Connecting with Partners and Colleagues in the Dominican Republic and Haiti

In March, the staff and Advisory Committee of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance traveled to the Dominican Republic to meet as a group and with partners in the area. We also welcomed colleagues from World Mission and Self Development of People (SDOP) to signify the intersectionality of our ministries.

On Tuesday we heard presentations from our partners SSID (Servicio Social de Iglesias Dominicanas), ACT Alliance Latin America and Caribbean, JET (Juventud Empoderada para la Transformación (Empowered Youth for Transformation)) and GAHDA (Grand’ Anse Health & Development Association). We invited additional partners, ADLH (Appui au Développement Local en Haïti) and FONDAMA (Fondasyon Men-lan-men Ayiti) from Haiti to join us, but unfortunately they were unable due to the current situation in Haiti.

Lorenzo Mota King, director of SSID, and Lidia Santana, project manager for SSID, shared about their work in the Dominican Republic. SSID works in five of the poorest regions in the DR, many of which border Haiti, and they have more than 160 volunteers and field experts with a mission to support the self-development of the communities they serve, from emergency support to long-term self-sustaining work.

Claudia Espinosa, Regional Representative for ACT Alliance in Latin America and the Caribbean, presented on the work in twelve countries. The ACT LAC regional office works to increase communication and coordination in the region, build capacity of partner organizations, share best practices on topics like migration and climate change, and much more.

Saturnino Perez, President of JET, shared with us that JET (a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church) promotes the training and integration of young people into society using participatory methods to equip them with spiritual and social values, and knowledge of their rights and duties as citizens and identify and develop their individual gifts and interests channeling them into productive activities. Some recent projects include building hurricane resistant cement homes; providing hygiene kits, mosquito nets, food and mattresses after a flood; organizing to gain access to COVID vaccines and resources for immigrant communities; and a pig breeding project that has impacted 74 families so far. We were told about the discrimination Haitian immigrants face in the Dominican Republic, often experiencing physical, verbal and psychological abuse from the state, police, and others; this is one reason several of JET’s projects target immigrant populations.

JET invited a few individuals to share personal testimonies of their experiences. One testimony was from young woman who came to the DR to study medicine and received her degree, but the government won’t authorize her use of the degree because she is a Haitian immigrant.


On Wednesday we made site visits to Batey Gonzalo and Batey Cierra de Agua. Bateyes are small rural communities typically located close to cane fields so workers (in this case, Haitian immigrants) can live near their labor site.

Batey Gonzalo experienced extreme and sudden flooding in November 2023. We gathered in the church and heard from community members who shared their experiences. One man said, “It will be important for you to share what you are seeing here, your experience. As you can see, we live in a precarious situation, and it will be good for you to share what you are seeing because there are a lot of needs in this community. A lot of families here descend from Haitian immigrants.” In response to the floods, PDA supported grants that provided mattresses, mosquito nets, food and hygiene kits to this community.

In Batey Cierra de Agua, we witnessed the fruits of the animal husbandry project. Families who receive a sow agree that when she has her first litter, they will give away one of the female piglets. The program started with 30 families and has since grown to 74 families and continues to multiply. Pigs are more than meat for these families, the piglets have monetary value. One man shared that with the first sale of his pigs, he bought a roof for his house, and for his next sale he plans to buy a floor. On a previous visit, PDA Director Rev. Edwin González-Castillo met with family members who were able to send their children to school through the porcine proceeds. “It’s beautiful to see how they are able to do more than we realized with those funds,” González-Castillo said.

On Thursday we had more site visits. The first was meeting with leadership from the Evangelical Church of the Dominican Republic, with whom the PC(USA) has partnered for many years.

Then we drove to San Cristóbal and met with church and community members who were impacted by an explosion and fire in August 2023. As a result, PDA provided grants that supported 250 adults and 100 children with medical aid with specialists in psychiatry, pulmonology and dermatology. The cause of the explosion is unknown but suspicious. One person said, “when you don’t find the person at fault, it’s because the person at fault has too much money/power.”

We returned to our hotel meeting room to hear a presentation from Bette Gabrian, Executive Director of GAHDA, which grew out of other community work and was established in 2019. They specialize in healthcare and palliative care and offer capacity development with churches and medical professionals. They have trained over 743 churches, chapels and Vodou societies in the region on breast self-exams. To date, 5,000 adults have been screened for breast cancer. They also provide education and hygiene supplies to combat cholera. Bette also shared with us some of the current issues in Haiti, including but not limited to the 200 gangs in operation and the violence and corruption many people are experiencing.

When asked why we chose to hold our Advisory Committee meeting in the Dominican Republic, PDA Director the Rev. González-Castillo said, “the work that PDA has done in partnership with the Evangelical Church and the Christian Reformed Church is a powerful testimony to the importance of PDA’s commitment to local engagement. Our Advisory Committee, along with our staff, World Mission, Regional Liaison for the Caribbean, José Manuel Capella-Pratts and SDOP International Committee Chair, Mark Davis, had the opportunity to meet with partners and visit some of the communities that have been facing flooding, fires, hurricanes and many other disasters. The visit to the bateyes and conversations with members of the community provided a glimpse to the realities many of the Hatian migrants and Haitian descendants face in the Dominican Republic.”

Finally, when meeting with individuals in San Cristóbal, one person said, “please share our gratitude with your siblings in the United States who contribute to this work.” We echo their gratitude and appreciate every gift to PDA—each gift really does make a difference.

We are grateful to our Advisory Committee for making the time to meet with us, and for their thoughtful engagement this week. It was a joy to get to know and connect with National Committee Member of SDOP Rev. Mark Davis, and PC(USA) World Mission Regional Liaison for the Caribbean José Manuel Capella-Pratts. We hold in prayer the members and staff who could not be with us in person. Our current Advisory Committee members are:

Karen Finney, co-chair, Presbytery of Greater Atlanta

Rev. Ken Page, co-chair, Presbytery of Grand Canyon

Dagmary Fornés Arcelay, Presbiterio del Noroeste

Rev. Laura Mariko Cheifetz, Presbytery of Middle Tennessee

Rev. Fern Cloud, Dakota Presbytery

Rev. Hardy Kim, Presbytery of San Jose

Rev. Jerrod Lowry, Coastal Carolina Presbytery

Marilyn Stone, National Response Team Liaison, Milwaukee Presbytery

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)