building sustainable futures
in the Dominican Republic
Founder & Producer
Instead of a clear, straightforward startup story, Katie Godkin Morales’ is one of remarkable adaptation – and what makes a great social entrepreneur. The seed for The Batey Rehab Project was planted when she was studying Architecture at SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design). She wanted to bring her skills as an architect to bear in the developing world where she could make an impact, and was inspired by a teacher who spent summers in the Bateyes. With only a few years of experience behind her, Katie booked a flight to the Dominican Republic to eventually start building homes for people in need.
“In 2009 I traveled to the Dominican Republic for the very first time and I do not think anything could have prepared me for the world I was about to enter.”
The Bateyes were formed from Haitian/Dominican Republic workers who worked mainly in the sugar fields as cutters as well as within the sugar factories. Today the Bateyes have become large blended communities of Dominicans and Haitians, which have slowly merged into the Dominican society. Most live below poverty level, in homes typically built poorly with low quality materials.
When Katie landed, a friend took her to a village called Milton, in Barahona. It has been referred to as one of the poorest in the country. As she toured Milton, she was disturbed by the conditions families were living in. She was specifically affected by a mother and her 6 children, for whom she would soon build a new home.
Katie helped lead the design and build. Upon completion of construction, the father who had been absent for two years (he had actually left with another woman), returned.
“Now he had something to come back for, he felt it was his right. His wife. His children. His home.”
Katie and the group she was working with began keeping an eye on the family. They noticed an older man making daily visits. Katie and her team attempted to confront the man, but the interactions were hostile. They would soon learn the father was trafficking his 13-year-old daughter. He had attempted to traffic the 12-year-old, but the older daughter volunteered to take her place, in an effort to protect her sister.
“This took place in the home we built, in front of us. We all know trafficking exists, but when you witness a child being trafficked to a man who is 65-years-old in front of you…well, you can’t be a human being and not react to that. This put things into perspective for me.”
While she was on one hand building homes for these families who needed them, she was also potentially creating a physical place for the trafficking of wives and children. She began reaching out to others in the country and discovered this was an enormous issue. It needed to be addressed.
There were no support systems in place at that time, so she attempted to help by reaching out to the police. They provided no assistance. The father began making death threats. The girls were beaten. To Katie it seemed like an endless cycle of abuse, with no solution in sight.
She decided to spend time with the mother and the girls so they would not feel alone. She wanted to at least provide emotional support. Soon she began taking them to make jewelry, because it was something they enjoyed, and something already being done in the region.
It was also a way they could learn a trade and make money.
Katie’s simple act allowed her to begin building a relationship with the mother and daughters. It began pulling them away from the father.
This experience was the driving force behind the creation of Batey’s Girls, a retail and pop-up-driven social enterprise with growing worldwide distribution. As Executive Director of BRP, Katie works with a team to design and build modular housing for families in need as well as training to the mothers, so they can learn a trade, make money and become self-sustainable.
“Through empowering a mother, giving her a skill and a job, it completely separates her from him (her husband). These are mothers who have been raped, who have been trafficked, most of them are well under 40 years old. It’s a massive cycle and we are trying to help two generations at a time. With this new sense of empowerment, they can begin creating a reality which allows them to start a new life. This ultimately impacts the children because it has the power to end the trafficking and domestic abuse as well.”
BRP has achieved measurable success since its founding in 2013, impacted over 640 lives across seven Bateyes (villages), through the construction of 32 homes and the implementation of vocational, education and wellness programs. Over the past five years the organization has not only evolved but has realized that the needs of the women and girls are much greater than ever expected.
To support the future of Batey’s Rehab Project and their efforts to expose the reality of sex trafficking and fight back against cultural acceptance in the Dominican Republic, consider contributing to the #HERFUTURE campaign. You can also participate in empowering Batey’s Girls by purchasing their hand-crafted jewelry at www.bateygirls.org