Milca Nunez Project HOPEIt’s been only a few days since we set foot on the beautiful islands of the Dominican Republic. I could not believe it finally happened; it was so surreal. Our preceptor, Mrs. Teresa Narvaez (who is the country director for Project HOPE and the clinics), picked us up from the airport and took us to eat some “sancocho”, which is a delicately seasoned stew with spices, meat, potatoes, lemon, and avocado. 

Although we were quite tired from our journey there, after our delicious meal we decided to accompany Mrs. Narvaez to a weekly team meeting. All the staff who are involved with Project HOPE and the Clinic from the Order of Malta were there to discuss the progress of the newly-launched pilot project called “Proyecto Alerta Joven” – which translates to “Project Warning Youth” – as a way to forewarn them about the most prevalent risks for their age group. More details for that will follow.

The team is comprised of about 10 individuals who are directly involved with Project HOPE, the Clinic Order of Malta (which are both associated), and Proyecto Alerta Joven. They all introduced themselves and stated their positions and duties. We were warmly received and quickly felt welcomed.

We also introduced ourselves and explained we were there because of our interest in carrying out a field experience in global and community health and Project HOPE was a perfect fit for us. Everyone was very enthusiastic about working with us, so we were extremely thankful to be part of a great group of people who share the same mission – to improve health for the most vulnerable populations.

While we were in the meeting, our preceptor was discussing how Proyecto Alerta Joven would be achieving the Millennium Developmental Goals. I recalled some of the 8 goals, so I contributed with what I knew. We had to memorize them in our ESSENTIALS class last semester. Although it wasn’t as fresh on my mind, I remembered the goals for improving maternal and infant care, and eradicating HIV and poverty. Moreover, the meeting was focused on improving effective communication when dealing with co-workers or patients. I have seen consistently how being able to speak freely and confidently is crucial for any profession that involves human interaction.

We will principally be working with this project for a significant amount of time in Santo Domingo. So far, we were part of the culminating “charla” (chat) that is part of a 5 module training session for 11-24 year olds. About 20 adolescents and young adults attended the charla because the majority was interested in being “multiplicadores” (multipliers). The idea behind being a multiplicador is to be a mentor to peers who need to be positively influenced in order to make a change in their life that will be beneficial towards their future.

Most kids stated they were interested in becoming involved because they were tired of seeing their sisters, friends or relatives pregnant at an early age. Others noted they were saddened to see so many young people involved in drugs and crime. Some wanted to inspire other young adults in his “barrio” or neighborhood to make something of themselves and go to school to obtain an education. All in all, their stories were inspiring and motivating. If they could multiply like cells in their community, they could make an impact in the lives of others who are close to them, and become an example of a healthy and productive young person.

We will be assisting in surveying the community by asking questions that relate to health, education, work, and pertinent topics for the project. There are some broad goals that the project seeks to obtain: health (prevent premature pregnancies, STDS/HIV, education (reaching out to school drop outs), employment (referrals to workshops or technical training courses provided by affiliated institutions), matriculation (I believe they seek young people who, for whatever reason, do not have a birth certificate), and they provide guidance and life orientation. We will also be involved in carrying out these charlas and capacitating the youth so the goals can be achieved. Our preceptor believed we would be an asset for this project from the time she was aware of our interest in volunteering with Project HOPE.