09 May 2007

Why are birth certificates so difficult?

I was thinking through my blog the other day, and I realized that I have a tendency to write and take pictures of the extra special happenings. So, although I planned to write all about my parents' visit and my hike to Pico Duarte, and although I would love to tell you all about my cousin and her classmates' visit - teaching English and passing out toothbrushes at the school, a rafting trip, our attempt at helping build a computer center (the rain put an end to our efforts), and our various soakings in the back of pickup trucks - I will let the pictures tell their own stories and relate instead a ¨typical¨ day in the life of a DR volunteer.

Yesterday was a super important day. Jajhaira and her family, after 10 months of pushing and reminding and pleading, were FINALLY going to go to the hospital to get Jajhaira's papers so we could proceed with the birth certificate process... 17 years late. For me, Jajhaira's case was special, yet so telling of how people here live and think. When I began the birth certificate process, her father said his 2 girls needed to be declared; apparently he wasn't so neglectful with his sons. Unfortunately, the youngest was born in a different town, and Jajhaira was over 16, making both cases special. As time went on and I searched for hospital documents for various families, we discovered that birth records from before 1991 had been destroyed by the previous hospital director. Since this was the case for Jajhaira, I was told to bring her mother and 3 witnesses from the community and they would give us the paperwork. Glad to hear it wouldn't be too difficult, I went home to tell the family and they said they would look into it.

As time went on, my work progressed. We got Jajhaira's sister declared in the other city with much support from her father. But whenever it came to Jajhaira, I was put off. Finally her father told me ¨I helped you with the other one. This one is us to her mom.¨ Naturally women don´t leave their communities often, leaving me with little hope.

That was back in October. About a month ago, it was called to my attention that Jajhaira was pregnant and due shortly. While I had wrapped up most of my birth certificate work, I decided to give it another go for the baby's sake. (A mother without a birth certificate cannot declare her children, continuing the cycle.) I made another attempt at talking with the family, but they were still unresponsive. So, a week ago, I made my last attempt. I approached somebody from the community with the situation and asked her to organize some witnesses and a date. Then I told Jajhaira what I had done. And lastly, I told her parents that next week they would need to go to the hospital and I had organized some witnesses. All they had to do was tell me the date. After 10 months of waiting for action, the date was set for Tuesday.

So yesterday, bright and early, we headed down to the hospital... Jajhaira, her parents and me in the back of the truck of one witness, Jajhaira's ¨husband¨ trailing along behind on his motorcycle. Apparently the other 2 witnesses, none of which I had arranged, had gone on ahead. The hospital was its typical bedlam, and we were told to wait... and then to wait some more for the director. Hot-headed folk that they are, when the waiting got to an hour and half for the director to show up, Jajhaira's father went to say a few choice words to the office. This easily could have been the undoing of the whole day! Fortunately for Jajhaira, I have been working closely with the hospital office, and she announced that she would only give the papers because I was with them.

Next thing I know, I´m outside waiting for the director to drive by in her car and sign various papers because, sure enough, she wasn't coming in to work today. By the grace of God and my belief in patience, we were finally given Jajhaira's hospital document stating when she was born. (And we didn't even need the witnesses!) Now I could finally collect the rest of her paperwork in order to get her birth certificate.

Since I had the family with me and transportation, I decided to drag them along to the church. There we requested a funny little document that has driven me crazy during this process. In order to declare someone late, the state requires a document stating they are not baptized. However the church cannot legally baptize anyone unless they have a birth certificate! Anyway, with the new church document in hand, we headed to the oficialia to see what they would say about Jajhaira's case.

I handed the papers over to the judge, and to my surprise she told me they could be processed there! When we had started this process, any declarants over 16 had to send the paperwork to the capital for processing... something that can take 3-6 months for an easy case. Apparently some changes had been made in the law, namely making declarations free nationwide, but also changing the age to 18! Using all the gringa power available to me, I told the judge that the papers were all there, but one had a small error. As the family was all there, if she would process it now and have them sign, I would get her the corrected document this week. To my surprise, she agreed! Again, with much patience, we waited to be called to sign the paperwork.

By 11:30, only 4 hours after leaving, we had done far more than I imagined was possible! In a mere 15 more days, Jajhaira should have her birth certificate in hand... and then we can work on declaring her child that's due any day.

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