Escape is Often Needed

18 Jul

Two girls outside their home in Los Ranchitos

I realize that I have been missing in action recently, not posting blog posts as frequently as I would like. And while I was having some WordPress difficulties trying to posts updates about the Presidential election, which has since past now that my blog seems to be fixed. I have also been busy with something much more exciting.

Towards the end of May, right after the elections, I headed to the Dominican Republic to start a new project of mine, Mariposa International. As of now, Mariposa International takes volunteers to the Dominican Republic to experience the culture and volunteer. For our first trip we brought five medical professionals who spent a week in the capital taking Spanish classes and going on tourist excursions. The second week we stayed in San Jose de Ocoa and worked in a small town named Los Ranchitos. We brought luggage filled with medical supplies and boxes full of medication to the clinic in Los Ranchitos. A clinic who normally sees about fifty patients a day and is run by one doctor sent from the capital to spend her year-long residency working in Los Ranchitos.Over the course of three days our medical volunteers saw about 120 patients.

While this was the first trip and had the as to be expected hiccups, the trip was overall successful. After the trip, I have even more ideas for Mariposa International floating around in my head than before. While our focus as of now is to take different volunteers from the US to the Dominican Republic to work we have many other projects in mind for the future. In December, we will be launching a new program, yet to be named, bringing Christmas to the kids in Los Ranchitos. We will be taking down toys and clothes that we will distribute to the kids in Los Ranchitos at a holiday party.

The future and possibility of Mariposa International excites me. It was a lot more work than expected but I’m so excited for the growth of the organization. But for me, just being in Latin America is a breath of fresh air. Here in the United States we are so obsessed with living the ‘American Dream’. We live a life driven by consumerism. We always want the latest clothes trend, the newest shoe, the hottest hairstyle. We are unknowingly focused on ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ (or nowadays the Kardashians) as we want our homes filled with the nicest items to impress our friends. This drive of consumerism turns us into hoarders. In order for us to keep this hoarder lifestyle we become obsessed with work. We are like animals pushing down others in order to get what we want, success and promotion. We spend five days a week tied to a desk, glued to a computer in order to get the paycheck we so desire. We give ourselves only two days a week to do want we want, which normally turns into errands we can’t get done the rest of the week. Most of us are convinced that this is just the way of life, and that finding a job that you love is as likely as winning the lottery. This is the reason I need to get away to the Dominican Republic, or Latin America in general, to remind myself that this consumerism, work obsessed gloom is not life.

Los Ranchitos, the town we were working in, is a small town bordering the road that connects Ocoa to the capital. Almost none of the homes in Los Ranchitos have running water and many do not have electricity. The common house has a cement floor, tin roof, wood walls, curtain doors and outside kitchens and bathrooms. Most people in the town, if not tradesmen like a father taught mechanic, work on local farms and orchards. What Los Ranchitos lacks in fortune it makes up in beauty. Los Ranchitos is naturally beautiful surrounded by lush green mountains and a river with creeks running through. The people in Los Ranchitos are not consumed by the desire to buy new things, they are not obsessed with having the new trend. They are happy if they go through a full day without the electricity going out, they are happy when they have some extra change to buy a cold Presidente, the national beer. One thing I’ve always loved about Dominicans is that they do not need a good reason to get together with their friends. They leave their job stress at the office and meet their friends still in their work clothes, they don’t put their life on hold during the week, only allowing themselves fun on the weekend. Even when I have visited offices in the Dominican Republic people often seem to be having fun, joking around with co-workers. Being in the Dominican Republic always reminds me of what life is really about, not being stuck in an office, not being obsessed with having the latest trend, not about keeping up with anyone. Life truly is about family, friends and being happy.

While the American Dream is perhaps false there is something that we benefit from in the United States which is our healthcare. While our healthcare system isn’t as accessible as it should be it is better than in most countries. Most of the patients we saw in Los Ranchitos were in the clinic for routine, non grave issues. However, some of the patients definitely stuck out in my mind. Judy, the woman who opened her house to us and cooked for us all week brought as to see her uncle and aunt. Her uncle is a diabetic who has amputated legs and is in a wheelchair. His wife was recently hit by an automobile and is now also in a wheelchair. Another patient who stuck out to me is a twelve-year-old boy who came in for a common cold. He was so sweet but so shy. When the nurse I was working with left to get medicine the woman he was with started to explain to me that she is not his mother. She explained to me that both of his parents were hit by a truck and killed, leaving him an orphan. The woman who was with him was the local pastor, who had since taken him in and has been raising him. Right after him a mother and her fourteen year old son came in. The doctor who works in the clinic pulled me aside when they were coming in to explain to me that the mother is HIV positive. They are Haitian which means Spanish isn’t their first language and the boy is unable to go to school. The mother’s health is in poor condition, she had bad rashes and scabs up and down her legs and pneumonia. Although the Dominican government provides free AIDS medicine to those who cannot afford it, the closest place for the mother to go to get it is Ocoa. When we asked her why she had not been going to get her monthly medicine she said it was because she did not have the money to get to Ocoa, a trip that costs about $1.25. We considered giving her the money to get to Ocoa, but realized that she probably would end up spending the money on her children not herself, also it is a regular treatment that she needs. Without proper treatment, that we were unable to provide, this mother will not live for very many more years, leaving her now fourteen year old son to take care of the family. Throughout the appointment it was obvious the shame that this mother felt, she did not make eye contact and sat in a submissive manner. In the Dominican Republic, Haitians are treated as outcasts, I could not imagine being a Haitian with HIV in the Dominican Republic. I hope that Mariposa International will eventually be able to help these patients more, by a scholarship program or some other way. These patients made me realize just how lucky we are, even for the little things. The kids were so amazed by the toothbrushes we gave them, and the mothers so thankful even for soap. To be healthy, to have a healthy family is more than enough.

Even for me, someone who has been traveling to the Dominican Republic for ten years now, each time is a new experience. A new reminder to be thankful for what we have, a reminder that life is not work, that life is not about what you own. I am excited to continue to bring volunteers to this country I love so much, to open their eyes to a new world outside their own. I hope that future Mariposa International volunteers will develop a love for the country and people and realize what is truly important in life.

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