When you enter Barrio Puerto Principe, one of the new barrios where NPS is working, you get the feeling of walking into a shantytown of a big city…miles away from the bateyes and more expansive barrios to the north and south of town. Puerto Principe was named after Port-Au-Prince, the capital of neighboring Haiti, and is full of Haitian families who migrated to the D.R. to work in the sugar cane industry and stayed. In Puerto Principe, the houses of wood and corrugated iron are small and packed closely together, and as you walk through the winding pathways that have been etched into the grid of the neighborhood, you will often find yourself in makeshift plazas, where children play ball and laugh together when school gets out. Around every winding corner you might find women braiding each other’s hair, or playing card games while their babies play at their feet. The walk through Puerto Principe only lasts, at the most, 10 minutes, but the barrio is so densely populated that along the way you pass hundreds of people living in very close quarters.
Ramona knows everyone here by name, and as she took me on a tour through the barrio she stopped and introduced me to many of the mothers who have children in the NPS program. We spent at least 15 minutes at the home of a new mother talking about the difficulties and benefits of breastfeeding, and Ramona encouraged her to stop into the NPS clinic the next day for the next set of vaccinations for her baby. I can’t be sure, but I believe that young mother made it into town the next day and her baby got the shots he needed. We met another young mother whose 6 month old baby was born with a cleft palate. Luckily, he is a happy baby and has been gaining weight over the past few months. On Monday, he will be operated on in the capital and return home to the barrio soon after, a welcome homecoming for this small family. Ramona and the NPS team have been following his case closely since he was born and will follow up with him when he returns to Puerto Principe.
I am looking forward to hearing how his surgery went and wish I had a lot more time here to spend getting to know the families in the barrios.