In Dominican Republic, Taking Pictures and Promoting Understanding

BY Larisa Epatko  September 20, 2012 at 9:05 AM EST

Wander Yon, 21, an aspiring singer who lives in the Dominican Republic, said he knew right away he took the winning photo of what life was like in his sugarcane working town.

He said recently through a translator that the image taken in the early morning of a man with an old truck pulled by oxen was meant to capture the 12-hour days and difficult working conditions of the sugarcane farmers.

“This is what my batey [sugarcane community] is like,” he said.

Yon took part in a [youth photography contest](http://www.pbs.org/newshour/multimedia/batey0920/index.html) sponsored by the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Culture, where the winning photo and all of the pictures of the batey are on display.

The exhibition is part of a larger campaign to promote tolerance and coexistence between the Haitian and Dominican cultures, said Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, who heads the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ office in Santo Domingo. Of the 15 contestants, all were born in the Dominican Republic, but their parents or grandparents are from Haiti.

The tensions between the two countries date back to when the Dominican Republican was under Haitian control in the 19th century, said Vargas Llosa, and racial friction has existed ever since.

But that all changed when a catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, killing more than 200,000 people, mostly in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. Vargas Llosa said when he returned to work in the region, “I was personally amazed to see the feeling of solidarity shown by the Dominicans toward their Haitian brothers. The Dominicans opened their border, gave them assistance and let them remain here.”

Other events aimed at encouraging this new embrace included a free concert last December in Santo Domingo that brought together a dozen singers from both countries. Other activities are planned throughout the year.

Meanwhile, Yon, who says he enjoys singing Christian rap and romantic ballads, is hoping to attend a university when he can afford it, to study hotel management like his father.

As the winner of the photography contest, Yon also has the chance to intern with a local newspaper and continue his photojournalism training. He said he has handled a camera before, but the competition allowed him to sharpen his technique. And, he added, by approaching people to take their picture, he could learn to become less shy.

We don’t think that will be a problem.

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