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The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, roughly at a 2:1 ratio. Both by area and population, the Dominican Republic is the second largest Caribbean nation (after Cuba). With its beautiful white sand beaches, impressive mountain ranges veined with spectacular rivers and waterfalls, pristine blue waters, and tropical climate, the Dominican Republic has become the Caribbean’s second largest tourist destination after Puerto Rico, attracting many tourists who stay at the many beachfront resorts. However, by extreme contrast, the vast majority of the national population lives in distressed conditions. In the most southern regions of the Dominican Republic, nearest the border of Haiti, poverty runs rampant and families live in squalor.
The ethnic composition of the Dominican Republic consists of two primary people groups: Dominicans and Haitian-Dominicans. The majority of the population is Dominican, a racial mixture of Afro-Caribbean, Indigenous Caribbean, and European ancestry. Haitian-Dominicans make up the largest minority and include refugees, undocumented immigrants, and second- and third- generation descendents of migrant sugarcane workers brought over from Haiti in the mid-1900s. The majority of Haitian-Dominicans, even though they were born in the country, are not recognized as citizens by the government and therefore have no access to social services such as education or health care. There is much racial strife and prejudice between these two co-existing people groups.
While under Spanish rule during the 15th and late 19th centuries, the Dominican Republic employed the social system known as the caste system, categorizing people by their skin color. Remnants of this stratification remain to this day. Even though an estimated 90 percent of the contemporary Dominican population has African ancestry, most Dominicans do not self-identify as black. Haitian-Dominicans, regarded as black by Dominicans, occupy the bottom of the caste system and are often the target of racial prejudice.
Both Dominicans and Haitian-Dominicans are vibrant, relational, and community oriented, often forming strong bonds with their families and neighbors.
The official language in the Dominican Republic is Spanish.
The population of the Dominican Republic is 95 percent Christian, with Catholicism accounting for most of that number, and Protestantism making up the remaining portion. Voodoo, considered an official religion of Haiti, is also quite prevalent in the Haitian-Dominican communities though there is no census documentation.
The Way of Life
The Dominican Republic enjoys a tropical climate throughout the year with hurricanes often striking between June and September. Hurricane season as well as heavy rains can wreak havoc on communities, crops, and livestock. Dreams, possessions, and livelihoods are often washed away annually.
Families in the Dominican Republic are generally large and may include cousins or foster children. It is very common for multiple generations and extended family to occupy one house, often with livestock occupying a small fenced yard around the home.
Families living in urban locations and those of middle-class to affluent status live in homes of cinder-block construction with all the modern amenities including electricity and indoor plumbing. Traditional rural homes located in remote villages or occupied by the poor are constructed of single layer, palm-wood boards, often with gaps between them, and corrugated tin roofs. They have no such amenities (water, electricity, etc.) Often entire communities do not contain such “luxuries.”
Rice and beans are the staple diet in the Dominican Republic, often supplemented with fresh fruit or vegetables, and on occasion, meat or fish.
In rural communities, agriculture and construction are among the primary means to make a living. Families living in rural villages typically have minimal farming equipment and earn very little money from what they harvest. These families rarely own the land on which they live and work.
In the cities, many families face unemployment due to a lack of training. Many parents try to earn a living selling fruits and vegetables or working as gardeners, but it is difficult to earn sufficient income to meet the needs of their children. One common way of making a living is to engage in small-scale business activities such as sewing, bread making, or bicycle repair. These types of micro-businesses constitute 33 percent of employment in the Dominican Republic.
Since Haitian-Dominicans lack citizenship, they are denied social services (school, medical, etc.). And since the Dominican poor often live in rural communities and/or lack resources required to access or obtain these services, they often go without. Because of this, the children suffer—greatly. And sadly, not much is being done about it—these issues are often left for international humanitarian organizations to address.
Many of the Haitian-Dominicans cannot find work; the Dominican Republic barely has enough work for its own people. Living in bateyes (shantytowns originally built for migrant sugarcane workers from Haiti in the 1960s), Haitian-Dominican families have no electricity, no running water, no roads, no health nor human services, and very little food, clothing, or medical supplies. The Dominican poor exist in similar circumstances in numerous impoverished communities.
Girls in impoverished communities often marry or get pregnant as teenagers, some as early as eleven years old. A lack of education and/or skills training makes it impossible for these young couples or single mothers to properly provide for their children—thus continuing the cycle of poverty.
COTN’s Involvement: Raising children who transform nations
In 1997, Children of the Nations (COTN) began ministry in the Haitian batey of Algodon. Working alongside local leaders, we focused on the most urgent needs—education and nutrition—by establishing a feeding center and constructing a school building.
Today, COTN is active in the poorest villages of the Barahona District of the Dominican Republic. Through our Village Partnership Programs, our staff, along with thousands of short-term volunteers, have built schools and feeding centers that provide children with the education and nutrition that many families are desperately struggling to provide. Medical attention, educational tutoring, youth sports events, leadership development, and biblical training for children are all among the services that COTN has incorporated into our committed efforts to meet the needs of impoverished children. Our hope is to partner with the Dominican people to develop long-term systems and business opportunities to help them care for their children. We seek to end the cycle of poverty and give these precious children a chance at a life far different from the one they have now—a chance to become the future leaders their country so desperately needs.