Trip to Dominican Republic inspires Sewickley Academy senior to help
It's something most people take for granted, but after Amanda Nocera saw how not having a birth certificate is affecting sugarcane workers in the Dominican Republic, she found a new sense of appreciation for the important documents.
The Sewickley Academy senior traveled to the country in July last year through the school's McAdams Global Service Fellowship Program scholarship to perform community service work, such as building French drains, putting in a garden and pouring concrete for a new community center.
After returning home, Nocera, 18, daughter of Terri and Leigh Nocera of Darlington Township, began “Project Batey: Giving Dominicans a Future,” named after the small, impoverished towns in the country where Haitians work in the sugarcane fields 16 hours a day for $2 a day.
While there, she learned the Dominican government will not issue any batey inhabitant a birth certificate because they have a Haitian heritage. With no nationality documentation, inhabitants are not able to escape from poor labor conditions and insufficient wages, Nocera said.
Through several fundraisers, Nocera and Club Batey are close to their goal of $4,000 to purchase 100 birth certificates for people living in the Bateyes of Margarita, Cachena and Experimental.
In May for her senior project, Nocera intends to go back to the Dominican Republic to witness the birth certificate process to assure the money is being used as intended, to work in the sugarcane fields, stay in a batey and help the people learn to read Spanish.
She will stay for 18 days, returning just two days before her high school graduation.
Nocera said some of the bateys are located two or three hours away from the city, and the people there “don't have anything.”
“They don't have schools. I talked to 7- and 8-year-olds who couldn't count to 10,” she said. “They are more focused on just surviving. All they do is work in the sugar fields.”
She explained that the sugar companies bring Haitians into the Dominican Republic to work in the fields, making them think they will have a better life.
However, when they are illegally smuggled past the border, all their documentation is taken from them, she said.
The money Nocera and her club raise this year will go toward buying birth certificates for those whose documentation was taken and whose heritage can be traced through the Haitian government.
The cost of doing so is $40, a fortune to the batey Haitians, she said.
But raising money is not the club's only goal.
Although of a majority of the batey inhabitants' heritage can be traced, some will never to able to get a birth certificate because no one in their family has ever had one. Nocera said in these cases, there is no way to establish who they are.
“The only true way of ending this vicious cycle is raising the awareness of these conditions. I think if this issue went global, then the Dominican government would have to give them the birth certificates.”
Nocera said the workers are not kept on the sugar plantations against their will, but they know there is no where else for them to go without identification because they are not technically citizens of any country.
“If they leave (without a birth certificate), then when they are stopped by the Dominican Republic military who patrol the streets, they might be killed. In the Dominican Republic, there are armed guards everywhere, at every street intersection, and they usually ride around the bateyes,” Nocera said.
Even after the people receive birth certificates, Nocera said it still will be difficult for them to find other work in a slow developing Third World country especially because most of the Haitians are illiterate, have no money and are in poor health.
“But, at least the birth certificate will give them an opportunity to live freely and even go back to their family in Haiti,” Nocera said.
When she goes back to the area, she will work with two organizations that will guide her in the process.
Rustic Pathways is a teen travel community service organization with programs in more than 30 countries. It collaborates with Save the Children that helps with humanitarian issues, specializing in helping the Haitians have a better life and improving their living conditions.
“There really isn't much online, because the issue is really unknown,” Nocera said.
“I am doing everything I can to spread the word and make this issue known, not only in the U.S, but around the world,” Nocera said.
Nocera, who works full time to help pay for part of her academy tuition, most which is covered by her scholarship, said after seeing how the Haitians live, she feels very fortunate for all that she has in her life.
Planning on attending college to study engineering and business, Nocera, who loves to draw and paint realistic art, said she also would like to go back to the Dominican Republic to spend a summer to try to make more of a difference in the lives of the people there.
Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or firstname.lastname@example.org.