La Merced

The first decade of the 2000s is over and we have managed to survive World War II(1938-1945), the Black Death (also known as the plague or the pestilence), Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 6 and 9, 1945), Chernobyl (April 26th, 1986), Fukushima (March 11, 2011) and the Coronavirus. But eliminating child labor exploitation is a nightmare and hell that still exists.

Its elimination is a priority because of the effects that labor activities have on the health and development of minors. Child labor also affects education by generating school dropouts. It has been shown that school dropout is related to the number of hours of work in childhood.

Child labor exploitation

The first thing we must emphasize is that child labor is one of the most serious violations of children’s rights. In figures, we are talking about more than 160 million children in the world working, which puts their physical, mental, and social development at risk.

Fundacion La Merced © Solkes

The term “child labor” is usually defined as any work that deprives children of their childhood, potential, and dignity, and is detrimental to their physical and psychological development.

Thus, it refers to work that: is hazardous and harmful to the child’s physical, mental, or moral well-being.

It also interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; forcing them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to combine study with heavy and time-consuming work.

The Foundation

While researching this topic, we came across the La Merced Foundation in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The Foundation was born with the purpose of providing a more dignified life for children and teens. To achieve this it would be free from child labor and rehabilitating them in their rights.

It all started when a group of people from the community became aware of the nightmare and extreme lack of opportunities given to shoeshinner children. Little by little, a team of volunteers was created and activities were organized according to the needs observed. Since then, the team was strengthened and structured, expanding its areas of intervention to propose a response to this problem.

In 2008, after the celebration of a Christmas lunch organized by a group of community volunteers in the parish for 100 shoeshine boys. Due to their extreme need, these children moved from the poorest areas of Bienvenido and Hato Nuevo to work in Las Caobas, in order to help support themselves and their families. From that moment on, we understood that we had to accompany them in a sustained manner, with the purpose of helping to change their reality and get them off the streets.

Our institution was formally constituted in 2010 as Fundación Niños Limpiabotas La Merced; and in 2016 it changed to its current name: Fundación La Merced.

Fundacion La Merced © Solkes

All activities are based on a rights-based approach, articulated to a community work that allows us to identify and strengthen the capacities of both children and adolescents and their families, the community, civil society, private sector and guarantors of rights.

Interventions are carried out in the following areas: Education, Recreation, Food Security, Health, Social Work, Legal Support, Awareness and Advocacy.

The Foundation works in the areas of Bienvenido and Hato Nuevo, in the sector of Manoguayabo, Santo Domingo Oeste.

The Foundation’s mission is clear: to prevent and eradicate child labor, domestic or commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. They are accompanied and trained to acquire an integral education through the values of the Mercedarian Congregation that will allow them to contribute to the development of a free, just and supportive society.

It should be taken into account that the vast majority of those who are linked to the La Merced Foundation are sons and daughters of mothers from Haiti. Unfortunately, these people are in a complex migratory legal situation and lack identity documents.

With this in mind, in 2021 two agreements were signed with the Movement of Dominican-Haitian Women (MUDHA) and Heartland Alliance International (HAI). The aim of these agreements is to provide guidance, support and legal accompaniment for young people and migrant families, in order to facilitate the regularization of their migratory status and obtain the documentation that will allow them to access formal education and/or decent sources of work, as well as other fundamental rights.

How they work?

In each program area we implement strategies and actions that have a positive impact on the different groups we serve.

First of all, the ERA (Espacio para Recrearse Aprender) Community Center offers assistance to 295 children and adolescents. Likewise, 180 families are accompanied to guarantee their rights to education, food, health and recreation, and the activities we develop are aimed at protecting them from going out to the streets to work, being exposed to many risks.

Fundacion La Merced © Solkes

One of the most important aspects is education. Education is necessary to guarantee a lasting change and to give them opportunities to improve their lives. Therefore, several initiatives have been developed to promote comprehensive education, art, culture and recreation, as well as nutrition for the children and adolescents who attend the ERA community center.

They receive support in the areas of: initial literacy, school leveling, educational reinforcement, children’s library and promotion of reading, support for food, school supplies and uniforms, and artistic, cultural, sports and recreational activities.

Another point of action is health. La Merced offers universal services at a low cost, both at the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Medical Dispensary in Las Caobas and at the ERA community center.

The health services offered include: general medicine and specialties, laboratory tests and medications, vaccination and nutrition plans, creating a registry and systematization of data on the population served, prevention campaigns, prevention campaigns population served, prevention, awareness and health promotion campaigns.

Fundacion La Merced © Solkes

On the other hand, from the ERA community center and the Escuela Laboral La Esperanza we develop educational and socio-labor insertion programs, aimed at young people and families. To achieve this we have three well-defined programs.

Empoderados: is a three-year program that seeks to establish development opportunities for adolescents and young people between the ages of 14 and 17, enabling them to address the causes of the problems that affect them and seek solutions to improve their quality of life. At the end of each cycle, participants attend a four-day camp outside the community, where they address issues of personal growth.

Sociocultural Animators. This program is aimed at adolescents and young people from 16 to 20 years of age. This training program is based on principles, processes and methods that promote community participation. The trained young people develop training and animation actions with boys and girls of the community.

Foro Juveni. This is a space for training, participation and advocacy on rights, leadership, analysis and identification of the situation and problems of the community, with the purpose of having young people develop proposals for
the approach and resolution of the problems that most affect them.

Fundacion La Merced © Solkes

So much work is involved that the best way to achieve its objectives is to divide into action groups. By action groups we refer to two basic groups of young people and families.

