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Dear Friends;

I am writing to inform you of a serious event that took place on our most recent service trip to the Dominican Republic last week. Overnight from June 8 to June 9, 3 men armed with pistols broke into our hostel with the apparent intent to open the hostel door for 3 or 4 other men and then to rob our group. There was a fight, during which the hostel owner and I were injured, and the assailants left without hurting anyone else or stealing anything. None of the students on the team were directly threatened, though an armed man was in their dorm room demanding they stay on their beds and stay quiet. Fortunately, none of the injuries appear to have been serious: bruises, scrapes, stitches and a concussion all of which appear to be improving.
Obviously, this is a very serious issue. The hostel involved is the same one we have used since 2006 (for those familiar with the trip, it was John’s building that was attacked) without previous incident. In reviewing the events, I cannot find any particular activity on our part that made us targets except for the simple fact that we were foreigners coming and going from the same building daily. I suspect someone was on the lookout for a target of opportunity, and our group of 10 (7 women) became that target.

We changed our lodging the morning after the event, moving to a different neighborhood and to a hostel with more security features: a front gate that can only be opened by the front desk, a 24-hour staffed front desk, rooms and apartments with doors that can be locked individually and with security bars on the windows. We chose to finish out the remaining 4 days in the Dominican Republic and we continued our clinical work during those days.

Although there must be changes to this project to address these issues, I feel that the nature of the actual work in the community will not change much. None of these events were related in any way to the work in the community, nor were they related to the fact that we were a medical team. I truly believe that we were targeted because we were foreigners, nothing more and nothing less. I forsee the greatest change to the project being on the logistical side: where we stay (a more secure place), setting a “curfew” by which time people need to be on-site at the hostel to make sure all are accounted for, how we travel within Santo Domingo, etc.

Please contact me if you have any concerns or questions. For those who have previously traveled to work in the DR, I hope you will still consider doing so in the future. For those who have supported our work, I hope that we will continue provide the work in the DR which has earned your support.

Today, we completed our work in Paraiso. We did not have any other doctors today, so the team spent the morning providing housecalls to chronically ill residents in the community who are not able to get to the school clinic and then in the afternoon moved the medications to the Fudacion Sol Naciente health center. We start there tomorrow morning at 8 am.

To date, we have provided care to more than 400 patients in Paraiso. This will be the first time working in this new site, and we are not sure what to expect. Hopefully, though, this might provide another way to work with an underserved community in Santo Domingo.

Internet access has been very limited, but here wa are. We are just finishing our 3rd day of work in Paraiso, and have seen approximately 300 patients in the school clinic and another dozen on housecalls.

Things have been challenging because our medications have already started to run low, requiring a re-supply today courtesy of a local wholesale pharmacy. Still, we were able to obtain the necessary meds and can continue with a full-speed clinic tomorrow and for the next few days at least.

We´ve been seeing typical illnesses–upper respiratory, GI, high blood pressure and asthma being fairly typical. Among the less common problems are Parkinson´s disease and tuberous sclerosis (a childhood seizure disorder syndrome) as well as a patient just released from the hospital after an apparent episode of unstable angina.

The isolation and marginalization of this community, so near to the capital city and the tourist areas and yet with so few services and such limited access to medical care, is in stark relief as we see patients with treatable illnesses left untreated for the want of access to the healthcare system or to affordable medications.

We have been very welcomed into the community, and the HOMBRE students have been working together as an incredibly generous, flexible and efficient team. They are all talented and focused, skilled at the work we are asking them to do, but fun to be around at the end of the day.

I will try to post again in the next few days now that things seem to be settling in a little bit.

Dominican Aid Society of Virginia

Contact us: DominicanAid@yahoo.com
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