From the Field: Dominican Republic
Written by: Mary Westbrook
Since the rain held off this afternoon, we had time to visit one of the barrios where our Resource Mothers work. It was an emotional experience for everyone in the group, even team members who have worked and volunteered extensively in other underserved places, including Haiti. The poverty of this area is obvious – but we also saw joy and proof that the Resource Mothers’ dedication and hard work is paying off.
When you see the barrio from faraway, the cluster of homes can look picturesque. Houses rise up from the banks of the river and you see shots of bright colors – a yellow roof, a red door. Walking through the barrio on foot is a different experience. Buildings are poorly constructed and squeezed together. The river, while beautiful at first glance, is polluted and a serious threat to the entire community; whenever it floods, people must leave their homes to seek higher ground, where ever they can find it. Sanitation is a problem. Trash is everywhere – so are stray animals -- and signs from the health ministry warn of cholera, even as children run around barefoot through the streets and alleys.
Patricia, a 27-year-old Resource Mother and the mother of two children, served as our guide for the afternoon.
Our first stop was the riverbank, where we came across a group of children playing with a crab. “They can do this all day,” Patricia said with a laugh, as we watched the kids enjoy their game. When they saw our cameras, all bets were off! Like children everywhere, they immediately posed for the camera, pointing proudly to their crab, calling for us to show them the pictures.
For our next stop, we climbed a series of steps to visit one of Patricia’s clients, a 15-year-old girl with a newborn. As we walked up, we saw more houses and businesses, crammed one after another – and lots of children. Patricia grew up in the barrio and still lives there, and she was clearly a familiar face to the neighbors we met. The steps themselves are uneven and slick, and negotiating them wasn’t easy for a group of fit, healthy women. For the elderly, for pregnant women and for people with disabilities, life in the barrios is especially hard.
When we reached the client’s house, we saw a truly beautiful sight: a healthy baby tucked into its mother’s arms. Janice Hawkins, our volunteer nurse, could barely contain herself when Patricia asked her if she wanted to hold the baby! As she talked to the mother and cuddled the baby, another 15-year-old pregnant client shyly approached the group and stood next to Patricia. These women and their babies face incredible challenges, but the fact that they have Patricia to turn to for advice and help during pregnancy and early motherhood is a remarkable resource.
After we left the client’s house we happened upon Anna, another Resource Mothers baby, scrambling around rocks, grinning from ear to ear. This little girl wanted our attention! When we pulled out the camera, her face lit up. Her mother looked on, laughing and smiling herself as the little girl danced and giggled. We were sad to say good-bye.
The visit to the barrio gave me a newfound appreciation for the tough decisions our volunteers and program directors face. The needs here are too numerous to list – sanitation, infrastructure, education… It would be easy to look around and say, “let’s try to change everything.” But that approach wouldn’t help anyone, and it might do more harm than good. By building up the Resource Mothers program slowly, and by relying on the talent, skills and heart of Dominican women like Patricia, we’re able to stay within an area of expertise and promote the health of women and babies. That’s no small feat. The memory I’ll take with me of the barrio isn’t so much a picture of the poverty but the vision of Patricia, standing calmly between her two clients.