As I boarded my flight to Santo Domingo, I was overwhelmed with anticipation for what my journey would have in store. I always expected for my time with AYUDA to have an impact on my life, but I never imagined to what extent the experience would change me. Ultimately, the trip would leave me with memories and relationships I expect to last a lifetime. Upon arrival, I was greeted by the smiling faces of my fellow volunteers, and I was quickly reminded of the time I spent with these individuals at the orientation weekend several months before. Sharing the common goal of expanding diabetes knowledge and awareness, we began to discuss our expectations and hopes for the program.
The first two days in-country were reserved for volunteer bonding and activity planning. We were divided up into three teams, each tackling a different aspect of diabetes management—exercise, nutrition, and medication. I was selected to work with the medicine team, coming up with engaging activities to encourage the proper and consistent use of blood sugar regulating medications. During each outreach trip, campers would rotate through each station and participate in the educational activities we had planned. On the second morning in-country we took a break from planning and toured the local children’s hospital known as Robert Reid Cabral. As soon as we walked in the building I was struck by the looks we received from the patients and their families. It was unbearably hot within the building due to extremely poor ventilation. It broke my heart to see parents and their children sitting outside in a dilapidated, jam-packed courtyard as they waited to see the doctor. My heart broke even more when I learned that patients often arrive before sunrise and aren’t seen until late at night. There were single rooms for each department in the hospital where several children laid side by side in close proximity. Next to each bed sat a mother, fanning and swatting flies away from her sick child. The weight of AYUDA’s work in the Dominican Republic was made clear when we got the chance to interact with a young girl who had been newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. While she was hesitant at first, she quickly opened up to us, smiling occasionally as the young women in our group offered her words of support and encouragement. At the end of this conversation we got the chance to refer her to the local diabetes foundation, Aprendiendo a Vivir (Learning to Live), a partner of AYUDA.
Over the course of five days we visited five different communities throughout the country: Baní, San Pedro de Marcorís, San Cristóbal, La Vega, and San Jose de Ocoa. Each morning we would rise at an early hour, pile into the guagua, or Dominican minibus, and travel to the outreach site. Before rotating through the three stations, campers were registered and had their blood sugars checked by volunteers. In our group’s main activity, we passed out strips of paper that listed the steps by which the body breaks down glucose in the blood stream. The campers would race to place these steps in chronological order and then present the process to the group. This activity would allow us to transition into a discussion about what is occurring in the body of someone who is living with diabetes, explaining why it is necessary to inject insulin. At the first site, Baní, we were surprised by the lack of literacy and ultimately had to adjust this activity by instructing campers to draw pictures of the steps. Despite the existing language barrier, I was ecstatic when I successfully explained the process to an elderly woman. When it came time to present, she looked at me with a huge grin on her face and confidently answered questions about the steps. Such experiences occurred at each site and I noticed that the language barrier became less and less of a challenge. Overall, the intense back-to-back outreach schedule left us feeling exhausted, however, the gratifying feeling of accomplishment that ensued cannot be articulated in words. I am confident that we made monumental strides in the Dominican Republic by filling knowledge gaps in many diabetes communities throughout the country. In the years to come, I hope to continue working alongside AYUDA to promote sustainability within these communities so that diabetes education and care become more commonplace.
In closing, I want to thank my friends and family for making this journey a possibility. I could not have done it without your support. This experience has opened my eyes to the prevalence and severity of global health issues, reaffirming my passion and pursuit of a career in the medical field. I hope that through my involvement with AYUDA I may continue to empower others like myself who are living with diabetes.
¡Juntos Somos Mas Fuertes!
Together We Are Stronger!
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