The Institute for Latin American Concern (ILAC) Mission Trip, Republica Dominicana 2017

_dsc0682“The Summons”

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

These are just some lyrics that gave me comfort as I was preparing to leave the country on my trip, and give me comfort even now as I reflect on this journey.

I apologize for how long it has taken me to write this blog post! My trip to the Dominican Republic was just so multi-faceted that I am still trying to process through everything that I experienced there. But, I’m going to start this post off with a big thank you to all of you who donated towards this cause, encouraged me, and/or kept me in your thoughts and prayers. It is all so appreciated, and this trip would not have been possible without you

My journey in the Dominican Republic was one where I gained new knowledge about occupational therapy in addition to clinical skills from Dominican and American therapists and students, alike. This journey was also one that helped me to grow spiritually and personally. The trip was busy, but also allowed for time to reflect and journal, and I did these both regularly with my group, but also on an individual basis. The ILAC campus chapel was one of my favorite places to reflect, pray, and journal. At night, when the chapel was dim besides the glow of one lone light in the front, I liked to sit in the front row and re-hash the day. In true Ignatian fashion, I oft reflected on the day’s events similar to the structure of the five-step Daily Examen St. Ignatius of Loyola practiced:

  1. Become aware of God’s presence.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
  5. Look toward tomorrow.

After quiet reflection and time alone to pray, I often find myself to be less worried or anxious, and ready to move on to the next challenge with a changed perspective. Being in the DR, I was able to make a regular practice of reflecting and journaling, and I am trying to continue this since being back in the States.

One of the most special parts of this trip was our visit to the ‘campos,’ or countryside. We stayed with host families in a rural area outside of Santiago called La Guama, and were able to further immerse ourselves in the Dominican culture while providing healthcare at a clinic we set up in a central building. I think my fellow travelers and I had already noted the generosity and kindness of the Dominican people, but our experience in the campos made this more apparent. What the individuals we stayed with lacked in material wealth, they possessed exceedingly in personal wealth. They placed utmost value in their relationships with their family and friends and thanked God for all that they had. They were so present in everything that they did taking in life as it came, ditching schedules and displaying flexibility I have never seen. They took us into their homes like they had known us their whole lives, they doted on us like we were their kin, and they accepted us as family. This was all just so surreal to me. In the States, my family and I would likely never take strangers from another land into our home for a weekend and insist to give them our best bed, feed them, spend time truly getting to know them, etc. I have a wonderful, kind family, but maybe that’s just not how we are ‘programmed’ to do things in the United States. Being received in such an open, no holds barred fashion made me question my current points of view on my acceptance of strangers and if I need to reconsider how I receive others into my life? Am I doing so with open arms? How attached am I to my material possessions? In what ways can I work to become more ‘present’ with those around me- my family, friends, patients, peers, strangers?

Providing healthcare to the local people was interesting because we truly had to take a completely person-centered, holistic approach. Many of the individuals who came to us had complaints of pain in their joints or other various parts of their body and in order to know the potential cause, we had to examine their medical history with them (based on their recollections and not medical charts). Some sought medication as they thought we could provide this to them, and we could not. More often than not, we found ourselves teaching individuals how to adapt their lifestyles to their impairments to promote energy conservation and ease pain. We often prescribed home exercise programs and stretches that could potentially alleviate pain and pressure, as well. At times, when patients left, we felt unfulfilled in the care we provided for them, but were assured in the fact that we did for them what we could and that if they took some of our advice and applied it to their lives, they could potentially experience less pain.

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Keisy and I with our host grandmother or ‘abuela’ and Perrito 🙂

With further regard to the clinical aspects of the trip, it was interesting to learn more about the delivery of therapy from the Dominican practitioners in addition to the American professionals and students. I spent a decent amount of time with a physical therapist named Fran who was my age and was not only a physical therapist, but also currently in school to become a medical doctor! It was so fun to work with her because we could swap ideas for interventions, but we also got to practice our second language: she insisted that I only speak in Spanish (with a few exceptions) and she spoke solely in English! It was a great learning experience 🙂 I learned from Fran and the other therapists at the Cabral Adults outpatient clinic that being innovative in therapy and going back to the basics can be just as effective as using all the technology we have in the States. While they had very similar machines for physical agent modalities (PAMs) for pain control, they did not have some of the other higher tech machines we use in the States to help patients attain their goals. Instead, they had good old fashioned basics like using a wash rag for a child with decreased grip strength to grasp for increased grip among other great interventions that we may not think of in the US as we so easily resort to use of higher technology for therapy instead of being creative. An overarching theme with the patients is that most of them were very hard working individuals and worked through a lot of pain. Oftentimes, they came to therapy a little later than we would typically like to see, so this sometimes led to less than desirable outcomes.

