Just over Haiti's frontier stands the Dominican Republic and the bright promise of education for their next generation. Fifteen-year-old Evens is one of the hundreds of young people who yearn to seize that opportunity. But it is the first step each day that is the most challenging.
To attend school, they must illegally cross the border, via the Massacre River, the site where 20,000 Haitians were executed during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. They strive to seize their fate and make their fortune, never quite certain if they will be allowed to cross and never quite sure if they will be permitted to remain in school.
It is through Evens' story that we discover the stark differences between two countries on the same island that are divided by more than just a border.
By Yara Costa
On a beautiful, colourful Caribbean island, two countries have their backs turned to each other. Haiti and the Dominican Republic (DR) have shared this piece of land since the birth of the two nations, yet their co-existence has always been marked by violence, hostility and prejudice.
The DR has a flourishing capitalist economy; Haiti is an impoverished nation where poverty has become a resource for an international industry that suppresses its people. But the contrasts between these two countries go beyond their economic disparities. Haiti celebrates its African heritage while the Dominican Republic rejects it.
The differences in language, culture, and its people make the border only one of the many barriers separating the two countries. For Haitians, those barriers are even higher and sometimes impassable.
"I am an independent filmmaker and freelance journalist, working on films about identity and migration issues. I left my country, Mozambique, in my early teenage years to go to study in Angola and later in South Africa. My passion for storytelling and the feeling of how unfairly nations of the so-called Third World are portrayed led me to Brazil where I studied journalism.
There I discovered the documentary form, the most powerful tool for me to tell what I had to say. Later I got a Fulbright scholarship to do my Masters in documentary at the New York University, after which I made my first documentary about Chinese people in Africa.
I continued my studies in documentary at EICTV in Cuba. For the past few years I have been based in Haiti working on Black Material, a documentary about African origins in Haitian identity. I personally do not believe in universal stories in filmmaking, because everyone tells their story differently. What I do believe is that it is the plurality and diversity of storytelling that will ultimately connect us all."
However, there are people like Evens, a young Haitian boy who decided to be the master of his own destiny by crossing these barriers every day. It was his determination to change his life that inspired me to tell this story: The story of a Haitian boy who goes to the limits of crossing the border illegally and fights daily to get something he truly believes in - an education.
Filming this story at the border of these countries enabled us to better see the differences and feel the tension between the two, as well as to understand how significant and important Evens' story is. Every time we crossed the bridge over the Massacre River, it felt like going from one continent to another.
At the northern border of Ounaminhte and Dajabon, every day is a new day; each day could be a film, sometimes a horror film. When we first got there, a killing had just happened. A Dominican border soldier had assassinated a pregnant Haitian woman and her coffin was lying in the middle of the bridge as a sign of protest. There was a lot of tension and the gates were locked for a few days not allowing any movement between the two sides.
Even though we had been granted permission to cross the border during filming, we could never predict what was going to happen the next day. Filming in this lawless context was quite challenging as the rules of the game were constantly changing. But being an outsider worked in our favour as we could navigate between the two worlds without getting personally involved in the conflict.
It was interesting to notice how hard it could become for Evens and other Haitian students to cross the border and get into the DR, while only a few miles away his older sister, also Haitian, could cross into the DR without a passport because she was using a special gate that thousands of Haitians use every day to go work in a sweatshop, where they are paid less than $3 a day.
While we were filming The Crossing, the DR's highest court ruled to revoke the citizenship of any Haitian descendants born after 1929. Two days later, Evens' school told him that he had 10 days to get all his papers certified by the Dominican Ministry of Education - a long and expensive bureaucratic process in both countries - or else he would be expelled from the school.
Evens' story is extremely relevant as it touches on two major issues faced today by thousands of people around the globe: migration and access to education. Right now hundreds of Haitian children are crossing borders and other unthinkable obstacles in order to go to school. Evens is fighting against a culture of racism, discrimination, social inequality and poverty by showing that he too can be educated, thereby challenging negative perceptions of Haitians held by Dominicans and the rest of the world.
These teenagers are the future of tomorrow. The effects of whether or not they are able to have an education will be felt not just in their homes communities, but across other borders in Latin America.
This episode of Viewfinder can be seen from Monday, March 3, at the following times GMT: Monday: 2230; Tuesday: 0930; Wednesday: 0330; Thursday: 1630.
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