Date of Defense:
February 15, 2019
Introduction: The Dominican Republic historically has been known for its exportations of sugar, coffee, and tobacco, although their market has diversified in the past thirty years1. Since the 1890’s, the sugarcane industry has relied heavily on Haitians as source of cheap labor while the government has continued to deny citizenship to those of Haitian descent1. It is estimated the number of Haitians without legal status in the Dominican Republic ranges between 500,000 to over 1 million individuals. With a constant threat of deportation, these individuals do not have the ability to bargain for higher wages and better working conditions2. Although sugar plantations have drastically changed in the last few decades, the communities created by the government for these workers still exist with immensely poor living conditions2. These communities, referred to as bateyes, suffer from economic isolation, extreme poverty, and food insecurity3. The Batey Relief Alliance (BRA) is a non-profit organization created over 20 years ago to serve the approximately 220 bateyes across the Dominican Republic by increasing access to health care, education, and incorporating community development programs.
Experience: Historically, the Batey Relief Alliance has operated mainly through providing the batey communities health clinics and packaged food during disaster relief. Within the past year, BRA has formed a five-year extension program until 2023 in the creation of a Women Empowerment Initiative (WEI) to shift their approach from tertiary to primary prevention. In this program, BRA aims to provide 5,000 women micro-loans of approximately $100 USD to raise livestock, crops, and/or sell other goods. The Batey Relief Alliance and the Maternal and Child Health program at the University of Minnesota have formed a 5-year partnership plan in which students will travel to the Dominican Republic each summer to assist in evaluating the Women Empowerment Initiative. Since I took part in the first trip to the Dominican Republic, our main task consisted of research and practice to create a first draft of an evaluation tool to measure the effectiveness of the program.
In order to prepare for our trip, we completed a literature review to study the definition of “Women Empowerment” and how it varies across cultures. We studied numerous women empowerment programs across the world that include microloan financing. Additionally, we created first drafts of social-ecological and lifecourse models that would be altered once we understood the organization and communities served better upon arrival. Once in the Domincan Republic, we developed a survey that will serve as a baseline for an evaluation tool for the Women Empowerment Initiative.
Organization: According to BRA’s mission statement on its website, the organization is “is a non-profit, non-political, humanitarian aid entity uniting grassroots groups, faith-based organizations, government agencies, and the international community in a strategic partnership to help create a safe, productive and self-sufficient environment, through health care, food security, education, disaster relief, and community development programs, for children and their families severely affected by extreme poverty, disease, and hunger in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean.” In short, the Batey Relief Alliance is a nonprofit that empowers individuals residing in bateyes by increasing access to essential services and healthy environments.
The Batey Relief Alliance has a small office in New York City and in Santo Domingo. The non-profit has less than 15 employees including administrative staff and those in the field. BRA has an extensive list of partnerships including its strategic partners: P&G, Clinton Global Initiative, Lions International, Direct Relief, and USAID3.
Results: Upon completion of this field experience, my colleagues and I completed several products. The main product was the survey used to interview women who had received micro-loans to measure women empowerment. The survey has four sections and a total of twenty questions. Each section addresses one of the four indicators highlighted: income/access to resources, nutrition and hunger, self-capacity and sexual health. We then developed a weighted point system to distribute values equally across indicators and divided the possible results up into three levels of empowerment (low, middle, and high). We altered our social-ecological and lifecourse models after we had a better comprehension of the organization and social environment of the bateyes. Additionally, we developed a logic model as well as a holistic model to share with the sponsors of the program. My colleagues and I presented our survey and the models to the Board of Directors while in the Dominican Republic. The survey and models have all been translated in English and Spanish.
Lessons Learned: This field experience allowed me to better comprehend the complexities of global health and working with an international organization. A main factor that proved difficult several times was the definition of women empowerment and how it varies across cultures. My ideas of feminism and empowerment are extremely different than those of the women we met residing in the bateyes. In order to address this conflict, my peers and I worked with the staff of BRA to develop a definition for women empowerment in the context of this initiative that we would focus on in the development of the survey. Additionally, I found working with an international organization to have challenges due to different cultural approaches to work styles, organization, and communication. In this experience, I practiced adaptability and patience to foster an effective collaboration.
Recommendations: Since students will travel to the Dominican Republic from the University of Minnesota for the next four summers, our recommendations will be taken into consideration in the development of this partnership. My colleagues and I created a document that lists recommendations for the organization with the survey now, their future work with students, and the organization itself. Our recommendations highlight the importance of creating a schedule and maintaining the Excel spreadsheet. The survey should be adapted based on the needs and responses observed through previous interviews as well as developments in literature for other micro-loan programs. In the future, we hope to see the survey include an economic portion that measures the impact of the program in individual households and the communities.
Conclusion: I had the opportunity to be part of the first cohort of a five-year partnership between the Batey Relief Alliance and the Maternal and Child Health program at the University of Minnesota. In this partnership, students will work alongside the organization to develop an evaluation tool that measures the effectiveness of their Women Empowerment Initiative. My group performed a literature review, generated numerous models, and created the baseline survey tool that will be altered in future years to better fit the needs of BRA and the initiative.
- The World Factbook: Dominican Republic. (2018, February 01). Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/dr.html
- Beyond the Bateyes: Haitian Immigrants in the Dominican Republic. (1996, May). Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20060622012841/http://www.nchr.org/rmp/archive/executiv.htm
- The Bateyes. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://bateyrelief.org/work/projects/the-bateys/