Amigitos - 2020

Amigitos founder Siv Mika Engebretsen with some of the children she has given a new life in the Dominican Republic.
Amigitos founder Siv Mika Engebretsen with some of the children she has given a new life in the Dominican Republic.

Founder Siv Mika Engebretsen

"Mika" has a background from economics, the Norwegian prison system and psychology and has done with humanitarian work for over 20 years. She started working at Hispañola in 1996 both in Haiti and in the Dominican Republic. She was one of those who experienced the violent earthquake in Haiti and has followed the development on the island closely both before and after this with a sore heart. After working on a medical care program in the slum area of Pancho Mateo, she dedicated her life to improving the living conditions of its residents through the creation of Amigitos. She works full time and a little more on a voluntary basis to improve the day today and strengthen faith and hope for tomorrow.

Amigitos is a non-profit organization that conducts humanitarian work aimed at people living in difficult living conditions in the Pancho Mateo slum of the Dominican Republic. The organization was started in 2014 by Siv Mika Engebretsen and aims to strengthen the citizens' rights and meet their basic needs. Among the area's approximately 2,300 inhabitants most are refugees from Haiti in addition to some poor Dominicans. Most often lack work, have no education, have poor sanitation and live below the poverty line.

We live by the motto "Care with action". It means we must act to help. 

Primary school as a main focus

Amigitos has gradually developed both literally and metaphorically and today has a number of programs, services and functions in the local community. At the same time our primary school has always been the core of what we do. This is a primary school for children from 3 to 15 years, where many of these do not have the right to public education as they as a result of being refugee children who lack a birth certificate.

The school in Amigitos is about more than just learning subjects. Most of the children come from dysfunctional families characterized by poverty, violence, alcohol, crime and without proper care at home. Our closeness in daily life is our strength and means that we can follow up the children's needs both at school and in everyday life outside. The children get breakfast and hot lunch every day, For many of them this is the only meal they eat during a day. All children receive uniforms and school supplies as well as health care when needed.

Summer school and leisure activities

Contrary to the reality many people know at home in Norway, there is no rejoicing when the school day is over or the summer holidays come in Pancho Mateo. Leisure and holiday offers are non-existent, and there are many possible ways to get into trouble. Therefore, Amigitos has been interested in offering activities outside of school, and they are football teams, dance group, Sunday cinema, knitting group and more.

Every summer, a summer school is also arranged where several of the children in the area can participate. At the summer school it is mostly play, fun and nutrition, but the children also learn to take care of their own neighborhood through cleaning rubbish and their own help days where they help the elderly and others in the area with small errands. There are also many volunteers from different parts of the world who participate during the summer months in the program "Holidays with meaning", which makes the summer school a great multicultural experience that forges friendships across the globe.

Valuable life for all

Amigitos has also created its own programs for various groups, including its own baby program, the women's program "Fanm Djanm" and the elderly program "Gran moun". These symbolize how we work from a thought of wholeness, both about the whole person and the whole local community.

In the baby program, new mothers are offered help in various arenas. There are also offers of doctor visits at least once a month, advice and help related to breastfeeding, breast milk substitutes and vitamins as well as help with clothes, diapers, blankets and others.

"Fanm Djanm" means "Strong Women" in Haitian Creole, and is a common arena where women can meet to be strengthened, developed and activated together. Topics that are discussed are health, rights, family planning, conflict resolution, but also nice and easy things like knitting, crochet and a conversation with a cup of coffee. The program is constantly being developed and there is a desire in the long run to be able to offer reading and writing courses, and to assist women in ensuring a secure economy.

"Gran moun" means "Old" in Haitian Creole and is a food and care program started to take care of the village's elderly inhabitants. Pancho Mateo is a slum area established for Haitian "sugar slaves", where several of our elders were brought in to work on the sugar fields with promises of a better life. The promises were never kept, and after 40-50 years of enormous wear and tear on body and mind, today they live completely without rights in unspeakable poverty. Through Gran moun, the elderly are offered food at our center, health care when needed and we also work to improve their living conditions. In the event of death, Amigitos contributes to the deceased receiving a dignified burial.

The extraordinary is not uncommon

"Care with action" is important and binding on us. Both nature, people, politics and society contribute to the fact that what would normally have been referred to as extraordinary conditions is always present in Amigitos' everyday life. There may be crises for the individual, for a family, for the local community or the region, where we help as much as possible.

Poor sanitation, malnutrition and lack of health care make illness a prominent problem. In addition, many people live and work in dangerous conditions that lead to accidents and deaths. Racism, lack of rights and crime constantly create difficult situations, and the demanding conditions people live under means that Amigitos meets many orphans and especially disadvantaged children.

Ahead of each autumn, we quietly ask that the area be spared from the worst of the hurricane season, and that the flood should not tear down more houses in the river or break down the already weak infrastructure. Suddenly, the situation is turned upside down, and everyone urgently asks for rainfall so that you can once again have access to water in the village. When everyone in early 2020 cheered for rain, a big dark cloud came with Covid-19 which still creates a huge uncertainty and puts us all to the test.

Through all crises, we take measures in consultation with the local community and to the extent possible, to help the inhabitants to help themselves. We also work strategically with local authorities to ensure ever better cooperation and positive development for both Pancho Mateo and other similar areas.