The car lurches up a hill to reveal a dilapidated concrete foundation that lies within a small clearing of land. The building is like an abandoned skeleton that has been left to rot within the thick tropical forest of the Dominican Republic, soon to be consumed by the impending ecosystem that surrounds it. There are no floors or walls and the ground is contaminated with remnants of human excrement that leak from the dysfunctional toilets above. A river flows nearby whose pure water has become tainted with trash from the nearby dump site that is carelessly located upstream.
Living within this area is a vibrant and colorful population of Haitian Refugees whose buoyant energy and astute resilience fully juxtapose the dull environment which they inhabit. A woman sells eggs, soap, and coffee from the inside of a small shack with a tin roof. Her smile is gentle and her eyes shine bright, like two small windows from which hope and love radiate a reflection of her beautiful soul. Clothes lie drying on the tin roof in the afternoon sunlight. Bright threads of reds and yellows shine vividly amidst a dreary background, which parallel the way that the authentic smiles of the community members who are gathered around cups of tea and lively card games oppose the forlorn environment of which they inhabit—insistently content, resilient and gracious despite the circumstances.
Many of the children are without shoes to protect their feet from impending parasites and infection. They have no toys to play with and yet they continue to carry out a beautiful performance of youth and vitality through their games and imagination. These children do not have access to education or healthcare but their smiles remain innocent, transmitting their untainted contentedness and creativity. Their smiles do not express the reality that they have only a contaminated river to swim in and trash-filled floors on which to live and play. Their smiles do not convey knowledge that they may become sick with infection and not grow up to have the opportunities they deserve. The children carry on joyfully with their games, painting a canvas of resiliency in their wake.
Despite the struggle of assimilating into an unfamiliar landscape, this gathering of refugees finds joy in the small moments of connection. A mother’s love, an older sister’s hug, a sunny day to share a cup of coffee; It is a mosaic of love that weaves together to create a brilliant illustration of humanity shining boldly against the backdrop of this small corner of thick Dominican forest.