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.”
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.
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!
In recognition of World Diabetes Day on November 14th, a small, experienced AYUDA Team combined forces once again with the young leaders of AYUDA's primary partner organization in the Dominican Republic (Aprendiendo a Vivir/AAV) to put together a series of diabetes education and outreach activities in schools across the capital. All sessions started with asking students what they had heard about diabetes and whether they knew anyone in their families with the condition. More than half of students raised their hands in most of the sessions. The rest of the interactive sessions focused on 'myth-busting' a lot of preconceived ideas about diabetes, how it occurred and how it could be managed. In total more than 1000 students were reached via this pilot program. Furthermore, funds were raised for our local partner through the sale of diabetes day bracelets and T-shirts.
In addition to these sessions, the team was involved with a Media Tour discussing World Diabetes Day which included TV, Radio and newspaper appearances. These events culminated in a specially designed workshop in San Pedro de Macorís with a small local foundation called "El Hogar del Diabético". This new partnership with AAV serves as an outreach opportunity for both organizations to work closely with a broader population of people living with diabetes. AYUDA volunteers Louise Kyle and Chris Noble worked with AAV's young leaders to prepare sessions on diabetes education 101 while Diabetes Health Educator and Nurse from Barcelona, Irune Goicochea, delivered a more technical training on diabetes management to local nurses from the main public hospital in the region as well a small group of nursing students.
World Diabetes Day activities also included a hosting of an hour of a global WDD chat on issues around youth empowerment and diabetes, and the lighting in blue (the color of diabetes) of one of the main Agora shopping Mall in Santo Domingo.
AYUDA staff and volunteers returned home in mid July after multiple weeks of diabetes education and empowerment activities in the Dominican Republic to support children and youth with Type 1 Diabetes and their families.
The summer activities were kicked off in May with our local partner in Santo Domingo, Aprendiendo a Vivir (AAV) and our 'Ganémosle la carrera a la diabetes' (let's beat diabetes) advocacy campaign. In the lead up to the main events held over the weekend of June 8th and 9th AYUDA volunteers and local young leaders with diabetes were involved in a media tour of radio and TV stations where they were invited to discuss diabetes, many of them talking about their personal experiences living with Type 1, the importance of exercise and nutrition and of course promoting the events themselves.
The events themselves included a 10K Race, a 5K Race & Walk/Run, a children's race and a zumbathon! In a country where 1 in 4 people either has diabetes or is at risk, the message was clear: if you have diabetes, exercise to better manage it and if you don't have diabetes, exercise to stay fit and try to prevent the onset of Type 2. We were proud to see over 2000 people attend the event. Check out the link to watch the video of the event!
Not only did the volunteers serve as excellent role models they played a key role in the planning, preparation and implementation of diabetes education activities for the children and youth with diabetes from AAV who attended the events. All funds from Ganémosle also went to support AAV and enable them to continue their work to educate and empower people living with diabetes in the Dominican Republic.
The other major activities of the summer were the two diabetes education camps for children and youth with diabetes and their families, and an outreach program to a neighbouring town of San Pedro. The Family Camp saw 200 people in attendance for a packed weekend of carefully tailored diabetes education activities for different age groups. AYUDA volunteers and local young leaders prepared entertaining and innovative games that would make learning about managing diabetes fun and memorable. Activities included a dance routine that helps young children remember where all the injection sites are on the body and a rap song about diabetes. Parents spent time working with AAV's Psychologist and Director of Education Sandra Jaquez as well as with a certified diabetes educator from Barcelona who had travelled to the DR specifically to support these programs.
The second weekend camp focused on recently diagnosed children and their parents. Children who were more at risk or needed additional help were also invited to join this program. These activities followed a similar structure but were adapted to the particular group's knowledge base. Over 125 people participated in these activities.
Thank you to all our supporters for their continued support! As AYUDA's motto says "Juntos somos más fuertes!" - Together we are stronger!
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