Outside this small town on the southern coast, Jesuit Refugee Service is supporting an education project of the Altagracia Parish in the Diocese of Barahona. Two migrant worker villages in the area are home to Haitians and Dominican-born persons of Haitian descent. Following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti the area witnessed an influx of Haitians displaced by the natural disaster.
ALCOA once operated a large bauxite mine in the area, and the road they built for the mine still provides the main access to the inland area, but the mine closed in 1982. Although odd formations still dot the landscape, nature has mostly covered the mine’s scars and the overall view of green mountains descending gently to the blue Caribbean Sea is a tranquil one. But life here can be far from tranquil.
“Haitian migrant life here is very difficult,” said Fr. Antonio Fernandez Rodriguez of Altagracia Parish. “Fifty percent of what they grow they have to give the owner of the land. Sometimes they take loans at high interest (a 15 percent to 20 percent monthly rate) to buy fertilizer for the land. If there is no good harvest, they are saddled with many debts which cause them additional problems.”
Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola, and although Haiti is about half the size of its neighbor, it has a slightly larger population. The increased population density and the centralization of the population in Port-au-Prince have resulted in additional challenges for food security and sustainable agriculture initiatives.