March 14, 2013
Author: Amy Huang, UIC Med-Peds physician
Today was the first day that we went into the bateyes. Despite hearing so much about the bateyes and their needs during the last several months and certainly the last few days, I still didn’t know what to expect.
It’s hard to begin to describe a batey. It’s a collection of metal huts. None of the bateyes we visited have electricity. As many as 10 people may live inside a space that seems smaller than my walk-in closet in Chicago. The bateyes we visited range from 50-100+ families. The bigger ones haves their own primary school up to fourth grade, but most of the schools have no teachers. After 4th grade, the kids would have to walk to Guaymate to keep studying. Few houses share an outhouse, and the entire bateye has one communal shower. People cook with charcoal and iron pots. At a corner of the bateye sits a facet where they can fetch clean water for cooking and washing clothes.
The sugar cane workers don’t own any part of the land or houses. They can only live there when they work for the company. After working for a certain amount of years, they can “retire” and stay at the bateye, though often at the price of their pension. Most of them live off of the meager wage of 100 Dominican pesos per day ($2.50 US).
Their problems are so deeply-rooted: from immigration, sanitation, education, and in some sense, to the power struggle between the workers and their employer. However, a silver lining is that many of the youth are so intelligent and motivated. We met a guy who is a university student and spoke English. Lilo, the leader of 180 Grados is from a bateye. The youths are learning about Dengue and Cholera. They form youth groups that have built parks in their bateyes. Perhaps there is hope, and we would certainly want to be a part of this change for the better.