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The people that Mission Comfort serves in the Dominican Republic reside in "bateyes." A Batey is what the people living on the sugar cane plantations call the villages or communities where they live, and sometimes can be translated in English to "camp" or "shantytown." There are over 150 bateys in the region we visit (La Romana and the surrounding areas) and perhaps thousands throughout the Dominican Republic.
Living conditions in these villages vary from location to location but they start out poor and go downhill from there. Strategically placed at the intersections of large sugar cane fields, few have running water (and just because it's running does not gurantee the cleanliness of the water source), none have adequate sanitary facilities, there is no electricity, and there are little to no healthcare or education facilities. A few decades ago, world markets began switching from cane sugar to high-fructose sugar which dried up a lot of the profitiability of the sugarcane fields. The Dominican government began relinquishing ownership of most of the Bateyes, switching them to private companies. These now privately owned villages have little to no requirements or standards of living for the people set by the government---and those requirements can easily by side-stepped and bypassed by the companies, leaving the people living in the sugarcane villages deprived of their rights and needs.
Large percentages of the people living in these villages are not even Dominican-- they are Haitian. Because the Dominican Republic shares the island with Haiti, when sugar harvest season approaches, tens of thousands of Haitian workers migrate to the Dominican with the promise of a stable job and income, and a safer enviroment for their families. However, all these people receive are miserable conditions and discrimination. These undocumented Haitians come to the Dominican and work up to 14 hours a day and earn sometimes less than $1 USD for their labor. This immigration has created a new generation of stateless children--not recognized by either Haiti or the Dominican government, they have no formal form of citizenship. There is much discrimination against Haitians in the Dominican for a variety of reasons: the history of tension and conflict between the nations, the Dominican belief that they are of a more prestigious origin than the Haitians (the Dominicans see themselves as Spanish while they see Haitians as African "voodoo" people), the Haitians' wider features and darker skin, and the prospect that Haitians are taking up space and stealing jobs (similar to the immigraiton problem in the United States). The Haitians are given no rights and are constantly under fire by the government---several attempts have been made to ruthlessly, and inhumanely deport all Haitians from the Dominican Republic.
After learning this, and visiting the country, it was not hard to feel for these people. The reason why Mission Comfort was founded, the major driving force behind this organization, is EMPATHY. We deeply feel the pains and struggles of these people, actively seek to understand their plight, and desperately feel the need to take action. Our mission, to provide comfort to those in need, stemmed from the ability to put ourselves in their shoes and attempt to imagine their struggles. We realized that the simplest comforts of life- the clothes on your back, the toothpaste in your drawer, the shampoo in your shower, the baby clothes you packed away, the half-used notebook stuffed in your desk drawer- are seen as treasures here.
That first year, Mission Comfort's goal was to collect comfort items for the sugarcane workers in the Dominican, and the comfort items that we couldn't take were donated monthly to Lord of the Streets (LOTS), an organization in downtown Houston that helps ex-convicts who are homeless get back on their feet and on track toward a steady, stable, and successful life. From 2013-summer 2014, Mission Comfort made monthly trips to LOTS with donations, sponsored a child in the Dominican so he could receive meals and mentorship, and raised money to bring 13 suitcases filled with donated "comfort items" such as clothes, toiletries, school supplies and baby items to the Dominican.
While the work we did the first summer was directly achieved through our faith and through the best of intentions, we felt the call to do more. That next year, Mission Comfort not only repeated the work we accomplished in 2013, but we also raised money to purchase and install 14 water filters into the homes of families in the sugarcane villages in the Dominican. These water filters provide clean water for these families, and the families of the surrounding homes, for cleaning, bathing, cooking, and drinking and prevent sickness and disease.