Besides spending time at the clinic in Santiago, we also volunteered our time at an orphanage in Santiago called Angeles de Conani. Most of the children residing here had intellectual and/or physical disabilities in varying degrees. One little boy in particular captured my heart. From the first moments of arriving, he took my hand and showed me all around the facility. He was for the most part, non-verbal, but his smile was just contagious. He would poke the other girls and point to me as if to say, ‘look! this is my girl!” It was the sweetest thing ever. Going to this orphanage brought about feelings of happiness in that we could help enrich the lives of these children if only for a little while, but sadness that after our third visit, we would likely never see them again.

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Fran & I | Cabral Adults, Republica Dominicana

Outside of our clinical work, we had the opportunity to go on several tours in Santiago and Santo Domingo. Our tours in the Santiago area included a visit to the Mirabel sisters museum (check out their story if you are not familiar, they were phenomenal women: http://www.rejectedprincesses.com/princesses/the-mirabal-sisters), a tour of the La Aurora Cigar Factory, a tour of the history of the Dominican Republic at the Centro Leon museum and a historical tour of Santo Domingo during a weekend there. In Santo Domingo, a couple of my classmates and I attended mass at the Catedral Primada de America which was the first Roman Catholic church to be built in the West Indies in 1514. The mass was beautiful and the structure was very similar to that of a Catholic mass in the United States with an exception for it being led in Spanish. I caught on to parts of it, and I could tell you that the priest was very, VERY animated (I got a headache from the shouting at one point) and that his love for God and the church was apparent-he emphasized the need for a relationship with God despite how we sometimes don’t feel worthy of this. While touring Santo Domingo, I also took note of the beautiful centuries old architecture, but also just how many statues, monuments and buildings were built in commemoration for Christopher Columbus despite the negative impact he had on the native islanders (that’s a post in itself).

That same day, we explored the ruins of a hospital built between 1503 and 1508 and it was so beautiful and interesting! I’m not sure I have seen so many pigeons living communally before exploring these ruins. We ended the night eating mofongo (mashed plantains with pork rinds) and enjoying the atmosphere at a local corner store where they watched the World Series in baseball where we watched Santo Domingo’s team, the Licey Tigres, come to a victory over the Santiago Aguilas. The atmosphere was so fun and the excitement was contagious! I can’t say I have ever experienced such a fun time at a convenience store 😉 The last two days of our trip included time at a resort in Sosua, RD. I had never been to an all inclusive resort before, and wondered how it would feel after spending weeks at the ILAC center and in the campos, but I found that I did enjoy it. Seeing the sunsets with both the ocean and mountains in view as well as snorkeling were some of my favorite parts of the experience. Getting attacked by a wave and having sand come out of my ear even two days after the experience was not my favorite part of the experience, but provided me with some funny memories.

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The National Pantheon of the Dominican Republic | Mausoleum that is home to some of Santo Domingo’s fallen heroes. Originally built from 1714-1746 as a Jesuit church.

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Ruins of the Hospital of St. Nicolas of Bari, first hospital in the new world. Built from 1503-1508 and was in operation for 350 years before succumbing to the damage of old age and earthquakes.

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Sosua Beach | First time snorkeling- I saw some amazing sea life: beautiful fish, a sea turtle, endangered reefs and colorful vegetation. Might have accidentally swallowed a bit of saltwater, but can’t wait to try it again (snorkeling, not the salt water)!

Overall my trip to the Dominican Republic was life changing. It was my first experience leaving the country. My first experience doing mission work. My first time immersing myself in another culture. I have come back a changed person and I hope the positive changes I have experienced carry over into my personal and professional life.

If you have read this far, I commend your sustained attention and thank you for taking time out of your day to do so.

You’ll be hearing from me again soon about my professional rotation happening right now in Omaha, NE–stay tuned 🙂

Amanda

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