Monday, November 3, 2008

Project Hope Volunteers Visit HOPE Clinic in the Dominican Republic

Several Project Hope volunteers, participating in the 2008 Continuing Promise campaign, were able to visit one of the nonprofit’s clinics in the Dominican Republic in October. Doctors Lydia Segal and Nancy Foote, PACU Nurse Julia Taylor, Midwife Lillian Sanpere, Family Nurse Practitioner Rena Rovere, and Public Affairs Officer Inga Kimple, made up the team. As part of a joint mission by US armed services, the US Public Health Service, several foreign countries and other non-government agencies, the group flew the first leg of the journey in a US military helicopter, and then were driven from Bayaguana to Monte Plata by van.

“Maternal Child Clinic of the Order of Malta, one of two such clinics supported by Project Hope and the religious order in the Dominican Republic, has been offering services since August 2003. First begun as a facility for mothers and children, prioritizing the most vulnerable, the facility now also sees the general, underserved population three days a week,” said Teresa Narvaez, Project HOPE Dominican Republic Country Director. “Here in Monte Plata we have a great need for our services.”

To commemorate the visit by the U.S. volunteers, a health fair was held. Patients were able to see both the visiting doctors and regular staff, have some general health questions answered, and receive printed health literature.

The clinic, which typically sees from 80 to 100 patients a day, is actually able to process up to 300 lab tests in its state-of-the-art laboratory. With its clean, open and airy waiting rooms and examination areas, everything is cheerful and efficient. The facility also has dental and optometry offices and a well-stocked pharmacy. Patients are asked to pay on a sliding scale for prescriptions and supplies. But there are no doctor fees.

“The doctors live about an hour and a half away in Santo Domingo,” said Clinic Coordinator Angela Alban. “They want to help and generally stay a year or two. Then the long drive gets to be too much and we have to replace them. But we use them a lot while they’re here. We also have an endocrinologist who comes in on a regular basis.”

As part of its original mission the clinic offers general medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, childhood vaccinations, and sonograms. Health education, home visits and various types of follow-up in the community are also an important part of the routine.

During lunch, the visiting Project Hope volunteers were treated to a sampling of Dominican Republic typical fare: seasoned chicken, potato and carrot salad, rice and beans, and a visit from the clinic’s major donors. Señor Cesar Medina, a cattle rancher and farmer, along with his wife, Francia, gave the plat for the clinic and continue as major benefactors, Alban said. In the near future, Medina will also develop a housing project and various businesses behind the clinic.

“When they built the clinic, there was nothing here. Now the government has put in the new street and bridge and the sports complex across the street,” Alban said. “It has really added to the area.”

The volunteers also met Ruben Ottenwalden, another Project Hope volunteer, who returned to his native Dominican Republic after living 30 years in the United States. Ruben, whose real name is “Bienvenido” or ‘Welcome’ in Spanish, has, along with his wife, adopted several children and feed about 35 more, several times a week.

“People thought I was crazy to return here. But, sometimes what we feed them is the only food they have all day,” he said. “We just try to do what we can.” A few days later, the volunteers were able to meet with Ottenwalden again in Santo Domingo, to pass on several bags of clothing and supplies, as they lightened their luggage for the return trip home.

-By Inga Kimple

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