Nothing categorises your social standing like international air travel.
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were married (wahey). The following day we travelled down to Gatwick to jet off on our honeymoon. No points for guessing where. Still glowing with newlywed excitement, we entered our British Airways 747 ready for a nine-hour flight shoehorned into an economy seat at the back of the plane.
“Are you excited to be going on holiday?” the flight attendant asked, as we stepped aboard. “We’re actually on our honeymoon.” My brand new wife replied, grinning from ear to ear. “Oh how wonderful, congratulations. Why don’t you step to one side for a moment and let’s see if we can find you some more comfortable seats.”
Moments later we were led to two Premium economy seats on a row of our own. What’s the difference? More leg room, better food, better drink, better headphones and a cute little travel bag with an eye mask, toothbrush and comb. It was awesome! In front of us was business class, their chairs actually turned into beds, and ahead of them was first, the level of luxury experienced there remains shrouded in mystery. I imagine they take turns flying the plane whilst drinking champagne through a straw and having fresh strawberries fed to them by the flight crew…or something like that. All that separated us from the oiks in economy and the global superstars in first, was a series of thin blue curtains, clipped to the back of a seat headrest.
Class has always fascinated me. A century ago, it was the family lineage that dictated your position in society. With the emergence of post-war economic capitalism, money soon became the principal means by which we measured our success and position. Well, money and stuff; clothes, cars, houses, holidays, aeroplane seats…
This societal development is not the exclusive preserve of the west, it is however most apparent in liberal democracies who possess a relatively safe and functioning government. Dominican society is not dissimilar. At the top of the ladder you will find the wealthy, driving sports cars, working from high-rise office blocks and living between their downtown penthouse apartments and beachfront properties. At the bottom of the ladder, you will encounter boys, girls, men and women struggling to survive. Those who can work but can’t find jobs, will be on the streets selling everything from windscreen wipers to sexual services. Those prevented from working due to disability or ill health are left to rely heavily on their family for support or beg. Is this different to the UK? Slightly.
One of the highlights of our trip was meeting Antonio, a boy around 15 years old, who we met selling small bags of cashew nuts on the side of the road. After I bought a packet from him, Antonio informed me that he could speak English. “Habla me en ingles entonces!” (Speak to me in English then!) I commanded, with a smile. “Er, hello, how are you? My name is Antonio. I am study English two times a week in my school.” “Bravo Antonio, that’s awesome! Keep it up.” Learning English will be one way Antonio could get a rung up the ladder, it may help him get a job in the tourism sector or an international company with US ties.
Antonio was aspirant. He had a plan and no doubt a dream. The sad reality is, in order for him to get there, for now, he has to stand amongst a gang of street vendors clouded by the tailpipe fumes of a busy intersection.
Life is different for children in the Dominican Republic. Infant mortality is 3.3% as opposed to 0.3% in the UK. 12% of children aged 5 to 17 are forced to work to survive. There is also a disproportionate number of children in the sex industry. IJM’s prevalence study in 2012 found that 1 in 10 sex workers were minors, 1 in 4 in open areas such as beaches, parks and plazas. Almost a third of women are married before they are eighteen, a statistic that, thanks to Sonia (formerly of IJM, now of Blue Bear Freedom), should see a dramatic reduction after she and her colleagues were able to successfully lobby the government in 2021 to effectively outlaw child marriage.
Alongside the breathtaking beauty of the DR, there is an equally shocking level of inequality, which is why we are committed to maintaining effective local partnerships looking to level the playing fields and bring protection and hope to children in poverty. We will also continue to lobby the government for greater levels of support for victims and survivors of exploitation and an investment in preventative measures.
You can help us by continuing to buy Blue Bear Coffee, and since we have registered as a charity, please engage with us in finding ways to raise support through a whole variety of fundraising options.
Mrs Frere-Smith and I flew home in row 30 something, a couple of feet from the toilets in super-super-economy class, slightly sunburnt and mosquito kissed. We arrived home with a renewed sense of gratitude for every blessing we had experienced as children and that which we enjoy today.
Albert Einstein once said, “Better to be a person of value than one of success.” Here, here.
Bryn and the Blue Bear Team x