It started in 1990 with only 11 volunteers, traveling to the Dominican Republic to provide assistance to impoverished Haitian migrants working on sugar plantations in subhuman conditions. Speaking to 53 Y’s Men of Meriden on Tuesday, Nov. 14, John Powers, Director of the Dominican Republic Mission Team headquartered in Wallingford’s First Baptist Church, discussed the growth of the mission, bringing 152 volunteers ages 8-83 during 2017.
Powers, an animated speaker and also adjunct professor of communication at Quinnipiac University, used a PowerPoint slide and video presentation to explain how thousands of these Haitians, the poorest of the poor, now live in bateyes (sugar workers’ towns) in inhumane conditions, residing illegally but tolerated by the government, prompting these mission trips. After tourism, sugar production is the country’s leading industry (and surprisingly professional baseball players come in at fourth place), led by the La Romana/Domino Sugar companies. After walking daily three miles to the fields, the Haitians cut sugar cane with machetes from 5 a.m. until sunset, ending each day by dragging it out and getting paid by the ton (a job spurned by local Dominicans).
Responding to a slew of needs, the mission groups since 1990 have built the Good Samaritan Hospital (construction is ongoing) and medical clinics which have treated over 100,000 patients and provided health care including dialysis, MRI and surgical services, using volunteer nurses, physicians and dentists. Education has been addressed by building the Hartman School, teaching these migrant children the basics of reading and writing. And a pivotal service has been Project Esperanza (Hope), the building of hurricane-proof cinder block homes, each 400 square feet and able to house 4-6 people, replacing previous “dwellings” constructed from rusted corrugated tin and banana leaves.
Through another program named “Fulfilling Smiles”, food is provided to the needy and community gardens have been established. And once yearly, an all-day party is held to celebrate life and to provide interaction between the volunteers and those they serve; in many cases, long-term friendships are established that last year after year. With so much accomplished in Batey Esperanza during the past 28 years, the mission team has now expanded its work into nearby Batey La Papita.
Retired or semi-retired men from Meriden or surrounding communities, interested in attending a Y’s Men of Meriden meeting, are invited to call 203-238-7784 or visit thewww.ysmenofmeriden.com website.