We broke ground on a latrine construction project on October 28. After soliciting funds and waiting about four months I received a grant though a local Dominican Bank to fund the construction of nine latrines. This is still far from enough, since there are still around 25 families without a latrine or bathroom of any sort and 5 more with latrines in poor condition, but for now this is a good start.
In order to involve the most marginalized population in the latrine project of Casa Colorada, I decided to have a Haitian, Creole/Spanish-speaking, mason work alongside a Dominican mason during the project. Since several needy Haitian families do not speak Spanish, I felt that this would be a good way to gain their confianza (trust) and participation in the project since I would have a mason that was culturally and linguistically sensitive to them. I do not speak Creole yet nor do I have much Haitian culture experience, so I alone have not been able to penetrate this extremely marginalized and needy area of the community thus far in my service.
I chose the Haitian and Dominican masons based on recommendations from my Hogares Saludables group. The group had already voiced the need to build latrines in the more “Haitian” area of the community so they were supportive of the idea to have a Dominican-Haitian duo as the skilled labor.
So even though I thought this idea was great, it was very challenging to find a Dominican who was willing to work beside a Haitian as an equal and received equal pay. Most men I talked to did not like this idea. Race is a truly sensitive issue here in the Dominican Republic, and this project has only made this more clear to me. Haitians are regularly paid less than a Dominican worker in any type of agricultural work, even if they do the exact same thing. They are also regularly disrespected and gossiped about by their Dominican neighbors.
Finally, the president of the community neighborhood organization of Casa Colorada, La Junta de Vecinos, agreed to do the project, saying that it was a service to his community. He did however put up a good fight beforehand. He argued that the Haitian man that agreed to do the project, Leonardo, should be his helper and be paid a half-day wage instead of a full-day wage. He also attempted to spread rumors about Leonardo, telling people he was a bad person and a bad mason, which was even more frustrating. At this point I really started to believe this plan to challenge the social norms and include both races in the project was backfiring.
The Junta de Vecinos president eventually agreed to do the work after I explained that the grant would not allow me to pay the two masons different pay. After this initial stress, I am happy to say that the two masons are working great together. There have been no issues since the start of construction. Now we are almost done with these first nine and I expect to be completely done this Friday.
I am putting up a Peace Corps Partnership grant on the Peace Corps website so that I can fund raise with my mom's key club back home to make more latrines. It should be up in the next week or so. Anyone else will also be free to donate on this website. I will put the link here once it comes out.