Week 7

29 03 2010

My last week in the Dominican Republic- definitely bittersweet! This week was packed with finishing up classes, studying (for three finals), preparation for our final presentation and spending time with friends and family. Somewhere in there we also managed to visit a retirement home, a water treatment center, and a center for children.

On Monday and Tuesday, each group (based on clinic and Zona Sur assignments) presented their final project. Each group presented a power point about their disease of interest and their work in both the rural clinic and la Zona Sur. It was really wonderful to hear about everyone’s experiences and reflections. Lauren and I presented on diabetes and spoke about the work we did in the clinic and la Zona Sur. In my personal reflections, I spoke about the similarities and differences that I saw in el campo and la Zona Sur. While there was poverty in both places, the resources and standard of living was very different. In el campo, it was a “cleaner” and “healtier” sort of poverty. The streets were generally clean of any trash, bottled water was accessible and present in every household, and food was readily available because they lived on the land that produced large amounts of crops. The clinic was also situated in the center of the community and served anyone who walked through the doors. In la Zona Sur, the poverty seemed to be a “dirty” and “unhealthy” sort of poverty. People lived in cramped spaces and often shared one bed for the family, the streets were lined with trash, food was not as readily available and people tended to eat packaged things that were easy to keep, and water was often kept uncovered. The health system in place in la Zona Sur also seemed to be less effective in terms of providing direct access to medical professionals. There was a primary care center and various clinics located throughout la Zona Sur but the people were not as interested in going to the clinics. The community seemed to rely on the supervisors and promoters of the public health system to dictate their medical care rather than taking it upon themselves to seek medical attention.

On Wednesday, we visited the water treatment center, center for children, and a retirement home. The water treatment center was really interesting especially because one of the first things we were told when arriving in the DR was to not drink the tap water. After an introduction and tour by the director of the center, we had learned that when the water leaves the plant, it is safe to drink. So, I was left wondering why no one drinks the tap water. The director explained that it is the piping system in the city- the pipes are so old that by the time the water travels from the treatment center to the homes it is no longer safe to drink. If this is really the case, I hope that the next investment will be in renovating the pipes so that the processing of the water at the plants isn’t a waste of money and resources and people can take advantage of clean tap water. The next stop we made was to a center for children called “Centro Juvenil” that was located in the heart of Santiago. The center provided education, food, and health services to children who worked on the streets (generally selling things). We got to speak with the director of the center for a bit and I was very impressed with their mission and drive to provide an education for these children. Unfortunately we were not able to take a tour of the facility but from the parts we did see and from what the director explained to us there were lots of resources to help the program achieve their main goal of education. The final visit we made was to a retirement home also located in the city. In the Dominican Republic, the use of retirement homes is not common because it is expected that the family will take care of older relatives. Because of this, there was a sense of sadness that filled the retirement home. These were elderly who either had no family or had been in a sense disowned by their family. The facility had all of the things that you would find in a retirement community here in the states- a work out room, a church, a dining hall, various gardens, and activity rooms. However, the room where the residents slept was more like dorm style. There were no individual rooms and/or bathrooms. There was a large room lined with beds and a communal bathroom with a few sinks and toilets for the women and a similar set up for the men. That night we had a celebration for all of the students, host families, and volunteers whom we worked with in la Zona Sur. It was a lot of fun- the music was lively, everyone was dancing, and it was so nice to thank all of those that made our experience complete!

Finals were on Thursday and Friday. Friday evening, my last night in the DR, my host family took me to the Centro Español (a country club) for dinner. It was a lovely place, complete with tennis courts, pools, activity centers, sports fields, mini golf course, and wonderful restaurant. I really enjoyed the meal and getting to spend time with my parents and brothers before flying out the next day.

Saturday morning came and before I knew it I was at the airport with bags checked and boarding pass in hand. It was hard to say goodbye to my host parents, but I just kept telling myself that this wasn’t goodbye, it was just “see you later!”. I had grown to love the Dominican Republic and I knew that there would be something more for me to do there. When I boarded the plane I was a sad to be leaving but more importantly I was fulfilled and satisfied. I had made wonderful connections to people, learned about and worked in public health systems, and improved my language skills almost to the point of mastery.

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