A team of 24 Courts for Kids volunteers from the Pacific Northwest and New York City, in collaboration with a Peace Corps Volunteer, was embraced by the community of Cuchilla, a small community in the Southwest of the Dominican Republic. Cuchilla is a batey, which is a community that was once centered around the sugar cane industry. Over the years, the bateys have grown into larger communities and since the sugar cane industry is no longer competitive, finding work is difficult for the people living there. Bateys are now some of the most marginalized communities in the Dominican Republic and they are often stigmatized because of the negative views of the people of Haitian descent who live there. Although the poverty was noticeable in the lack of clean water and homes built from palm tree bark and tin, the Courts for Kids team did not encounter poverty in the spirit of the community. The women, men, and youth of Cuchilla opened their homes and united with the Courts for Kids team to build a 30 meters by 16 meters sports court that will provide the community with a safe place to play.
The Courts for Kids team and the people of Cuchilla worked 8 hours a day, for 4 straight days, in order to complete the construction of the court. At times the court seemed impossible to finish, but the team persevered by developing a work plan; volunteers broke into teams of 5 and rotated through 4 workstations: shoveling sand, shoveling gravel, shoveling and wheel barrowing cement, and break/rest. Once the grueling workload was evenly distributed, the construction of the court moved swiftly and the Courts for Kids volunteers and people of Cuchilla cheered each other on!
While not working on the court, the Courts for Kids team spent time with the people of Cuchilla, learning about their lives and culture. Some of the highlights included playing baseball, braiding hair, singing and dancing with the youth, herding cattle, and chewing on freshly cut sugar cane. The team also visited an area where locals mined larimar, a beautiful turquoise stone that is only found in the Dominican Republic, and seeing the beauty of the Caribbean beaches. Once the cement had dried and the hoops were raised, people of all ages celebrated the court with games, speeches, and a presentation of the new Cuchilla jerseys. The community elders expressed their gratitude for everyone’s hard work, and then the sky opened up and the rain came pouring down. It had not rained in months so it was a true sign that the court had been officially inaugurated!
Some quotes from our team:
A more serious story that will stay with me was when I was talking with Andy. He told me that he was 15 years old but he looks way older. I thought he was kidding so I asked what his birthday was. He told me he didn’t know because he never got his documents. It really hit me when he realized that he had no idea when he was born or any proof of being a citizen.
This trip has been one of the most amazing yet difficult things that I’ve ever had to do. The working and drastic change and living conditions were hard to get used to. Overtime I’ve learned to adapt and I believe that it has made me grow as a person. I have the learned the importance of hard work and relationships.
Batey Chuchilla has impacted me in more ways than any other single experience I have gone through. It has made me so much more thoughtful for everything I have in my life because it was just by luck I was born into the family and place I did. I learned so much about myself and the direction I want to head my life in. I have learned so many priceless things from the people I can’t even start to explain. I know I will be changed when I get home but it’s hard to say in what ways exactly. I know that I’m going to miss this and the people and the lessons I learned from them.
In this community many kids did not have a second pair of pants, shirts or underwear. Many would wear flip flops or crocs and they didn’t mind the cement all over their bodies. There was no cold water or even room temperature water and I realize how selfish I am when I complain about the stuff that I have.