Community members gathered at Reklis Brewery in Bethlehem on June 8 for an awareness and fundraising event for the Batey Foundation that included bike rides, trail runs and yoga sessions. (Angel Larcom) (click for larger version)
June 20, 2019BETHLEHEM — More than twenty people gathered at Reklis Brewing, Bethlehem's newest watering hole, on Saturday, June 8, to raise both money and awareness for the Batey Foundation. Founded in 2008 by Matthew Toms, the non-profit organization is devoted to breaking poverty cycles and systemic racism in the Dominican Republic (DR).
Bateys are rural communities of sugar cane workers outside the city of Santa Domingo. Virtually all of the residents living in the bateyes are Haitian immigrants. The communities were initially designed in the 1930s to be seasonal. In 1998, Hurricane Georges devastated the island, destroying virtually all sugar cane production, and stranding the batey residents. The bateyes have never recovered and living conditions are overwhelmingly oppressive today.
"A few years ago, I started going to the DR to do development work. I ended up stumbling upon a batey," said Toms.
"Although I had done a lot of relief work in Latin American, it was by far one of the most destitute communities I had ever been in," he continued.
According to Toms, institutional racism and oppression are through the roof in the DR.
"I would characterize the human rights violations that happen there as monumental," he stated.
In 2015, human rights experts at the United Nations warned the DR government about their racial profiling and deportation practices.
Since 2008, Toms has been working with public high schools, boarding schools, and universities. Each year, between twelve and fifteen school groups from across America travel to the DR to do humanitarian work. Local groups include the Littleton High School, Profile, White Mountain Regional, Lisbon and the White Mountain School in Bethlehem.
Ask anyone who has gone to the DR with the Batey Foundation, and they are all quick to state that it is a life-changing experience. Toms says the service groups build both schools and community centers during their one-week visits to the bateyes.
"We want to spread the word about what's going on down there because it hasn't gotten any better," said Toms.
He described a variety of ways to get involved beyond the service trips. As well as the service programs, the Batey Foundation also offers educational initiatives.
According to Toms, anyone can sponsor a child's education and help break generational cycles of poverty.
"If you look at the specific communities where we work, there has been a significant impact over a long period of time, at both a personal and community-based level," he said.
"Our first Scholarship Program graduate is about to become a doctor and will be returning to her batey community," he explained. "The impact is palpable."
Community members who attended the recent event at Reklis enjoyed an afternoon bike ride, followed by a trail run and yoga session, then returned to the brewery for a 50/50 raffle and awareness event. To learn more about the organization's work with the development of resilient infrastructure or to get involved with any of their ongoing programs, visit the Web site at www.thebateyfoundation.org.