A group of six Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) employees traveled to Consuelo, Dominican Republic (DR) from Nov. 11 to 18, 2018, to participate in CHOP’s biannual Global Health Allies work week. These weeks, which take place each June and November, bring together CHOP employees to prepare and deliver a continuing education curriculum to community health promoters in CHOP’s partner community in the DR. Below is the story of one of the participants, Dina Karvounides, PsyD.
After four months of meetings and many hours of preparation, our team — Suzanne Block, BSN, RN (Clinical Nurse), Sophia Figgs-Riley, BSN, RN (Clinical Nurse), Karen Mejia-Jimenez (Medical Interpreter), Melissa Ugarte (Specialty Care Program Coordinator), Tara Wasserman, BSN, RN (Clinical Nurse) and me — arrived in the Dominican Republic to begin our Global Health Allies work week in November. At Punta Cana airport, we boarded a van for a two-hour scenic ride that marked the beginning of an unforgettable experience. As we slowly approached our guest home, the Casa Roja (“Red House”), we started to observe firsthand what life is like in Consuelo: unpaved roads, wandering cows, simply built but brightly painted homes, beautiful flowers, inconsistent access to electricity, a palpable sense of community, tropical fruits hanging from trees, and extreme heat.
Shortly after our arrival, each team member identified her sleeping space and started to settle in. The natural progression of the weeklong experience began as each person learned a little more about her peers as roommates, colleagues, teachers and learners. The large kitchen table draped in a holiday tablecloth became a sacred space of human interaction that so often in the United States is encroached upon by technology, social media and LED screens. In this space, we prepared lectures, processed the day’s activities and shared stories, forming a bond as strong as if we’d been working together for months in a CHOP clinic or floor.
Learning from each other
The next morning, it was time to get to work. The fantastic team of medical providers at Centro de Salud Divina Providencia, CHOP’s primary partner in Consuelo, welcomed us and gave us a tour of the various clinic spaces, and we learned about the comprehensive services they provide to their community. We then headed to a classroom at a local technical school where we would spend our mornings for the rest of the week. There, we began our teaching and learned from the community health promoters: women who model good health practices and educate families in CHOP’s pediatric Global Health program in town.
From the beginning, it was evident how much knowledge the community health promoters had already obtained during previous Global Health Allies work weeks. They were engaged and motivated, and they participated fully in all of the activities. Topics presented upon their request included diabetes, nutrition, dental and vision care, epilepsy, child development, medication safety, sexual and reproductive health, substance abuse, and mindfulness practice. Lessons involved a combination of PowerPoint presentations, videos, handouts and brochures. The most popular activity was the role-playing exercise. The week’s lectures occurred each morning from Monday to Friday and included education and questions. The health promoters also shared personal stories of experiences in Consuelo and talked about the needs of fellow community members. All of these experiences provided a direct window into some of the challenges they and their community face because of limited resources. Both the inner strength and resilience evident in these women were inspiring.
In the afternoons, we conducted community health fairs in the various barrios (neighborhoods) served by the program. These health fairs consisted of preventive health services such as measuring weight, taking blood pressure, and applying fluoride to the teeth of children, teens and adults. The varying responses to “open your mouth” per child were endearing and ranged from polite but uncomfortable cooperation from older children to tears from some of the younger ones who were not familiar with the taste of the fluoride. At the end, each child received a toothbrush and toothpaste to encourage ongoing dental hygiene. Adults were also engaged and were open to feedback regarding high blood pressure and proper self-care. Thanks to the health promoters, who informed their respective communities about each fair, nearly 600 community members were served within one week.
An experience that resonates
On Sunday morning, our last day in Consuelo, we were happy that our trip had been so successful, but we were also sad to leave the Casa Roja, the community and its members, and one another. The time came to say our goodbyes and return to the airport.
It was evident from all of our smiles that we had had an amazingly rich experience that expanded our minds and hearts, and nurtured our passion for helping others. We emphatically noted how grateful we were to have this opportunity and guidance and to be trusted in our efforts to educate the community health promoters as representatives of CHOP and its Global Health Center. I strongly recommend this opportunity to those who are interested in new experiences and in learning about a different environment and way of life. Being a Global Health Ally gives you the chance to challenge your discomforts and learn about another culture while being part of short-term work that builds on CHOP’s positive long-term collaboration with partners in the DR to improve the health of children.