Our first stop of the day was a visit back to the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo with guest speaker, Dra. Escarle Peña. As director of the School of Public Health, Dra. Peña shared some insight into the Public Health systems within the DR.
What many, including myself, found surprising was the very recent development of this system and the shift in the definition of health: from being absent of disease and illness, to the complete psychological, social, mental, and physical comfort of the individual. From it’s early development in 2001, this system has only begun implementation in 2015. In trying to fulfill this new definition of health, the Public health field has started to focus more on collective health and promoting health within communities in the DR. A brief tour of the campus showed a very relaxed atmosphere for the students. There was plenty of beautiful forestry and sitting areas for students to enjoy!
Afterwards, we stopped for lunch down the street. After enjoying a traditional meal of rice & grilled chicken, we held a discussion about our experience in the DR so far. Many spoke about their struggles assimilating into a new culture and witnessing disparities in the community. However, we came back to the reoccurring theme of resilience in the DR & a self awareness of our own cultural tolerance.
Heading back to the school, our break was spent on an excursion to the local Baskin Robins & a stop at a supermercado. After 5 days practicing our Spanish with the locals, we still struggled ordering ice cream. We finally managed to get our ice cream with the universal motions of pointing and headed across the street for the supermarket. Crossing the street has honestly been the most nerve wracking experience, especially with no street lights or walk signals or drivers willing to stop. But, we survived the streets and picked up some snacks, coffee, and chocolate.
Back at the school, our second speaker of the day was Alexandra Nuñez, executive director of Esperanza International. She spoke about her passion for microfinancing and how that provides opportunities to alleviate poverty in the Dominican Republic. With her work focused on Haitians living in bateys, she oversees a program that gives small loans to female entrepreneurs to stabilize the cycle of poverty. From her shared stories of how Esperanza has helped individuals pay their debts and inspired the next generation into entrpeneurship, many in the group were in awe at her work. I, myself, have never thought about microfinance let alone the opportunities it allows for those who want better for themselves. To hear the progress of her work and the impact it’s had on people’s lives was inspiring for those of us trying to do the same thing.
Additionally, what really struck us was when asked about the definition of poverty. Many gave the answers expected but few had considered how those classified as “impoverished” would define that term themselves. It was revealed that their definition of “poverty” was a life witbout joy, family, and love. We found our definition to be shallow compared to theirs: whereas we seek to provide tangible resources to them, their only necessity is emotional fulfillment. This talk once again delved into the resilience of people who refuse to be put in a box as someone living “in poverty.” Instead, they are merely living.
As the day came to a close, we celebrated with a delicious dinner in honor of Bill’s 25th birthday. Happy Birthday Bill!!