As September 2015 comes to a close, we are happy to say that VAW’s Medical Outreach chapters at UCSD and UCLA worked hard to create yet another great month of medical clinics and outreach trips. And what a ride it was!
Both teams were in country by September 13th, and from the very beginning they were just as ready to work towards creating impactful change as they were to explore and have fun in a new country. Jarabacoa proved to be a great outlet for fulfilling both of these interests. The teams were able to string together a fantastic series of clinics throughout their two weeks, while also finding time to hike through and paraglide over mountains, jump off waterfalls and cruise through white water rapids. While San Diego, Los Angeles and Jarabacoa are all very sunny, the humidity, rain and bugs of the DR’s tropical climate were definitely a new experience for many. Some nights team members found themselves looking up in awe at the ominous, stormy sky counting the seconds between flashes of lightning and crashing thunder, while other nights they would sit counting the bug bites on each other’s legs, equally as awestruck by their new marks of discomfort. Nonetheless, every student consistently showed an unwavering resilience and poise in the eyes of adversity, illustrating their maturity and perseverance to serve those less fortunate regardless of the personal difficulties they faced.
As with all of our medical missions, each clinic day took place in a new community in the Jarabacoa region, and with each new community came a new population of patients with their own unique demographics, personalities and medical needs. In one of the communities during the mission, a very high percentage of our patients suffered from stomach parasites, and in another community the most common ailment amongst our patients had to do with bacterial skin rashes and infections. As such, the volunteers from both teams were able to see first hand just how versatile our clinics have to be in order to meet the myriad of medical treatments each community requires. Luckily for the volunteers and the patients, our incredible staff of doctors, led by our new Medical Coordinator Dr. Reynaldo Medina, was able to identify the varying patterns of each community when giving treatments while simultaneously helping the volunteers whom were shadowing gain keen insight into their thought process and procedures when making each diagnosis. At all of our sites, the volunteers that shadow during clinics gain a particularly invaluable experience in that our doctors encourage the volunteers to ask questions (both to the doctors and the patients) and allow the students to get involved in the consultation process. This model is perfect for learning not only the medical knowledge required to carry out each consultation but also the interpersonal skills of creating a comfortable environment for the patients while identifying patient needs successfully and efficiently with limited medical resources.
One aspect of this month’s missions that was unique was the UCSD team’s educational day. During educational days, the volunteers travel to local schools and conduct a series of presentations, games, activities, etc. that help the students learn about the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preventing diseases, all while having a great deal of fun. UCSD’s model for education day was especially interesting, however, because during this process of teaching the students, they facilitated the creation of two beautiful murals illustrating the importance of personal hygiene in the fight against bacteria. By having the students paint these murals while also listening to educational presentations, the UCSD team created a multifaceted approach toward education that had both an immediate impact on the students’ knowledge but also a sustainable presence in their school, as the murals are going to be hung in the hallways of the school yard for years to come. Sanam Mavandadipur, a UCSD team member, reflected on the success of the mural painting, saying, “[The mural] focused on healthy hygiene habits came out beautifully and allowed the kids to work together to make it into a work of art.” Sanam was thrilled to have witnessed her team’s hard work transcend onto the joy and fun of the students that day. “After planning out the whole day for so long, watching it come together was more than we could have ever expected.”
This new, creative approach toward education day was a huge success and we hope to see more teams think about new ways to create this sustainable impact on the children they teach.
In addition to the UCSD’s success during their education day, the UCLA team had a particularly outstanding performance during one of their clinics, as they were able to serve over 160 patients in one community. Whenever clinic days bring in that many patients, things inevitably get very hectic. As the team tried to stay cool both physically and figuratively in the crowded, hot classrooms they worked in, their passion for helping this underserved community fueled and motivated them to finish out the day strong. Our DR site’s Medical Coordinator Dr. Reynaldo recalls their hard work on the mission’s busiest day. “In the La Penda community, La Vega, where we worked with about 160 patients or more during the day, all of the volunteers were always perfectly organized, as they were every day, and I can’t express through words how grateful and pleasantly surprised I am, and for the great work done by the UCLA team during mobile medical clinics.” What impressed Dr. Reynaldo, and the rest of the medical staff, most that day was how happy and calm all the volunteers stayed, even when things became most chaotic. “there is no doubt that all the days were busy,” Dr. Reynaldo said, “but they never gave up and neither did we. They were never tired of working but on the contrary always showed a great desire to help and to work no matter how many patients we saw, always with a smile on their faces.” Once they finished up with their last patient, the volunteers kept their spirits up despite their exhaustion, with the help as always of their enthusiastic Site Coordinator Mariel Ureña, by dancing with the children and singing/mumbling along to the local reggaeton and bachata hits.
All in all, this month’s missions to the DR were a major success, and we expect that both the UCSD and UCLA Medical Outreach chapters will continue to bring together talented, charismatic and driven teams in the coming years.