Haitian-Dominican Obama: Work? Study? Serve?   Leave a comment


Every Saturday afternoon, a group of Haitians, Dominicans, and myself meet for language group.  This group, I feel, is quite progressive because it values the knowledge of Haitians in what can often be a very anti-Haitian culture.  I won’t get into the complex history, but relations between Haitians and Dominicans are stressed, and a racist disrespect towards Haitians prevails among many Dominicans.  For example, in the language class, we review words and phrases in Spanish, English, Haitian Kreyol, and French; the following comments have been made about Kreyol: “Ugh, it sounds so ugly!” and “I am not interested in learning that language.”  Luckily, in these situations, a brave Dominican has quieted these comments with calls for mutual respect and brotherhood. I love the class!  I am learning so much.  I write words and phrases in Spanish and then teach them in English.

My dutiful assistant is nicknamed Obama.  Obama, is a tall, lanky nineteen year-old Haitian immigrant, whose smile, although missing a front tooth is very charming. Obama teaches us the Kreyol and French equivalents for each word and phrase. After this week’s class, he came to talk with me and told me he might not be at class next Saturday; in fact, he said he may not be around for a while.  I inquired about his situation and he told me someone had found him a job in Sabana de la Mar, about two hours north.  He confessed that he didn’t want to go because he would have to stop studying.

With his permission, I’m going to relay Obama’s story:

Obama was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. His mother died of what he simply called “a sickness” in 2004.  He said, “It always makes me sad when I think of my mother because she was the one that always worried about me.  My father didn’t want to claim me as his son on my birth certificate, but my mother did so I could go to school.  The situation in Haiti was really bad; there were days I didn’t eat and my father wasn’t working.”

Obama’s sister lives in the Dominican Republic, and invited him to come.  She sent him $120, which he used to pay to get across the border and to travel to the other side of the island. “My sister told me a lie.  She said things were good in the Dominican Republic and that she would sign me up for school when I got there.  It was a lie.  When I arrived, things weren’t like she had said.  She wanted me to work, but I signed myself up for school anyway.  My sister kicked me out of the house because I wasn’t making any money.  I was embarrassed.”

Obama took a job his sister’s boyfriend found him working in a tourist town.  While working, Obama and others were stopped and arrested for not having documents.  He spent several days in the local jail and was later sent to the immigration facility in the capital.  “Everything smelled like pee.  There was nowhere to sit.  Our boss sent us money for food, but it never arrived.  There was no food.”  A group of nuns working with Catholic Relief Services worked with lawyers for the release of the young men and they are now helping them to get work permits.

When Obama returned to Consuelo, he asked the director of the night school he had attended to let him back in and she did.  When Obama left Haiti, he was in his junior year of high school; here Obama is in eighth grade.  His sister is threatening to kick him out again because he isn’t contributing any money.  Another job has been set up for him.  He confessed that he doesn’t want to take the job because he would have to drop out of school and the language group.  He will make 4,000 pesos a month at his new job, about $108.

I know it looks like I'm doing all the work, but it's not true. They all wanted to see if I could move the wheelbarrow myself, which I did.

His sister is his only family here in the Dominican.  He left Haiti a month before the 2010 earthquake.  He knows of five family members that passed away.  He hasn’t talked to his dad because he is embarrassed that he hasn’t been able to send back money to help out like they expected.

I told Obama I would see if any donors would be willing to support him with a small incentive, so he can stay in school.  Obama has been active in CCI’s Service for Aid programming, giving his time in a project to prepare streets for the rainy season, helping in his neighborhood learning center, and assisting with the language group.  If you are able to give a donation to CCI, we would love help Obama connect to his potential.

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Posted April 4, 2011 by anglynnbennett in Uncategorized

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