After a week in La Romana, Dominican Republic, serving Haitian sugar cane workers and helping with various projects at the Good Samaritan Hospital, the most common remark is, “I get so much more from this experience than I give!” The rapport and friendships we build with the people who coordinate our program, who cook our meals and who act as our interpreters, is truly amazing. The Haitians who worship with us in the large city church; in small mission churches or in the bateys are gracious and welcoming. Families come to the Medical Clinics in the bateys, dressed in their best, smiling, happy, and appreciative in spite of their struggles. Children flock to receive their parasite medicine, get a sticker and often a toy when they visit the doctor. While they are not all Christians, we hope that by being servants of the Lord we demonstrate God’s love for them.
We arrived in La Romana on Saturday, Feb 20th in time for supper of fried chicken and rice and vegetables. For dessert, we made a trek to “Bon Bon” for ice cream, always a special treat. Sunday starts by worshipping at a local newly established neighborhood mission church on the outskirts of La Romana. This is followed by a trip to the beach and then church again, at the large, newly renovated church in the city. After church we go to work preparing hygiene packs for the families who attend the clinic and counting pain and vitamin pills into packs of 30, so that we can have them ready for the morning.
Monday morning we are off to the Good Samaritan Hospital. The “construction team” and this writer disembarked. Skip and others were assigned to the carpentry shop to build lamp posts for street lights and security cameras for the hospital parking lot. On a side note, it became clear even on the first day that one of our team members was highly challenged by the first step onto the school bus, so Skip and Carlos, one of the construction team’s interpreters went to work on a wooden stool, which turned out to be much appreciated by all. The rest of the crew sent off to work on painting projects. I spent the morning with the physical therapists, but was lucky enough to earn a paint brush in the afternoon. The rest of the bus went on their way to the first batey to spend the better part of the day holding a medical clinic.
Clinics were held every day, serving 90 – 150 people! Most complain or arthritic pain, headaches, sometimes due to dehydration, hypertension, stomach pain, colds, coughs, a few wounds, skin rashes, and of course little ones with ear infections. They are all registered, weighed, blood pressure taken and then seen by doctors. Our own Joanna Dotts, saw most of the children, and earned a bit of a reputation for making babies cry, although all knew it was not a personal thing. The “pharmacy” was the next stop where team members led by our fearless leader, a Nurse Anesthetist in real life, selected meds from various bins to match the requests from the doctors. Amazing interpreters then explained the prescribed medications to the patients and gave them the day’s gift…a hygiene kit, a piece or two of clothing, a toy, or rice and beans in a bag with other foods, depending on the day.
Evenings almost always involved a work project, counting meds, bagging rice and beans and packing them with pasta, sardines, oil and cornmeal; sorting and assembling hygiene packs or sizing and organizing donated clothing. Working together was as much fun as work, but there was time for recreation, including the traditional pizza night out together on Thursday, and a final trip to the beach late Friday afternoon with a chance to experience a Caribbean sunset!
This was the 30th anniversary of the Abington First Baptist Church’s first trip to La Romana. Several members of our team have close ties with this Massachusetts church. As part of the celebration of this anniversary, we were fortunate to have an opportunity to hear more about the history of the hospital, including an amazing tour of the facility, and were invited as a group to pray with the patients in their rooms. We visited mission churches in the barrios surrounding La Romana, heard about the pastor training program led by our own team leader Bruce Barden, visited “backyard schools,” where adults learn how to read and write, and learned about plans for weekend retreats for women of the bateys,” as well as nutrition, dental, and educational programs for children. It seems almost unbelievable, but it isn’t. The power of prayer and faith in our God and our Lord, Jesus Christ, made it happen and will continue. We feel blessed to have taken part in this journey and are committed to continue.