Today was a pretty amazing day. We separated into two groups, one group traveled to the largest hospital in the Dominican Republic to interview the director of the hospital and hear about the good work that they do for mothers and infants.
The second group traveled for two hours out into the countryside of the DR to visit a rural health clinic and the surrounding communities. I was in the second group. Along the way, we saw disturbing scenes of poverty interspersed among some of the most beautiful landscapes I've seen. Our arrival at the health clinic brought a significant amount of pleasant surprise. We witnessed the workings of a well-organized, well-stocked, and highly supported provider of health care. The facilities were clean and comforting. The rooms for seeing patients were private. The pharmacy was full of life-giving medicines. Our guide, one of the administrators, was a well-dressed, friendly young man who willingly answered our pages of questions. He shared that the meal packages from Stop Hunger Now acted as a form of medicine for the people who came to the clinic. They received two packages of meals, once a week, along with prescriptions for their illnesses. He said that he had seen patients receiving the meals start to "fatten up". It was an awesome feeling to know that this food, packaged by volunteers in the U.S., was doing so much good. Even if we know that providing food is not the only thing that needs to happen to end hunger,it certainly seems to mean a lot to the people we meet here.
Our group had reflection time this evening after all of our visits were complete, and Marcie, our professor, made a comment about what an amazing opportunity this trip is. I agree, although it didn't quite sink in until today. We are experiencing both the deprivation present here as well as the richness. So many people are unable to purchase or supply enough food to their families, and live in houses that most Americans would not be able to tolerate. Their children suffer from parasites from the dirty water and are stunted by malnutrition and disease. This is devastating to me, but what I've seen is that it's not the whole story. There is a tremendous amount of faith, celebration, and vibrant energy that flows through this culture. There is community
and kindness, sharing of resources. The children make beautiful art and sing energetic songs. There are individuals who are devoting their lives to relieving the suffering of poverty. My question is, how are we and our actions complicit in the perpetuation of global poverty? Why do we justify our actions by demeaning the poor with negative images and broad generalizations? Why don't we open ourselves to knowing and growing community with those we see as poor. If there is one thing I have learned through experiences like this trip, it is that no one person is alike, no one person completely fits into a stereotype. Every person is given gifts and talents that we can appreciate if we'll be open to it. In the language of my faith, each person is made in the image of God and they are loved by a being so much greater than ourselves. It should be our honor to love them as well.
Another exceptional part of this day and this trip in general is the hospitality of Stop Hunger Now's partner organization, and our host, CitiHope International. They have embraced us with open arms, shown us many aspects of Dominican culture: the music,the singing, the food, the history, and the identity. We are finding that there is a healing power, a community-building component to celebration. We have experienced it within our own group dynamics. We've only been here for 3 full days, and already our group has laughed to the point of tears, cried from the emotion of witnessing such poverty, opened up about wonderful, painful, and personal experiences, and offered care and concern to one another as we absorb and process the visible symptoms of poverty and systemic oppression. I cannot think of a better group of people to travel with to do this work. It's hard to find a group of people more genuine and authentic than this group, and I'm grateful that I have this opportunity to be a part of it.
My final thought is that there is much hardness in this world, much suffering, and much pain. Working to set our systems and structures right so that all have access to the opportunity to thrive is a part of this group's destiny. And it's emotional and it's tough.But what I'm realizing is that we can still celebrate. We can celebrate community, kindness, love, gratitude, and hope. We can celebrate life and healing and friendship. We can celebrate those who devote their lives to the work of changing lives. We can celebrate cultures and identities and growth. We have much to celebrate and much to lift up. So, I will finish this week in quiet celebration of this experience, our lovely hosts, my social work cohort (and good friends), and the opportunity to better our world.