When I first started working with Water@Work, the term "batey" was completely foreign to me. Because several of our water plants serve batey communities, I wanted to learn more about them. Bateys are unique to the Caribbean islands but are most prevalent in the Dominican Republic. Their origin is both eye-opening and heartbreaking.
In the early 1900s, Haitian sugar cane cutters were promised work and many migrated to the Dominican Republic—the Haitians were willing to do this low-wage, back-breaking work whereas most Dominicans were not. Over the decades, many of these sugarcane workers did not return to Haiti, and thus created a large, permanent population of Haitians in the Dominican Republic—a population that unfortunately was not welcomed.
There has always been a clash of cultures between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, but under the anti-Haitian regime of Rafael Trujillo (1930–1961), prejudice and racial tension toward Haitians reached horrific levels. In the mid-1960s, in an effort to stop this growing Haitian immigration from diluting the Dominican culture, the government proposed a solution—the batey---to keep the Haitians separate. Bateyes were company-owned towns---consisting of nothing more than substandard barracks surrounded by fencing on the outskirts of sugarcane plantations.
Throughout the late 1960-80's, Haitian sugarcane cutters were confined to these bateyes under the watchful eye of armed government soldiers. The daily wage was barely enough to buy one meal a day—oftentimes the cane cutters and their families had nothing to eat but the very cane they cut. The bateyes had no running water, no electricity, and no bathrooms. The shanty homes consisted of slatted wood walls, tin roofs, dirt floors and often housed up to eight or more people. The Haitians were not allowed to leave the bateyes, under the threat of deportation, except to work in the fields. By the 1990s, the bateyes had become home to hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children—second- and third-generation Haitians born in the Dominican Republic, but with no legal citizenship status to be there and with no ties to their “homeland” Haiti. They basically became a people without a country. To this day, many bateys still do not have adequate infrastructure. That's where Water@Work steps in to help. Our mission is to give batey communities access to clean, safe water and a hope for a brighter future.