Rachel en la República: Oficina Técnica

As my vacation so far has been filled with aimless days, I was thrilled to have something to do yesterday. My new and permanent living quarters is a big old family home, once inhabited by the director of the Oficina Técnica and his family. His son now lives there, along with a military captain who works at the local prison, both in their twenties, and volunteers from the Liceo Cientifico (the school I work at) and other organizations from the Oficina Técnica stay there, too, which is how I found myself living there. Myself and another female professor will live there this year, in our own little wing of the house. It is surrounded by a beautiful patio and fruit trees, and guarded by three friendly dogs (a big Rottweiler named Wendy, a spaniel named Ruby, and a freaky Chihuahua named Bibi).  Since moving in and getting used to living in a new space, there hasn’t been too much for me to do.

Though I am waiting until I get my stipend at the end of the month to travel around the country a bit, I discovered that there is still so much to discover about Salcedo and the province, Provincia Hermanas Mirabal. Yesterday, the Oficina Técnica had a big lunch, which all the profesores at the Liceo were invited to attend. My housemates were presenting at said lunch, so I decided to tag along and get some free food.

At this point you’re probably wondering what the Oficina Técnica is. I was wondering that too, as I had kept hearing about it, sort of reffered to as a given, like “Oh that guy? He works at the Oficina Técnica.” Or today when I asked my housemate what our address was for mail, he just said “Tell people to send mail to the Oficina Técnica.” The Oficina Técnica is an umbrella non-profit organization for all of the non-profit development projects here in Provincia Hermanas Mirabal. Liceo Cientifico is one of 15 projects occurring in this 3-town region of seven-thousand people. All of the organizations were equally noteworthy: a center for the elderly, dedicated to eliminating social isolation of their clients, a center for youth with disabilities (Named “Centro de Atencion a la Diversidad y Escuela de Apoyo a la Diversidad”), a group that does legal council and support for the people of the province, a reformed prison dedicated to rehabilitation of prisoners (where my 2 housemates work–one as a psychologist, the other as a guy in charge), an arts school and group dedicated to beautifying the area (I have yet to mention the beautiful murals everywhere you go here–the largest gallery in the DR is here, spanning 3 towns of huge outdoor murals done by local artists), and various support groups for youth.

I want to talk a little bit about the Centro Jurídico para la Mujer, which does a lot of legal support work here, in reference to the recent news of deportations occurring here in the DR. There has been an official move towards deporting all “illegal” Haitians that live in the DR. From what I have read, this involves rounding up people who appear of Haitian decent (read: who are blacker than others), ask them for their papers and proof of citizenship, and when they can’t provide them, send them off to Haiti. A huge problem with this is that there are many Dominicans of Haitian decent in this country–people who’s parents came here, and who were born here (and so are legally Dominican citizens), who do not have the proper paperwork, because they live in rural areas or otherwise don’t have access to getting papers. When I got to Salcedo, I asked a friend of mine if they were seeing a lot of this in the province, and she said she hadn’t heard of anything like this occurring here, although she did confirm that there were a lot of people, students included, who were of Haitian decent. I found out yesterday, that the Centro Jurídico para la Mujer took it on as a project to get everyone in the province their proper documentation. Out of the 7,000 individuals they meant to reach, they have made sure that 6,000 have all their legal documentation. Maybe that is why nobody seems to be able to point to the new national legislation disrupting life here (Although apparently the process is not beginning until August).

I’ll finish this post with some notes on the reformed prison, which I got to see for a few minutes yesterday. El Capitan drove me from our house to the lunch, but he had to stop for a minute at the prison to talk to a few people. The fortaleza was guarded out front by a handful of military personnel, but was otherwise appeared pretty open. We drove into a courtyard, whose walls were covered in beautiful murals of butterflies and birds (as so many walls in this city are), and I could see a nice basketball court. Men walked around in green and blue t-shirts from what appeared to be the mess hall, bringing dishes to the kitchen across the yard. On the back of the t-shirts was printed the sentence “Tenemos derecho a vivir en paz (We have the right to live in peace).” These were shirts from a peaceful protest in Salcedo last year, organized by the Oficina Técnica in response to some violent strikes occurring in town. On the front of the shirts were the words “Quiero ser mejor (I want to be better).” I met the directors and a few other workers, then we left. I asked the captain if the men in the t-shirts were the prisoners. He confirmed that they were, the green shirts meant their trials were ongoing, and the blue shirts meant they were serving their sentence. The prison’s mission, which I am quoting/translating directly from a pamphlet, is to “improve the quality of life and foster the social and laboral re-insertion of the inmates of the Juana Núñez Public Prison, through the application of the Penitentiary System reform at a local level, in the framework of full social participation, within the Provincial Development Plan.” They provide classes, sports, workshops, and support for inmates so that when they finish their sentences they can come back into the community. Coming from the states, and from hearing only a little about the awful system we have, focused on punishment, built on racist policies, and now folded into the profit-making sphere, this was a revelation. It’s the only program like it in the República, and I’m so excited to learn more about it, and about all of the awesome projects going on in this tiny province, this revolutionary area.