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Imagine You Are a Haitian Refugee

19 June 2012 No Comment

Melanie with children in a refugee camp

Melanie Gould
Dominican Republic/United States

“To those feminists who struggle for a voice and power in the developed world, perhaps you may find liberation in experiencing the power these women inherently possess.”


Imagine your home to be an 8 x 8 tin shack, shared with 6 people, with no windows or light. Imagine the feeling of the reflected heat inside this house, under the blaring sun of a summer day in the Dominican Republic. Imagine watching your children suffer from hunger and dehydration and caring for a baby with constant diarrhea whose belly is filled with worms. Imagine you are unable to work because you lack any kind of legal proof of identification, because you were born to parents who were stripped of their identification when brought from Haiti to work the sugar cane fields in the Dominican Republic. You are stateless. Your husband was deported to Haiti and is unable to return because he lacks the money to buy the visa needed to re-enter the Dominican Republic.

Imagine your toilet is a bucket inside your house and you share a single shower with a thousand other people. Imagine enduring 9 months of pregnancy with no chair to sit on and having to sleep on a hard concrete floor with never a moment of privacy. Imagine not having 50 cents to go to the hospital when your baby is dying from a fever. Imagine having no other option than selling your body to fat old men to feed yourself and your children. Imagine knowing that your daughter is headed for the same kind of future. Imagine not wanting to leave your street because of the racist treatment you will face.

This is life for women living in the bateys. There are over 400 of these camps in the Dominican Republic. The struggle here is not only surviving extreme poverty, in worse than prison conditions; it is enduring a lifetime of discrimination and living without basic human rights. Men, women, old and young are literally captives held under a political system that initially brought them here to work as slaves. Now that the sugar industry is not what it was, and they are no longer needed to work, they are left to live in these hell-like conditions and resort to whatever means possible to survive. Many have family in Haiti, but have nothing to return to even if they were able. At any time they face the possibility of being deported by Dominican authorities, and although they haven’t much here, many are better off here than in Haiti. With the high number of tourists visiting the Dominican Republic, there are better chances of finding work, even if done illegally. Immigration police can come in the middle of the night and pull someone out of bed and send them on their way to Haiti with nothing. Families are broken apart, children left without parents.

Anyone who has spent time in a developing country has witnessed the remarkable spirit, strength, and tenacity of women who live there. The demands of life in their reality are beyond imagination for a women living in a developed country. Their life is unending manual labor on a hungry stomach in an inescapable tedious routine. We can be put to shame as we complain about having a bad day, as we claim to feel tired after a hard day at work. The stress that Haitian women endure on a daily basis and the grace they posses in their every deliberate action is nothing less than superhuman. They are pillars, they are warriors, they are life givers, they are sustenance. They are the unsung heroes, they are the unrecognized  queens, who for generations have suffered under the wrath of an over-consuming world.

Haitian inhabitants of a refugee camp in the DR

To those feminists who struggle for a voice and power in the developed world, perhaps you may find liberation in experiencing the power these women inherently possess. Without words they can teach us appreciation for all we have as women, as mothers and sisters, and they do it without social status, acceptance, or a penny to their names.

Power is not external, nor is it tangible. It emanates from an internal strength that is tested through time, through suffering. Those who seek to attain it deny the essence of its intent. Those who strive to claim it can fall victim to its greed.

There is power in endurance, pride, faith, and grace. Power is heard through voice, lyrics, poetry, and music. It is seen through art, sport, and nature. There is power innately possessed by our bodies, minds, souls, and spirits. There is power in family.

It is our ego that masks our weaknesses.

Imagine being born into a batey as a Haitian woman. Ironically, one could feel poor in comparison, being alone, without family to care for. These women, a united entity through circumstance and culture, share everything. They are the life blood of their community. Together, they weave a close-knit fabric that sustains life in the harshest of realities. This, perhaps, is true wealth. Certainly, it is power.


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The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.

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