Tales from End to End
The Dominican Schoolgirl’s Tale
by Richard Pickering
Esmarlin Perez was seven years old when I met her in November 2009 in a poor suburb of Santiago, the second city of the Dominican Republic. I travelled to the Dominican Republic as part of a group from Churches of the Congregational Federation and Christian Aid headquarters. We went to see the work of Christian Aid partners and especially Onè Respe (it means ‘honour’ and ‘respect’ in Haitian). John Harvey has written: ‘The opposite of poverty in the Bible is not riches but righteousness and justice.’ Onè Respe was founded by an inspirational couple – Catuxo and Natacha Badillo. After trying different approaches, Catuxo came to realise that, if the situation of poor and marginalized people was to be improved, a multi-faceted strategy was required which addressed the different groups and their varied needs.
Onè Respe works with schoolchildren, young people, men’s and women’s groups. Through these it tries to meet immediate needs such as education, health including HIV/AIDs, identity papers and income generation. But underlying all of these are longer term aims to change people’s attitudes and self-image – how people relate in the family and the community. Onè Respe sees its battle as being against racism, family and community violence and the hopelessness which can overtake people who see no way into the future.
Esmarlin’s community is ethnically mixed with Dominicans, Dominicans of Haitian descent and recent Haitian immigrants. Ethnic tension, unemployment, domestic violence, lack of education and health facilities characterised the community before the arrival of workers from Onè Respe. Esmarlin told us she now enjoys reading and maths and wants to be a doctor. Before Onè Respe opened a community school near her home, providing education and a square meal a day, such a dream would have been beyond Esmarlin’s reach.
An important contribution of many of Christian Aid’s partner organisations is to bring hope and a vision for the future into people’s lives. This is such an important part of rebuilding broken communities. Onè Respe’s approach is like Jesus’ when confronted with the five thousand; they look for the ‘loaves and fishes’ already present in the community and set about helping people to multiply them. Esmarlin’s story illustrates the success of this approach.