Day 4 of our study abroad trip in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic was quite possibly the most life changing day for me so far! We were able to get a really great introduction into both the criminal justice system with Dr. Carlos Mesa and holistic medicine with Dr. Angel Pichardo. This morning, Dr. Mesa explained the differences between the old and new prison system established here on the island. Similar problems in the old system such as overcrowding, lack of access to basic healthcare, and the intentional criminalization of poor people are things that we also see in America today. The oppression of marginalized and lower-class individuals is a global issue, and being able to compare the American prison system with that of the Dominican Republic put a lot of things into perspective.
Our second stop of the day was with Dr. Pichardo at his holistic medicine clinic. Before we even started talking about holistic medicine practices for the community we actually went out into the community to explore in order to obtain a sense of how the way of life is for people living in the surrounding area. Dr. Pichardo warned us to not be “poverty tourists” so we left our phones in the clinic while we went on tour. I will say that being able to get out into the community to observe and explore was by far my favorite part of the day. Not having access to social media and being able to fully immerse in my experience allowed me to be completely aware throughout the whole tour. The beauty of the people, culture, and scenery was breath-taking. The resilience of the community was astonishing. One of the most important things that Dr. Pichardo mentioned was that there is an “unfair distribution of wellness” in the Dominican Republic. He helps individuals gain autonomy over their own health by using healing that is community based and connected with knowledge. I can see the importance of this as a public health approach because lots of times healing needs to be culturally appropriate and by giving individuals the knowledge to heal themselves from within and to look into their emotions and what has been causing trauma in their lives, we can start to address some root causes of potential chronic illnesses.
So far, this trip has been an amazing experience. As a first time traveler outside of the country, I am extremely grateful that I have had the opportunity to meet with such amazing individuals here in the Dominican Republic. I am learning so much about the culture, different aspects of global public health that I’ve never even considered before, and most importantly I am learning more about myself. Taking risks I never thought I would take, checking the many privileges I’ve never even considered before, and being open to a whole new experience and culture. Can’t wait to see what the rest of the week will bring!