The story of Natalie Félix
A young student describes her daily life in rural Dominican Republic and how FAO's TeleFood programme is helping the community.
My name is Natalie Félix. I am 18 and a student. I live in Batey Monte de Coca, a small village in Hato Mayor del Rey, eastern Dominican Republic. Although it is a major agricultural area, we are going through difficult times because of the collapse of the sugar industry. The good times are over and the lack of work has forced many people to leave.
Here I am adjusting the saddle of a horse owned by a neighbour, who lets me go for a ride sometimes. Horses are still an important way to get around in this area. [All Photos: ©FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri]
Our houses, called batey in Spanish, were built for the sugar cane cutters who used to come for the harvest from as far away as Haiti. Our house is 40 years old. Many of the houses need to be repaired. There are some days when it stops raining outside but it's still raining inside!
I have my own room. I live with my cousin Maria Estela, her husband Casimiro and their four children. My mother and my two younger brothers live in the area. Around 150 families live in our community, most of them very poor and with many children.
There is always lots to do. Here I am plucking chickens with Maria Estela. Casimiro has just killed the chickens with a sharp knife. He's a municipal policeman and makes 3 000 pesos a month (US$100).
Chicken is a staple food in this country. We raise the chickens in the backyard. They are good cooked with mashed plantains.
A terrible year
Life here isn't easy. The big sugar cane plantations used to belong to the state, but were privatized in 1998. Since then most of them have been abandoned because they aren't considered profitable anymore.
People's incomes disappeared with the plantations.
The year 1998 was terrible. In September, we were hit hard by hurricane George. Many people left for the city, especially the capital Santo Domingo, or to work in the coastal resorts.
We need to find other ways of making a living, which is why our TeleFood projects are so important for my community. Here I am visiting one of the projects that raises chickens. There are around 50 chickens. They are an important source of protein and people make money by selling the eggs.
TeleFood paid to build the coops and to buy 150 chicks. That's my neighbour Wandel with me.
Going to high school
In the afternoon, I go to high school in Consuelo, a nearby town. I take a moto-taxi. It's a very popular means of transport here because fuel is expensive. I pay 40 pesos each way (US$1.25) and it takes about 15 minutes through the abandoned sugar cane fields.
The name of my school is Sor Ana Nolan. My favourite subjects are biology, math, computers and English. Many of my friends came from Haiti, children of immigrants who came to work in the sugar cane fields. It's a good school although it lacks some things like enough computers.
My biology professor asked me to speak on a topic today. It's difficult because everyone is talking!
When I have time I work in our TeleFood project in the area. It is located in the Batey de la Jagua, near my home. I am working with Felipe, known as Felito, in the blue shirt, who is the leader of the local famers' association.
In the picture we can see also Nelson, who helps us with the garden. He is from Haiti but has been living here for many years. He complains about the chickens when they make a mess of the garden.
A better diet
In the garden, we have a big variety of vegetables: lettuce, aubergine, maize, garlic, radish, cabbage, tomatoes and beets. We also raise chickens. The land is good but we don't have enough water. Felito wants us to raise rabbits. They say its meat is tasty and healthy.
There are more than 30 families involved in the two TeleFood projects in the area. They improve their diets and have some extra income from selling surplus produce. As well, it interests other young people in farming.
Dreams of the majors
In the evening, I spend some time playing baseball, which is our national sport. Today, we have mixed teams of boys and girls. Sometimes we play against the boys. And they don't always win.
Some of my friends dream of playing in the major leagues in the United States like some famous Dominican players. I play just to have fun.
In the shop
We have a small shop here where we buy the basics. There isn't much for sale because people don't have much money. People survive by doing odd jobs. The shop is also a meeting place. The men come to have a beer at the end of the day. Usually we have electricity and light at night, but blackouts are frequent.
A vision for the future
Solidarity and Optimism.
My friends and I are rehearsing a musical for the old people in the community. For me, it is important that we do something for others to build solidarity in our community.
The government used to help poor villages with basic services. But since the collapse of sugar cane, no one cares about us. Even to have medical care, you have to go to Consuelo.
It is true that the closing of the plantations was traumatic for people. Just think that 23 000 workers used to be needed for the harvest in this area! We need more job opportunities, especially for young people. Which shows how important projects like TeleFood are.
Nevertheless, I am optimistic about the future. I'd like to go to university and study to become a sound engineer or a paediatrician. But studying costs money, especially to live away from home. But with faith and hard work you can make your dreams come true.