September 2008, Volume 8, Number 1

Features

Marie Etienne treats a patient

Notes From a Travelogue

The alarm awakens us at 6 a.m., and everyone gathers to prepare for a long workday. Full of anticipation, excitement and enthusiasm, we get on the bus and review the day’s schedule so that we know what to expect upon arrival to the batey.

During the bus ride, many of us lapse into silence, reflecting on what lies ahead. Thoughts fly through my mind: “Are my students ready for this? Are they prepared for what they are going to encounter?”

During the almost two-hour drive, I hear comments such as, “Wow, look at the beautiful mountains – but it’s really sad to see children naked, not wearing any shoes, and not in school;” or, “Oh God, look at the children in the sugarcane field helping their parents.”

Even though we’ve come to the Dominican Republic to provide humanitarian assistance, some of the volunteers and students wonder whether we will really make a difference – or whether we’re just putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. All around us we are able to witness what real poverty is, the poor conditions in which these people live. I feel strongly that we all have a moral, ethical, and civic duty to respect all people and care for them regardless of religion, creed, color or gender.

When we finally arrive in the batey, we see a crowd of people waiting with anticipation, ready to welcome us with gentle smiles and hugs. As the day progresses, we encounter a wide range of illnesses and health complaints, including malnutrition; skin diseases such as scabies, impetigo and burns; respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and asthma; and other medical problems such as urinary tract infections, hypertension and diabetes. Two of the most prevalent health concerns were malnutrition and hypertension. All in all, we see at least 350 patients each day.

After treating so many diseases, we begin to feel that we are really making an impact – that we’re actually saving lives. We can see the gratitude in the eyes of our patients. My students see how challenging and humbling – but also how rewarding – it is serve with an open heart. I know that this experience will change them forever.

— Marie Etienne


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