A Discussion with Santiago Rodriguez Reyes, Professor at St. Ignatius of Loyola Technical Institute, Dajabón, Dominican Republic
May 24, 2017
Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Fellowship, in May 2017 undergraduate student Mary Breen interviewed Santiago Rodriguez Reyes, professor at Saint Ignatius of Loyola Technical Institute (Instituto Tecnológico San Ignacio de Loyola, ITESIL) in Dajabón, Dominican Republic. In the interview, Santiago explains the role his school has played as a leader in the Dominican Republic and a model for employment and formation in values. Through international collaboration and active defense of the Haitian population, he believes that discrimination and tension can be improved and eventually eliminated.
What is your job at ITESIL?
I am a professor of economics and statistics for students concentrating in agriculture and also of culture to encourage spirit for all students. This is my function as a teacher. The other function is at a disciplinary level for all of the students.
How long have you worked here?
Can you describe your experience living at the border here in Dajabón?
Interesting. Living at the border, we have the opportunity to get to know everything. I am here in Dajabón, and my family is in a nearby rural area. We have the opportunity to understand each other: the culture, desires, necessities, and what have been the fundamental economic activities of the families in this environment, the migratory process, and the process of abandoning development of the urban area of a completely agricultural economy while moving to other activities, primarily commercial activity here in the binational market. There have been changes in Dajabón. The change in the dynamic of transportation has been significant. I have had the opportunity to see this in my life.
How would you characterize the mission of this school specifically, given that it is a Jesuit school at the border?
It is interesting. The dictator Trujillo permitted the Society of Jesus to establish themselves here at the border, especially to exercise a bit of control for the purpose of what was called the Dominicanization of the border and to try to support the development of agricultural activities with the farmers. The foundation of this school in 1946 focused on the agricultural concentration. It transitioned to accept both genders and expand concentrations. We began to include concentrations in computing, metal mechanics, and infirmary. Moreover, we are a regional school, not just a school of Dajabón, but including all of the border: the northern border territory, Restauración, Mao, La Rosa, Santiago, Loma de Cabrera, El Pino, Monte Cristi, Palo Verde.
We, as a school, comply with the mission of the Society of Jesus, which is to try to evangelize across education. We have provided human capital that has created the institutions in the public and private sectors so that they are able to provide at a good level. We have always been immersed in watching growth—economic growth, social growth, and institutions in the zone, but also the profile of liberty and well-being. It was our function as a leader in the Dominican society with a special focus on the border. It is an important function in the development of the border, both with the Dominican Republic and Haiti, because we also have students who are Haitian in our school.
Do you have an idea of the percentage of Haitian students in this school?
It is not significant. We are able to have more. We are not closed, but the situation is difficult to move and migrate over. We are a public school working with the government, not a private school. It has to do with the development of the border.
What do you think are the challenges for Haitians wanting to attend school here?
Essentially, coordination has to be established between states. Within the agendas of the governments of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, it is not included. It is a situation of commerce. It is not about formation of human resources.
Do you think there are socioeconomic obstacles to attending school here, since students have to pay?
This is symbolic. The students have to pay a quota from the government of 500 Dominican pesos, since this is a public school. What does this consist of? What does this cover? It includes cleaning of all the classrooms and bathrooms, televisions, internet, all of these types of things. The students have breakfast provided by the state and lunch. Many of the students have awards from the Ministry of Agriculture, private sector, and other institutions that pay for the 500 pesos, the uniform, and the transportation. Since not all of the students are from Dajabón, there are buses that transport students daily from places like Monte Cristi and Loma de Cabrera. So, the cost is minimal for all that is maintained for the students.
How have you found the relationships between Dominican and Haitian students in the school?
It is phenomenal. It is very important. Here, there is no discrimination of gender or nationality. We have students from Haiti and other countries. There is no type of discrimination.
Do you consider this school a model for the larger border environment?
I think it is a prototype in terms of employability and the formation in values. It is about a better life, employment, social mobility, but above all values and how to be human.
How would you describe the role of education in immigration? For example, is improving their education in the Dominican Republic a principal motivation for Haitians?
Yes. I was at a university in Santiago with many Haitians, but these Haitians had economic power. There are many universities in the Dominican Republic with Haitians, but universities have different admissions criteria than we have here at the institute. Foreigners at universities have to pay much more than Dominicans, but not here at the St. Ignatius of Loyola Technical Institute. There is not this discrimination by pay. It is a great motivation—to come and receive formation. It is a great opportunity to study at the universities and schools.
How would you like to see the situation at the border change in the future?
I travelled to Haiti to the neighboring town of Wanament. It is a depressing zone when you see the level of poverty. Now, it is growing and improving with commerce. I think education should be a part of this process.
How do you think change is possible? With the help of which resources or institutions?
I think all of the institutions, like the Ministry of the Interior, Border Solidarity [Solidaridad Fronteriza], Centro Puente, should help with the process of exchange, cultural exchange. The border environment is diffuse. I think we can contribute to improving this environment, for example by helping with the natural resources on that side. This type of collaboration between sides is an opportunity for a program of international cooperation.
Is there anything else you would like to explain about the border situation here?
It is not a border of permanent tension or permanent discrimination. Dominicans are not discriminators. For example, in my house there is a woman that helps take care of my clothes and she is from over there. I have concern for her, her well-being, and how she is doing. I am not just paying her a salary; she plays a part in my family. The border people are defenders of the Haitian population.