A World of Possibilities with the CHOP Global Health Allies Program

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By J. Yvener Deverlis

In fall 2022, as an intern at the CHOP Global Health Center, I participated in the CHOP Global Health Allies Program trip to Consuelo, Dominican Republic (DR). Led by Global Health Program Manager Anabel Fernández, a team of four, including Lara Bitar – Program Coordinator Oncology; Rachel Zlotnick – PICU Nurse; Suzanne Slattery – Lead Creative Designer and myself, were selected to embark on this wonderful journey. In the DR, we were joined by Wendy Chavez, a masters of public health student at Temple working on her capstone project with the CHOP Global Health Center. It was an honor to be invited to participate in this two-way exchange between CHOP and its DR-based collaborators at the Centro de Salud Divina Providencia and the Niños Primeros en Salud (NPS) program.

As we boarded the plane to the DR, I was extremely excited to spend seven days in a place that shares a border with my home country of Haiti. Despite there being some differences between Haiti and the DR, I quickly felt at home upon arrival. We stayed in the program's guest house, which bears the name “Casa Roja” (Red House), where we shared meals and many experiences over the Allies week.

Wendy Chavez presenting to the NPS Health Promoters Wendy Chavez presenting to the NPS Health Promoters Our first stop each morning was at the NPS clinic, where we joined the health center team’s morning prayer — an important ritual they welcomed us into. We then made our way to a local vocational school, where we facilitated health education workshops for NPS’ team of 16 community health promoters. Each CHOP Allies team member had been assigned one to three topics to prepare ahead of time and then present in-person for health promoter continuing education.

The topics, selected by the NPS lead nurse and the health promoters, included acute respiratory infections, anemia, obesity, acute diarrheal infections, skin infections, and how to identify cases for referral to the clinic or the hospital. I chatted with and learned more about the health promoters during lesson breaks. Even with my limited Spanish, I could express my appreciation for their roles as public health advocates for their community.

The promoters play a unique and critical role. By living in the community they serve, they are keenly aware of the subcultures and dynamics within the community that either enable or present barriers to accessing care. Being able to provide continuing education to the health promoters and helping empower them to support their community was very meaningful for me. Wonderfully, in addition to being a teacher, I was also an active and engaged learner. I was exposed to a different health system and developed relationships with others at CHOP whom I may not have met if it wasn’t for the Global Health Allies Program.

Yvener (kneeling) during a community health fair Yvener (kneeling) during a community health fair The heat and humidity rose in the tropical climate we drew closer to noon. Each day after a morning focused on educational activities, we headed back to Casa Roja for lunch before facilitating community health fairs in the afternoon. These lunch breaks allowed us to enjoy Dominican cuisine. We savored rice, chicken, plantains and a salad as we debriefed about the morning sessions. These low-key, rich conversations allowed us to bond and connect over our shared interest in global health. Most of us had never met before this trip, but we were now connected through CHOP in a different country. It was simply amazing!

After lunch, we facilitated community health fairs for all ages. These were held in a different neighborhood each day. At the health fairs, we set up stations for measuring height, weight and blood pressure, provided fluoride treatments, and distributed toothbrushes and toothpaste to promote dental health, which can be overlooked in resource-limited settings.

The main goal of the community health fairs was to promote preventive care and to provide community members with their health information for their own records and follow-up. During health fairs, I connected with the locals in each neighborhood and even got to speak in Haitian Creole with Haitian immigrants in Consuelo. With the support of the health promoters and clinic staff, we were able to see 1,027 community members by the end of the week! This was a very rewarding and enriching experience for me.

At the end of the week, we had time to explore more of the area around Consuelo. We watched a local baseball game (far and away the DR’s preferred sport!) and spent a day at a beautiful beach. The week went by quickly, but I had a fantastic time bonding, learning, working and growing with my CHOP teammates. This experience highlighted the benefits of global health initiatives, which are co-led by partners who live and work in the host country; bi-directionality and shared leadership are key ingredients to positively impact people’s lives. I met amazing and inspiring people throughout the trip, from the NPS program staff and health promoters to community members.

Everyone was optimistic and enthusiastic about advancing child health. The perspectives I gained on the trip have opened up a world of possibilities for me as I plan my public/global health career.

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