A short while ago I arrived home from spending two weeks in the Dominican Republic, where I worked with a team from International Service Learning to provide healthcare for three of the nation's poorest communities. At the same time I learned basic triage medical skills, practiced prescribing and distributing a variety of pharmaceutical drugs, and solidified the medical Spanish and tropical medicine I had picked up during the past seven weeks in Costa Rica. I also helped host a small educational camp for children in the community, where we played games and taught good hygiene such as flossing, washing hands, and wearing shoes.
Our team of five American students, one Dominican medical doctor, and a Costa Rican team leader made house visits and hosted health clinics for three poor communities in the Santo Domingo area. Our complaints about cold showers, dirty restrooms, lack of air conditioning, and uncomfortable beds were silenced as we visited homes in Mangular, conversing with residents about their health and living conditions. The first family we interviewed consisted of five members living in a house hardly bigger than my dorm room at the seminary in Santo Domingo. The family was fortunate enough to have a latrine, though they could only afford to buy a five-gallon jug of clean drinking water for the five of them to share per week. We invited ill community members to the clinic we would host the next day, broken-hearted that we could not include everyone in need due to lack of equipment, supplies, people, and time.
Each two-day community clinic was eye opening yet encouraging. We welcomed community members ranging from 6 months to 80 years in age and learned to diagnose and treat parasites, bacterial and fungal infections, rashes due to poor water quality, dangerously high blood pressure, gastritis, etc. More importantly, we learned to give compassion and comfort to our patients, and I clarified my future career path as I discovered that I enjoy relating to patients more as a pharmacist than as a physician. As I noticed the dwindling supply of medications toward the end of each day and remembered the thankful smiles of our guests, I became confident that we had made a difference.
To rest ourselves physically and emotionally, we relaxed (and whooshed!) at a couple Dominican beaches: Playa Bayahibe on the southern coast, and Samaná on the northern coast. We enjoyed home-cooked Dominican food as well as Dominican restaurant cuisine, and we experienced some of the local city culture on the streets and at nightclubs. I even danced merengue with a local TV comedian!
I am happy to be back after a long summer away from my own bed, and I now appreciate my many blessings more than ever. But I certainly will not forget the Dominican people and what I learned about similar suffering taking place in Haiti, Costa Rica, and a number of developing countries around the world. I have decided to start a campaign to encourage my peers to join me in reallocating some of our expendable income away from personal luxuries in favor of providing necessities for the impoverished, especially in poor countries. Even the smallest sacrifices accomplish much. I invite you to join us!