The eight days I spent this summer in Santo Domingo with the Ganémosle Program made it clear that that AYUDA’s assistance is both crucial and welcomed. Our visit to Robert Reed’s public children’s hospital illustrated this, revealing the hardships of diabetic life in the Dominican Republic. Through the crowded halls we walked, witnessing the strange mixture of joy, shock, anxiety and despair that only a hospital can offer. A frail boy, with bones hardly able to support him, hobbled by with the help of crutches and his nurse’s support. The doctor touring us noticed that I was looking and said to me,“he has diabetes.” The only difference between him and I is that, being from Canada, I have had the education, access to medicine, and support from others living with diabetes that provided me with the essential building blocks to learn to live healthily with diabetes.
These things, that I have had and he doesn’t, are what AYUDA and Aprendiendo a Vivir (our Dominican partner) are working to offer and cultivate in the DR. Our mission is key to ensuring these young people live and thrive with diabetes.
For the rest of the week in Santo Domingo we raised awareness in the streets, conducted an educational program in San Pedro, and amped up for the big day: Ganémosle 2014’s 5K, 10k, and Zumba fitness festivities.
The events drew thousands to Santo Domingo’s central park, among them local celebrities and professional athletes. That morning we ran an educational day camp for young people living with diabetes, while their parents participated in the race. I was with the 4-7 year olds and taught them how to best react to extreme blood sugars and how to recognize which foods have carbohydrates and which don’t.
The race was hugely successful as it raised awareness of diabetes to those who knew nothing about it and had the participation of the entire city. At the end of the day I was doing yoga with an eager, smiling six-year old, who was a pupil at our day camp. After giggling at my inflexibility she tapped me in the shoulder and said that she had something to say to me “en ingles.” She then hugged me tightly around the waist and said, “Thank you forever.”
~Something new for an Experienced Volunteer~
Having been involved with AYUDA since 2009, I have been fortunate to participate in Campo Amigo in Ecuador, Ganémosle in the Dominican Republic, and most recently in the Haiti Pilot Program. Each program has been challenging, unique, impactful and rewarding.
When I talk with people about international volunteerism, I find that while most are extremely interested, they are often reserved about whether they can actually make a difference. This is a fair question, and particularly because the work we do at AYUDA is not first-responder type emergency work. Our work is about long-term results that can only be observed over time. It isn’t easy, but few worthy endeavors are.
AYUDA’s expertise was on full display in the pilot program of Haiti, which was a figurative and literal new frontier for the organization. In many ways it mirrored some of AYUDA’s classic traits: an intense focus on understanding the local context, a round-the-clock care approach to working with campers, and the can-do mentality to providing an incredible life experience to everyone involved.
Working with our partner FHADIMAC in this capacity for the first time meant giving up control of some of the planning, and trusting our partner to fill the gaps. As with any pilot program, there is a lot to learn. The great news is that the program was a success; FHADIMAC is extremely pleased with our work and the campers were thrilled!. It can’t be said enough how important it is to have a strong local partner in country. Without FHADIMAC we would be unable to do our work, which is what makes AYUDA’s team building expertise so important.
Working with over 60 young people, the majority of whom spoke mainly or only Creole, was a challenge. We will work on how to manage the language barrier moving forward, but it didn’t stop us from teaching and learning from the campers. Haiti, with all its beauty, amazing food, kind people and warm climate, was a wonderful host country. I couldn’t have left more impressed with this nation that is far more compelling than the media might portray.
I am extremely proud to have been a part of this program and am energetic about engaging other volunteers to participate in the future. There is a great need for the work we do with AYUDA in Haiti. Through the work of the organization and Merith Basey in particular, the stage is now set for a long and prosperous camp program for next year and beyond.
Written by Randy Perillo (Campo Amigo Ecuador 2009, Ganémosle 2013, Haiti 2014).
If I had to choose one word to characterize the atmosphere among the AYUDA volunteers as we head into our second Campo Amigo weekend here in the D.R., it would be “momentum”. We have already met new friends (and, in some cases, reuniting with old ones) at the Fundación Aprendiendo a Vivir; toured Robert Reid Cabral pediatric hospital to gain a sense of the context surrounding our campers’ self-management of their diabetes; and generated lots of creative and engaging activities for an anticipated 60+ campers of all ages. Last Sunday was finally time to roll out our message for young people living with diabetes: “Be your own hero”. We asked them to tap into some unique superpowers in order to take command of their condition, and they rose to the call. Now, we can’t wait to do it all again this weekend.
I have several new heroes of my own: the young leaders from Aprendiendo a Vivir, who have worked side by side with us since we arrived in order to make Campo Amigo a success. The tireless “Tía Sandra” Jáquez, who manages to make each one of the campers feel that he or she is special. AYUDA’s volunteers, who have applied the full force of their creativity to designing a memorable and life-changing experience for others, even as they undergo what I’m sure will end up being a memorable and life-changing experience for themselves. It isn’t always easy working on an international team. Sometimes we trip over the language barrier; other times, we bump up against differing cultural perspectives and expectations. But, just like the members of the Justice League, or the X-men or the Fantastic Four, each of us brings diverse strengths and abilities to the task at hand.
After a successful visit to a sister community of adults and children living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes in the port city of San Pedro de Macorís, about an hour away from Santo Domingo, this morning volunteers are clearly feeling pumped about making the coming weekend’s Campo Amigo even more dynamic, empowering and action-packed than last time. Superhero masks and capes have even started to flash up and down the hallways of our secret headquarters! And, with our powers combined, we know that we can make a tangible difference in the lives of those we encounter.
Jessica Lynman is currently volunteering in the DR for AYUDA’s Campo Amigo Dominicano program. This is her second blog post for AYUDA.