Communities of hope for youth
By Pieter Niemeyer
From June 30 to July 7, 2018, Canadian Jesuits International (CJI) led a group of 10 people from across Canada on a Caribbean Solidarity Trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The group was accompanied by CJI Director Jenny Cafiso and Outreach Coordinator Pieter Niemeyer and they were hosted in the two countries by Fr Mario Serrano SJ and Centro Montalvo, a Jesuit social action centre. Participants visited communities impacted by Canadian mining companies such as Barrick Gold and Unigold, Fe y Alegría schools, shelters for street children, Jesuit Migration Service staff who work near the Haitian border, a textile free trade zone where 10,000 people work, and workers on banana plantations. Much was learned about poverty, inequality, racism and forced migration and what is being done in the region for social justice and the environment. Young people were also a focus of the learning tour.
“What do you want to be in the future?” It’s a question often asked of young people, and one that might even feel annoying for many young people in Canada. However, the question emerged near the end of our visit with a group of Haitian young boys, formerly living on the streets but who have now found shelter with Lakay Jezi (Home of Jesus) in Ouaneminthe, Haiti.
Previously these young boys had been living on the streets in Dajabon, the town just across the border in the Dominican Republic, where they had encountered Fr Mario Serrano, a Jesuit priest, who also happened to be our guide on this learning tour. Fr Mario witnessed the difficult circumstances of these kids and the hopeless trajectory they were on, and decided to intervene.
At Lakay Jezi and Hogar de Christo (Home of Christ), two of the Jesuit shelters, one on each side of the border, hope has sparked within these young boys. The answer to the question, “What do you want to be in the future?” now has possibility – infused with hope. One young man offered that he wanted to be a psychologist, because he experienced the benefit of treatment. Another said he wanted to be a doctor, while another a priest, inspired by positive encounters and models of hope.
To be certain, these children and youth face incredible odds because of extreme poverty, overarching systems of racism and limited sustainable employment opportunities, but the hope is also genuine. With access to safe housing, food, education, responsibilities and a community of people who care for them, these young people may just become the next generation of psychologists, doctors or priests, who will make a difference in the lives of others.
The same kind of hope among young people was evident in other communities we visited on our learning tour – in Fe y Alegría schools on both sides of the border, among young migrants and workers who are fighting for just migration policies, and among young families who are losing their land or facing pollution of water sources by Canadian mining companies. Their hope is also based on trusting that people who have heard their story will advocate on their behalf in Canada to bring hope for the future.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of CJI’s Mission News. Pieter Niemeyer is the Outreach Coordinator at Canadian Jesuits International.