Jonathan is cofounder and advancement director for Yspaniola, a nonprofit organization that works in Batey Libertad, an impoverished rice-farming community of 1,200 in the Dominican Republic. He first visited the region on a service trip during his sophomore year at Yale, after fellow students established Yspaniola as a student group to help the local women sell handicrafts in the U.S. In 2009, Jonathan received a fellowship from Yale to live in the Dominican Republic, incorporate Yspaniola into a nonprofit, and turn the organization’s attention to the area of greatest need: quality education.
Today, Yspaniola runs a learning center where 140 children come four days a week for a meal and classes focused on literacy and critical thinking skills. Yspaniola also provides university scholarships and runs service-learning trips to Batey Libertad for American students.
“Our goal is to give children the kind of education they’d get at Foote School, where students are taught how to think critically,” says Jonathan.
Batey Libertad’s population of Dominicans of Haitian descent faces institutional discrimination—being denied citizenship, due process and the right to travel—and a public education that leaves them few opportunities beyond laboring in rice fields or construction jobs. Yspaniola aims to change that by empowering people through education.
“Our vision goes beyond the batey where we work,” says Jonathan, who speaks fluent Haitian Creole and Spanish. “Our goal is to give students the social and economic capital to support and advocate for themselves, their families, and their community, and also to encourage our graduates to help those working for equal rights in the country.
“Meeting these people, you realize the main difference between you and them is circumstance,” he adds. “If they had the same opportunities, many of them would be getting degrees from institutions like Yale. Realizing the privilege that I’ve had has motivated me.”
Learn more about Yspaniola at www.yspaniola.org.