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.
Greetings to all our Haiti supporters!
We are pleased to report that on the 21st April 2014, five AYUDA volunteers journeyed to Port-au-Prince, Haiti in support of a diabetes education program for 68 children and youth living with diabetes. For AYUDA, this was a pilot volunteer program, condensed into 7 days and nights after 10 weeks of training and preparation (and of course fundraising). FHADIMAC (fhadimac.org), AYUDA’s local partner based out of Port au Prince, had selected a location for camp one and half hours north of the capital in a beautiful coastal location called Moulin-sur-Mer. The setting was one of the most beautiful locations in which AYUDA had ever co-hosted a camp and it turned out to be the first opportunity for many of the campers to enjoy a dip in the sea despite living on a Caribbean island.
The AYUDA volunteers were a mixed group with diverse skillsets but who brought much more to the experience that the sum of their parts. Four of the five were living with diabetes themselves (some for more than 20 years each) and four of them had prior experience in-country with AYUDA, but for one this would be her first overseas introduction to AYUDA. Although team members spoke French (along with some basic Haitian Creole), we managed to overcome language barriers with the help of the young leaders who spoke some English, French and Creole to provide a safe, educational and recreational diabetes camping environment.
Two and a half days were spent in the Caribbean nation’s capital revising activities for camp, preparing materials and getting to know some of FHADIMAC’s young leaders. FHADIMAC is lead by the tireless Dr Nancy Charles Larco, daughter of Dr Rene Charles Larco who founded the organization more than 25 years ago. Keeping it in the family, experienced AYUDA volunteer and granddaughter of the founder, Vanessa Larco, took a leadership role in the camp and helped to merge the AYUDA and FHADIMAC teams into one. The team also spent some time at the University State Hospital in Port au Prince, the pediatric department still functioning 4 years post-earthquake in temporary buildings. A shift to more permanent home is hoped for in the near future but hasn't yet happened.
On Thursday 24th April, the AYUDA team supported the FHADIMAC staff in registering the campers at FHADIMAC, testing blood sugars and ensuring everyone had taken their insulin. A packed lunch was provided and once everyone’s paperwork was done, the AYUDA team jumped into a car to head to camp ahead of the FHADIMAC buses that were following behind.
‘Do you have diabetes?’ one of the campers from Cap Haitian asked AYUDA volunteer Chris who has been living with diabetes for 2 decades diagnosed as a small child, ‘how is that possible if you’re so big!?’. These sort of revelations were heard multiple times over the camp days, since this was the first time that many had had the opportunity to engage with other young people living with the same condition who weren’t from Haiti.
The camp was 3 days and nights during which the AYUDA team worked tirelessly from the 7am morning blood sugar checks to the 1am night rounds. The FHADIMAC young leaders quickly took on leadership in their new camp counselor roles. Meanwhile, the night activities revealed an intensely competitive Haitian spirit for musical chairs and a constant desire to dance whenever possible. New friendships were formed and many talents were shared in the final evening’s talent show.
As the camp wrapped up on the Sunday morning, an emphasis was made on the community aspect of the program and the feeling that everyone was connected, not just by diabetes but the shared experiences during the four days. As the groups departed back to their respective communities in Port au Prince, Cap Haitian and St Marc the organizers remained to evaluate and discuss opportunities to improve for our next activities.
Thank you for your continued support!
For this report to our donors, I'd like to share a blog post from one of our returning volunteers:
By Ashley Morse (Campo Amigo Dominican Republic 2013 and 2014)
On May 11th I celebrated ten full years of living with diabetes. If you talked to me on May 11th of any other year, I would not have been so celebratory. In fact, I use to regard diabetes as a hindrance. It made every aspect of my life—sports, class and friends— more difficult. May 11th merely served to remind me of how much more challenging my life had to be as a result of diabetes. However, May 11th, 2014 was different. After finding my place last year as an AYUDA volunteer and spending three weeks in the Dominican Republic to support others with this same condition, my mindset changed completely. Diabetes is still a huge day- to-day commitment with a plethora of emotional and physical ups and downs, but for me, it has been a blessing in disguise.
Last summer was the first summer I volunteered with AYUDA, and I’ll be returning this year for the Campo Amigo program in the Dominican Republic. It was an incredibly sobering experience to witness the poverty some Dominicans face on top of managing such an expensive condition. The experience showed me how lucky I am to have access to such great resources and to be supported by such a wonderful community. In this way, my experience with diabetes challenged me to take full advantage of the resources and knowledge I have and to bring them into communities that are less fortunate. AYUDA became the first experience in my life for which I felt I could personally make a difference. I learned that there are few things in life that bring as much happiness as assisting another to improve his or her life.
So, thanks to AYUDA, this year and every year, I’ll be celebrating on May 11th.
I send a warm and hearty thank you to all our supporters for your continued support! As AYUDA's motto says "Juntos somos más fuertes!" - Together we are stronger!