We drive two hours out deep into the Dominican countryside. As we drive we see rich, fertile land, at least from within the van. We pass through small communities with bright colored buildings, people milling about, looking curiously at visitors, watching the day go by. Is this life in the DR? Perhaps. Many of these communities have little infrastructure, which means that formal jobs aren’t a reality. You make what you need to survive somehow-maybe you farm. Maybe you sell. Maybe you do hair or sell snacks to cars or just know when the aid comes and how much you can survive off of, you and your family. We saw evidence of farming. We saw livestock and we saw plants being grown, plants being harvested.
We arrived at the clinic we were visiting. I was struck by the beauty as well as the tranquility of the facility. We go in through a gate to a fairly large community clinic. There are multiple buildings, all yellow. Between the buildings-the best way to describe it is a tropical courtyard. Just beautiful with clean, tile walkways and luscious plant life. We meet our interviewer-David Jorge. A patient, smiling gentleman, this assistant director was wonderful to us throughout our visit. Giving us utmost care and attention, working with us in our broken Spanish, taking us to see everything and letting us ask lots of questions.
We go into the main room and see a medium sized waiting room where 20 to 30 people are sitting-comfortably and calmly. There is not very much commotion, no children were crying. Some people hold soft conversations, most sat quietly waiting to be seen. Around the waiting room were doors that each had a title: “laboratory” primary care doctor. Gynecologist. We entered into the laboratory, immediately feeling the cool air wash over us. Two women sat in a small air conditioned room, fashioned with some high tech medical equipment-a calibrater, tools to take blood, a machine for urine samples. The women were clearly taking systematic notes in big lined notebooks-they would put a word and then 4 or 5 numbers below it, and 3 or 4 of these entries on each page. I couldn’t read a word of it-but I have no doubt that they could. The grace that these staff had for our group of excited students in our red t shirts carrying our composition notebooks trying so hard to communicate in Spanish, which none of us are quite stellar at, though some more familiar than others, was humbling and we were so thankful.
So there we were, with our lab technicians and we start to ask all the questions we can think of in our broken Spanish-what diseases are you seeing? Whats most common? What do you do most? How does all this work? How do the meals fit in? They smile and answer and we copiously take notes and pictures, trying not to let too much of the precious information slip through our fingers. We go into the next room and see how similar it is to the doctor’s offices in the US. In the meantime, the patients waiting look curiously at our group, clearly wondering what this group of students is here for.
We enter into a few more rooms asking bits of information, the more we see the more we ask, and learning how to infer based on our surrounding-photo journaling by telling one another-did you get a picture of that board on the wall that tells which doctors are here on which days? Did you see where they have all their donors names? What about those vitamin angels posters that show how to have good nutrition?
We see a small girl sitting outside one of the doctor’s offices. One of our team members squats down next to her to say hello. We learn that she is here with her mother who is being seen by the doctor. The mother comes out after a minute and 2 of us work to have a conversation with her. She smiles at us, shy at first but warming up very quickly. She tells us how she uses her SHN meals and how this is a staple for her family and where she lives and how often she comes here. She tells us about their life, her and her little one, and the other children she has. That they do like the rice and that they get it often. She lets us write down her name and take her picture and even though we only talked to her for 5 minutes, its hard to say goodbye. That connection was made, that sweet person to person connection that is at the heart of travel. That moment that is worth the flying and the driving and the money and the discomfort because there is nothing that compares to having that vibrant soul right next to you where you can look into their eyes or touch their hand or see the way they smile or let them tell you something about their life and tell them something about yours. That’s the heart of this for me. Its what makes me come alive. And I am about the me and about the data driven, evidence based what is this food doing in this country, in this clinic, in this family? But when it gets down to it, I want to meet this mother who eats this food and its keeping her and her family going. And its not an either or. It’s a both and. I am about the long term sustainable empowerment of locals to support themselves. But when I meet these people and they become my people, my little sisters now at jackies house, my friends at the clinic. When I see my mother and my father in the people that I meet, my brother and my sister. And they are mine now, this is something that I would not trade for the whole world.
After meeting this lovely new friend and bidding them farewell, back to their little home, where they live out their life in this rich and mysterious and tropical country, I and one of the other girls went out where we saw a woman with the stop hunger now box next to her