Somos Amigos: Anna B Student Feature

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For three years now, I have volunteered for a non-profit organization called Somos Amigos, an organization that brings medical and dental care to a village rarely seen by outsiders four times a year – located in the winding hills of the Dominican Republic.

Pequeño Naranjito – which translates to ‘Little Orange’ – is where our modest cement block facility sits, four hours away from any of the surrounding cities. To get there, you have to endure winding dirt roads, steep hills, and rickety bridges made from a few two-by-fours slapped together. It’s a terrifying bus ride, but the destination is worth it.

Somos Amigos has been coming to this little village for twenty years now, and with the help of willing doctors, dentists, nurses, students, and volunteers – the doors of the clinic have seen thousands of patients over the years. Of course, there are regulars (volunteers and patients alike) who have become like family to the clinic, but it is a great joy to see new faces every trip. Our goal is to bring free medical and dental care to those who don’t have access to it; we see around six to seven hundred patients every trip, and the numbers keep growing!

I started attending these missions when I was just fourteen, dragged along by my E.R. doctor/dad who went to high school with the founder of Somos Amigos. But before I dive into my experiences, let me start by saying this; I’m an indoor girl, I enjoy my air-conditioning and Netflix subscription as much as the next guy – so it was kind of understandable that I was terrified for the first trip. With no warm water (sometimes no running water at all) and little electricity – the village was a whole new world to me.

As it turns out, I fell in love with it during my week there. I loved getting to know the volunteers and watching the hustle and bustle of the clinic. I was placed in the pharmacy with a few other volunteers, where we fill the prescriptions the doctors have filled out for the patients they see. My (major) control issues and extreme-level of organization came in handy, and I can proudly say that after a few trips – I am now the head of the pharmacy and can fill all of the personal prescriptions (around seven hundred and fifty) by myself.

Although the long week of hard work is rewarding, it is the relationships you make along the way that count. You bond with your housemates, whether it be over getting tangled in the mosquito nets or planning massacre on a tarantula the size of a baseball mitt (I’m not kidding). You make life-long friends with your fellow volunteers, and it is great to reunite every trip.

Fun Fact: The trail that goes to where we eat our meals is called “Lover’s Walk” because so many volunteers have gotten married after meeting on missions.

I have made friends with my fellow volunteers, but it is the patients who really matter on these trips. The people of Pequeño Naranjito and the villages surrounding it have opened up their homes and community for us, and have become family. Lourdes, our main house ‘mother’ cooks all of our meals wakes up at four-thirty every morning to start our breakfast and welcomes us all with a huge smile on her face and a hug.

Although my Spanish (and Creole) isn’t fluent, I can speak enough to have some pretty amazing conversations with our patients and the families who allow us to sleep in their houses and eat at their dinner tables. Though I have bonded with many of our adult patients, it is the kids I love the most. I am a sucker for babies and kids and have been nicknamed “The Babysitter” by my fellow volunteers because if you see me, I am most likely holding a baby or have a horde of children running after me. It is the best feeling to come back to Pequeño Naranjito and see the kids I played with the last trip have grown taller, and run up to give me hugs and ask to play again.

Not all of my experiences are great, of course. My first trip, I met a thirteen-year-old girl who was seven months pregnant. She was raped by someone she trusted, but yet she was one of the happiest people I have ever met. I cried when she left the clinic, and I haven’t seen her again.

Racism is also very prominent in the Dominican Republic, shockingly prominent, to say the least. I was shocked to encounter such a level of hatred in a place like that, but hatred is everywhere nowadays. Though most of our patients are Dominican, the number of Haitian immigrants we see has increased over the years. The two groups refuse to sit together, and although there is no violence (which has been asked of them), the tensions are high. I’ve had to run back and forth between groups of Haitian and Dominican children who refuse to play together numerous times, and when I asked a Dominican girl why – she simply said, “They’re dirty.”

Many people live in their own little bubble, worrying about the next paper due in class or a breakup. I realized pretty quick that the people I encountered at the clinic were worrying about how they were going to feed their family that night, or if their children’s shoes fit anymore. It’s an eye-opener, and each trip I come back feeling more grateful than the last.

As I said, I fell in love with Somos Amigos and all that they do for their patients. They are a non-profit organization that funds these trips out of their own pocket, giving free healthcare to those desperately in need of it. I have made life-long friends with volunteers and patients, and I plan on attending these missions for a long time.

My favorite Somos Amigos Memory: My house-family teaching my roommates and I how to tango until one in the morning.

 

If you are interested in attending one of the trips or donating, please see the organization’s website here: http://somosamigos.org/

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Somos Amigos: Anna B Student Feature