Working in the medical clinic has been humbling and eye opening. Each day we travel to a different batey some of which are 20-30 minutes deep into the sugar cane fields, where most only speak Creole. Usually I work in triage helping take vitals and a medical history. I have also been able to observe and assist the doctors with patient care. Many patients have a general cold or the flu and just want vitamins, water and Tylenol. I have also seen fungal infections, parasites, Chicken Pox, Diabetes, and deep wounds.
Less common are diseases and ailments that we cannot diagnose or treat. One girl particularly struck me. Her name is Marisa, and she is 14 years old and pregnant with her first child. As I listened in, she asked the doctor in broken Spanish if giving birth would hurt. Marisa was not the only young mother we met. Sugar Cane Slavery: Bateyes in the Dominican Republic by Barbara Bernie (New Eng. J. Int’l & Comp. L.), an article about life in bateyes, describes how commonly pregnancies are the result of women being raped by Dominican soldiers who guard the sugar cane fields. I have also heard that culturally in the Bateyes a boy is not considered a man until he impregnates a women leading to high rates of sexual assault. As this is not openly discussed, I do not know if this is common in Batey Las Laura’s or is Marisa’s story. Regardless, I can not imagine the hardships of having a baby at age 14 without access to a hospital or proper medical care.
In another village, San Miguel, a women came into the clinic pleading for help for an 18 year old man who was in a motorcycle accident and couldn’t walk to the clinic to be seen. I relayed the message to one of the American doctors who went with a local Dominican doctor to visit the man in his house. The Dominican doctor had actually seen the accident that this man was in a couple weeks ago and was able to help piece together some of the story. In addition to other more minor injuries, his femur was shattered and required surgery. The man already knew this, and the village has been collecting money for the surgery but is $400 short. If he didn’t get the surgery soon he would be crippled for the rest of his life, which in the Dominican means he would not be able to work, putting him and his family in danger. MGM is working on collecting the remaining $400 and hopefully he will get the surgery soon. (I will keep you updated!)
We treat approximately 100-200 patients a day depending on how many doctors we have and still have to turn away others knowing that they likely don’t have access to any other healthcare. I wish we could do more. Our hope is that working with two Dominican doctors in addition to the American doctors with MGM we can help create more consistent health care to these villages, especially for those with chronic issues. Due to limited supplies, we were only able to hand out a month or two worth of medications and only 12 days worth of Tylenol and vitamins. The need far surpasses our capabilities.
Having seen pictures before I came, I am not shocked by the level of poverty–although it is extreme–but I am shocked by how many people are living in such poverty. To get to each batey we usually pass through three to four others that are just as large and just as poor. Children will come running when they hear the trucks but too often we pass right through their village. Only men are allowed to work in the sugar cane fields and they make less than $10 a day–not nearly enough to support a family. Furthermore most workers and especially children born in the bateyes do not have proper paperwork and some even lack a citizenship. Most workers were lured across the border from Haiti to do the work that Dominicans view as below them and then are either trapped by lack of money or documentation.
Barbara Bernie tells the story of a Haitian women living in a Batey who “had heard that there was work here (the DR) and followed countless others who had taken the same advice, with the same hope of work in perhaps a better place.” When she arrived in the DR, authorities took her papers, and she was beaten when she asked for them back to leave. Eventually she gave up.
There are varying numbers for how many Haitians are living in Bateyes in the DR. Bernie states there are approximately 500,000 just in the Santo Domingo area, other sites estimate anywhere from 650,000 to one million documented Haitians country wide with an additional 20,000 or so Haitians who are brought in by the government for harvest season. Regardless of the statistic you use, there is a giant community of people who are invisible, stateless, and enslaved–we see just a small portion in our clinics. We are only a rain drop in a desert.