Teacher’s cap­i­tal idea brings health clinic to a vil­lage

Medi­cos and other vol­un­teers band to­gether for reg­u­lar mis­sions to the Do­mini­can Repub­lic

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SHAMPA SINHA

MY alarm clock goes off at 3am and again at 4am, at 4.30am and 5am. Un­for­tu­nately, since it is a rooster, there is no snooze but­ton. As its exuberant crow­ing res­onates across the val­ley, other roost­ers join in glee­fully.

By 6am, the inky dark­ness of the Do­mini­can sky has paled and my room­mates and I de­cide to fi­nally stir from un­der­neath our cob­webby mos­quito nets and yield to the roost­ers’ calls. I get first dibs on the shower, a tin en­clo­sure out­side the main house where a large bucket and dip­per await. There is no hot wa­ter, but to get me through the teeth-chat­ter­ing shock of pour­ing the first dip­per­ful over my head, there is a mil­lion­dol­lar view of hi­bis­cus bushes and mist ris­ing over the val­ley.

The morn­ing sun inches higher in the sky as I bathe. Once dressed, we trudge up dirt roads, past rolling green hills and through a small sug­ar­cane field for a com­mu­nal break­fast.

So be­gins our week in the vil­lage of Naran­jito with So­mos Ami­gos Med­i­cal Mis­sions. This NGO had its be­gin­nings two decades ago as a twin­kle in the eye of Frank Brightwell, a high-school teacher in Wash­ing­ton, DC. He felt the stu­dents in his his­tory class, who came from priv­i­leged back­grounds, needed to be taken out­side their com­fort zone and have their world view shaken up.

So dur­ing their sum­mer hol­i­days they helped dig trenches for wa­ter pipes, clear a blocked road and build a school for Naran­jito’s in­hab­i­tants. Then Brightwell re­cruited his GP, Mike Kee­gan, and den­tist, Joe Fearon, to ad­dress the vil­lage’s health needs. Even­tu­ally they man­aged to set up a clinic. Now, about three times a year Brightwell leads a group of about 50 vol­un­teers to Naran­jito, a bumpy three-hour bus ride from the city of San­ti­ago.

Ap­prox­i­mately half the group is com­prised of med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als. The oth­ers come from var­i­ous walks of life. From the mo­ment Frank picks us up with a hug and a broad smile at San­ti­ago air­port, I feel as if I’m a guest at a fam­ily re­union.

Is­abele Ro­driguez, a brighteyed Peru­vian ma­tri­arch who ad­dresses ev­ery­one as mi carino or mi amor, im­me­di­ately takes me­un­der her wing. In my role as Span­ish trans­la­tor for one of the doc­tors, I spend the evening be­fore the clinic opens learn­ing the po­lite way to ask a pa­tient to re­move his trousers and pull his knees up to his chest so the doc­tor can check his prostate. By the end of the week, I can say it with­out blush­ing.

Pa­tients come on the backs of don­keys or on foot to pick up hy­per­ten­sion med­i­ca­tion, get a small tu­mour re­moved, make sure their di­a­betes is un­der con­trol, or to get their teeth cleaned or ex- tracted. As the clinic is about 160km from Port au Prince, we even get Haitians wan­der­ing across the bor­der to ac­cess its ser­vices. One day we see a man with a rare neu­ro­log­i­cal tremor and a lit­tle girl with a hole in the wall of her heart. The for­mer has to be sent away but Frank hopes he will be able to raise funds for the child to have the op­er­a­tion she des­per­ately needs.

He tells me there are four or five cases on ev­ery trip that need ad­di­tional fi­nanc­ing and fol­lowup. I be­lieve, though, that if enough good peo­ple get to­gether, good things can hap­pen.


Res­i­dents of the vil­lage of Naran­jito re­ceive treat­ment

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