On July 9th I arrived in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. For the first two days we began planning out what we would be doing during our outreach trips.We split up into three groups focused on exercise, nutrition, and medication. Each group brainstormed different activities that equally engaged and educated. The group that I was in was the medication group. Some of our objectives included learning the basics of diabetes, learning the different types of insulin, learning the steps to inject insulin, highlighting the importance of consistent medication use, and learning the common symptoms of high/low blood sugar. The activities we planned ranged from board games to correctly arranging the steps of injecting insulin. After planning and practicing the activities our Spanish speaking was put to the test. The task was to completely test a persons blood sugar in Spanish, a task I managed to fail a hundred times before mastering. Needless to say I am now a pro and “quieres chequear la glicemia?” is imprinted in my brain.
We woke up at 5 o’clock a.m, the crack of dawn, to shovel onto our bus for our first day of outreach. The city we traveled to was called Baní. The day didn’t run quite as smoothly as expected as we were confronted with complications. Initially we began to realize our lack of organization when registering the people, filling out surveys, and checking blood sugars. Despite the craziness, I couldn’t have been more excited to try out my new skill of testing a blood sugar in complete Spanish. I don’t think that person realized the overflowing amount of joy it gave me to test their blood sugar. Once the chaos of that died down we split into our groups to attempt our activities. The main issue our group ran into was our misjudgment of the level of literacy the people. Many of our activities required reading and we had not anticipated this being an issue. To combat this we began a mix of speaking and illustrating in order to convey our activities. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of engagement of the adults in our groups. I had been afraid that our activities of coloring would seem too elementary for an adult to engage in; It was a rare time in my life to be happy to be proven wrong. When we got back to the hotel that day we gathered in our exhausted groups to discuss our newfound flaws. Our new plan was to formulate sets of people to run the registration, survey, and blood sugar checking. People would start at registration, be sent to get their blood sugar’s checked, and then fill out the surveys. We manipulated our activities so that they became more of a conversational environment rather than a “sit and read this” environment. I went to sleep, eager to see what all the different cities would challenge us with.
I did not expect the amount of diversity in cities I would experience. Each city had its own culture and people. They ranged from metropolitan to poverty. One city would have a majority of people that were well educated on diabetes and the next would have very little education. This forced us to adapt daily to the level of education already implemented in the area. The ages of people ranged from literally 0 to 100, also forcing us to find ways to engage a ten year old at the same time as a seventy year old. The group that focused on exercise would manage to pull an extreme amount of energy out of the adults and have them kicking a soccer ball around with all the kids. The collaboration of the variety of ages was an inspirational sight. People of all backgrounds and ages were coming together to educate and empower those living with diabetes. Each day was a different challenge. I left each city feeling a different type of fulfillment and accomplishment.
There was one woman I could never forget. She did not have diabetes, but she was one of the most invested people I saw all week. The older women was eager to become educated on diabetes because the children in her neighborhood she occasionally watched live with diabetes. The amount of interest from someone living without diabetes and without even a family member living with diabetes was astonishing. It sounds like a cliche but there was certain light that was brought to the room through her unrelenting happiness and enthusiasm. Selfless is the word that comes to mind to describe her as she even tried to help others around her understand. I strive to encompass her qualities now and later in my life.
In one of the particularly poor areas we visited I befriended a young girl. Her whole family had come to get more educated on diabetes because multiple people in her family were living with diabetes. She was full of life and wanted to be everyones friend. It was my long hair that drew her in; Her and her brother played with it on each sides of my head. She was by my side throughout the day. My favorite thing to do was pick her up and twirl her around only to bring the most beautiful smile to her face. The heat this day was worse than usual. My long hair became a burden and I had forgotten a pony tail holder. As we sat, dripping with sweat, the little girl asked me if she could braid my hair. When she got to the bottom of my never-ending hair we were again faced with the problem of no pony tail holder. Suddenly her face lit up with an idea, she pulled out one of her beaded pony tail holders from her braids and put it in my hair. She then combined two of her braids to make up for her missing bead she had taken out. I know it seems like a small act of kindness. I also know this little girl does not have much, yet she gave me her beaded hair-tie. We knew each other all but a day and she gave the simple kindness to me that reminded me of the power of a child. She reminded me of the pure kindness and willingness to give that so many children have. I felt the undying power of youth to better the world.
The two words “thank you” cannot begin to describe how grateful I am to all those who supported me and my journey with AYUDA. It was all I hoped it would be and more. The trip really helped me see what I want accomplish in my life and opened my eyes to a part of the world I was seemingly unaware of. I hope to continue my work with the diabetes community for the rest of my life. None of this would have been possible without my supporters, thank you a million times over for giving me the ability to have such an incredible experience.
As AYUDA’s motto goes:
¡Juntos Somos Mas Fuertes!
Together We Are Stronger!
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