For young people, we offer vocational guidance, technical training, and support for employability and/or entrepreneurship development. Life skills workshops are also conducted,
human rights and leadership, through the Empowered and Sociocultural Animators programs.

ERA has become a reference and channel for the collection of usable waste and its proper management for subsequent recycling by local companies. We continue to expand our contacts and networks with organizations dedicated to MSW management and we try to involve the Neighborhood Councils and the City Council of Santo Domingo Oeste.

This coordination has led to several collaborations, donations of supplies for waste classification and management, visits and exchange of experiences with companies and organizations, community clean-up activities, waste collection and classification, among others.

Challenges due to the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic was challenging for Fundación La Merced. However, they consider themselves very fortunate to have overcome this crisis.

To overcome the challenges generated by the pandemic they had to adapt the Strategic and Operational Plan to meet the needs of all children, youth and their families, focusing on maintaining the quality of services.

Challenges such as spread, technology, fear and distance, among others, made them more resilient and therefore in a better position to meet the needs of our target population, and grow the comprehensive service offering through the ERA community center, which we aim to complete in the 2022-2023 timeframe.

Fundacion La Merced © Solkes

Thanks to the staff, volunteers and friends we were able to overcome a disruptive period; and we could not have done it without their tremendous effort and dedication.

At the beginning of 2020, the foundation was preparing to begin a new phase of the ERA community center. However, when the health emergency generated by the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, the situation changed dramatically and suddenly.

Fundacion La Merced © Solkes

Priorities changed immediately, since it was necessary to look after the health and well-being of children, adolescents, young people and families.

With this in mind, a prevention and risk management plan was put in place to take care of our staff, especially the team members who remained in the field and in contact with the families. At the same time, we worked harder than ever to mobilize resources to continue supporting the most vulnerable families in the communities of Bienvenido and Hato Nuevo, which were hard hit by the pandemic.

A dispensary was set up at the community center during the pandemic to serve the most vulnerable population of Bienvenido and Hato Nuevo locally.

During the pandemic, more than 4,890 basic food kits and hygiene and protection products were provided, including more than 30,000 masks distributed.

Nearly 3,000 people benefited directly from this aid. In addition, 268 people (70 families) were assisted through the telephone line set up for psychological support.

An important fact is that 357 follow-up calls were made on the physical and emotional health of families.

In the area of education, more than 600 educational kits were delivered to 150 children and adolescents in the community.

A total of 71 children from the Task Room and Literacy programs and 30 adolescents from the Empowered program participated in the virtual summer camp.

The health emergency magnified the deprivation of those residing in the impoverished communities and put the rights and well-being of the very young at risk. It also highlighted the great inequalities that persist in society at large, making our work on behalf of children and their families all the more urgent and necessary. There mission has never been more relevant!

The impact

Thanks to the work of Fundación La Merced, the lives of many people have been positively impacted. Their testimonies are the best gift for those they help and give them strength to continue with this magnificent work.

One of the results has been that people have begun to have a greater respect and help for the environment.

Fundacion La Merced © Solkes

So, since October 2020 we developed, with the support of the UNDP Small Grants Program, the project “R-ECO: sustainable alternative in the management of municipal solid waste (MSW)”. This program has allowed them to educate and sensitize children about the preservation and responsible use of natural resources and the culture of reducing, reusing and recycling.

To date, 20 young people and leaders, mostly women, have been trained in environmental and waste management issues and trained as agents of change who multiply knowledge and good practices in the community and with families at home. 10 promoters and community leaders have been integrated into the processes of awareness and management of MSW in the area, managing plastic collection points in their homes and/or sectors.

More than 150 families in the community have been sensitized and involved in MSW management.

In the first semester of 2021, with the support of the Canadian Embassy, we conducted a “Socio-labor characterization” study in which 32 members of the community participated, including 29 women who were unemployed, to learn about the socio-labor profile and the barriers versus opportunities that the women of Bienvenido and Hato Nuevo have to access decent work and to find a decent job.

Fundacion La Merced © Solkes

Nuevo to access decent work and undertake economic activities independently, in addition to inquiring about other details, such as citizen security, gender-based violence and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One example is the construction and operation of the Eco Orchard at the ERA community center, with the support of Grupo Ramos and the technical assistance of Ministry of Agriculture personnel.

This has favored the multiplication of this initiative, creating at least two community gardens in the Bienvenido area.

We continue accompanying and training groups of women entrepreneurs in developing business plans, and supporting their micro-businesses with a certain amount of material or seed capital; and we continue training and accompanying the empowerment and organization of Self-Savings and Loans Groups (GAAP).

At Fundación La Merced we look to the future with optimism. We know that we have great challenges ahead of us, but we are confident that we will continue to count on the collaboration of many noble, supportive people committed to the welfare and protection of children’s rights.

As our most immediate goal, we aspire to have the ERA community center fully operational very soon, so that we can offer more services and opportunities to the most vulnerable families of Bienvenido and Hato Nuevo.


Child labor has lifelong consequences given that it limits children’s physical and mental development, deprives them of their rights, and generates a vicious cycle of poverty and inequality. For this reason, it is of utmost importance for La Merced to work in a profound way, to change policies, to generate a permanent change.

Fundacion La Merced © Solkes

At La Merced Foundation, children have always been at the center of everything. They have always been convinced that children should only be happy: playing, studying, growing up with love and understanding, living each stage of their lives to the fullest.

It is necessary to strengthen public policies in favor of child protection, and to reach agreements with the government, companies and society. It is necessary to unite efforts, resources and will to ensure that the right of children to enjoy their childhood and grow up free is defended.

Translated By: Nessa Twix

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