the world.
After the presentation, we, the UNDP Ambassadors/Interns, went to visit the sugar cane field where the Haitians work. A young Haitian man, age 21 was our guide. There were some small decent homes where the Dominicans reside, however, the homes were the Haitian live couldn’t be call a home, but more likely a dirty and unlock jail cell. It was a tiny square box wall with 8 to 12 iron beds with very dirty mattresses. The mattresses as well as the sheets on the beds were dirty, while some beds have no sheets on them. The room was as gloomy as these Haitians’ lives. The walls were dirty and badly needed to be repainting and the floor looks as if it was built with muds. The individuals had a glum look as if they live only to exist.
I had to see, and I wanted to know how my fellow brother and sisters live in this deplorable condition in DR. We agreed that it would be disrespectful as a group to get off the car and to intrude in what we observed as their shameful living conditions. They were sitting under a tree in the middle of the day, almost 3 pm. I introduced myself as their compatriots, and in the name of the Lord. After my honored salutation, they gave me permission to visit the area where they reside. Upon seeing two to three cubes/homes, I had to get away, for I felt nauseous, disgusted and my heart was heavy. As I ran away, coughing, and crying, I could not say good-bye to them because I did not want them to see my alarming face. However, I heard them said in the background: “That is it, that’s all you came to do for us. I felt the weight of the world filled me. No word can express how I felt that day but to say that I vowed to help to the best of my ability from that day on.
At the moment, ASCALA does not receive much funding from the international and national organization, nor do they receive their financial support from the Dominican Republic government. They get funding from the private sector and other actors through specific projects for 3-6 months. These funds usually generated on the projects that they undertake with other organizations such as UNICEF. Their annual budget of 2014, last year, was $ RD 30 million pesos, but this year, in 2015, their budget is thus far, $RD 11 million pesos which is a huge reduction as organizations that were funding them cut costs. They survive by selling the product that they make. They don’t have sufficient funding.
Supporting Partners and Agencies:
KINDER, CEFASA (for legal department), Catholic Relief Services, ACNUR, UNHCR, UNDP, UNICEF, IOM are some of the agencies that they are associated with. They also work with EU, European Union and other international organization. They also provide funding for the many initiatives and projects that ASCALA is involved with.
Strengths and Challenges:
They also affiliate with other organizations that support the same cause as ASCALA. There are only 15 officials paid positions throughout the entire structure. They have volunteers and community leaders that help the Organization to continue with their work. The team is divided in to central team- promoters- volunteers. Two of the Haitians volunteers were interviewed; they commented that this is the only organization that is helping the Haitian community in that area. “I don’t know any other”. However, on their corner, they have a good leadership and a good dedicated team.
A major issue escalating in Dominican Republic is the Haitian immigration status. A law was passed to send all Haitian born in Dominican Republic back to Haiti regardless if they were Dominicans. That law was rescinding due to a manifestation that occurred. The result was that they passed another law, which states that, all Haitians born after 1929 until 2007 would be sent to Haiti if they don’t have their papers. Unfortunately, many Haitians are living in DR without illegally.
Coincidentally, these nuns have given themselves fully to diligently pursue the cause of the Haitians living in Dominican Republic. They are doing a tremendous work to improve the lives of these individuals and to help make sure that their human rights are not being violated. The Haitian living in DR are working under strenuous conditions, cutting sugar cane and being paid $3.00 per day, for 3 tons of sugar canes. This NGO as well as the staffs need to be commended for their hard, dedicated labors.
To learn more about this NGO or to contribute to its cause, please contact:
(ASCALA) Asocation Sclabrinia al Servicio de la Movilidad Humana
Carretera Mella, Cerca del Batey Don Juan del Municipio de Conseluo Provincia
de San Pedro de Macoris, DR. http://ascala-asociacionscalabriniana.blogspot.com/
Idalina Bordignon: Director
Marizete Schiavon: AdministratorNeusa