Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tuesday February 5th
Day 11 in DR, Day 7 for Rotary

This is our last day, and some of the team want to help again installing water filters. For the others, the plan is to visit the Good Samaritan hospital where we are to “show the flag” during the training of Health Promoters from the batays as they learn the importance of, and the proper way for, washing hands. That will be followed by a guided tour of the hospital, a visit to a well-known gift store to buy mementoes, and to the supermarket to buy last-minute coffee and rum.

A Health Promotors is a woman in a given batay who is paid a small stipend to keep tabs on the health of batay members, dispense the simplest of medical aids such as Tylenol, and report to the medical teams that visit from time to time. The Health Promotor would be able to tell the medical team about the progress of pregnancies, the illnesses among the batay inhabitants, and the health of seniors. Not all batays have Health Promotors because not all batays are visited regularly by medical teams.

Batays that have water filters - and that is still a relative minority of the 150-or-so batays around La Romana - also have a Water Promoter whose task is to make sure the filters are being used properly and to train the users in proper sanitation simple as washing hands, not mixing water containers, and so on.

The Good Samaritan hospital is really quite a marvel. It was only a dream 22 years ago when Dr Bob and his church group first visited La Romana and the batay at Km 6 that we visited on Sunday. The batay’s pastor at that time made it clear that the most pressing need was for medical facilities where the batay workers could receive treatment. DR now has universal healthcare, and although this also covers the legitimate Haitian batay workers, in practice they will not receive treatment in Dominicano hospitals. What started as a medical clinic on land donated for $1 by Central Romano has today become a full service hospital that is part of the DR healthcare network but guarantees service FIRST to Haitian batay inhabitants.

The hospital has been entirely financed by funds from church groups and Rotary clubs, and built, as far as I can make out, entirely by hand using volunteer labour by those same groups, along with some paid professional guidance. After we arrive there, I witness a number of people from a Michigan church group raising buckets of sand and gravel and cement by hand, using a rope and pulley system, to the third floor, which is still under construction.

The hospital has a number of ancillary buildings and structures on its beautiful grounds. One is an outdoor covered area, reminiscent of the Indoor-Outdoor that our club sponsored at Camp Rotary a couple of years ago. The cost of the hand-washing training is sponsored by one Rotary Group, while another, I notice, has sponsored the production of the pictorial training material. It’s cleverly done, recognising that many batay inhabitants can’t read. This training is the first of its kind, and given to about 20 Water Promoters, and it is the personal project of the Rotary District governor, Alexandra, and her American husband. They are present, and hence the importance that we, as Rotarians, be there in number to emphasize Rotary’s support and the importance of basic hygiene.

And excellent lunch is catered for all present, and us Rotarians are then led away for a tour of the hospital. The building was designed by North Americans and so the feeling inside is comfortable...the wide doors and corridors, the gleaming polished floors and the signage are all familiar. Many departmental signs indicate the sponsorship of this or that Rotary club. The equipment is complete, including a CAT scanner, X-ray machines, a half-dozen dialysis units, and more, and it’s all been donated. Moises again expresses his thanks for the help of 7810 in shipping the latest equipment arrivals in the Boots n’ Bandaids containers.

Moises Sifren is a marvel himself. He’s a child of the batays. His father graduated from cutting cane to cutting the grass on the golf links at Casa de Campo. Moises grew up caddying on the golf courses there, paid his way through school and University (with some sponsorship help) and today has TWO Masters degrees. He is the able and energetic Administrator (read CEO) of the Good Samaritan hospital, and very personable.

We’re taken to visit a separate building that serves as the headquarters of the water filtration effort, along with its warehouse where the filters and sand and other supplies are stored. There is a pallet there with a dozen assorted boxes on it: Dr Bob expresses his gratitude for Bikes n’ Bandaids for having shipped his boxes of medical team supplies along with the bikes and boots. He says that otherwise, all that stuff would have had to travel down in suitcases, incurring extra baggage charges in the process.

I won’t relate the experiences shopping at the gift store and supermarket, and instead add some random thoughts collected during my visit to DR.

- I saw plenty of wild dogs, but only remember seeing two cats.
- I noticed tiny booths everywhere, even in the smallest villages, marked “Banco”. I  thought they were bank outlets but was told they’re lottery counters for the DR national lotteries. At night they’re brightly-lit and they really stand out in the poorly-lit villages.

99% of personal vehicles are Japanese. I was hard-pressed to find any Fords or GMs.  And most of the models are larger than any seen in Canada. Other than the Toyotas, Mitsubishis, Nissans, etc, the luxury SUV of choice is the Range Rover.

Baseball is the national sport - spelled Beisbol in phonetic Spanish on the local stadium. I’m told that most of the players with Spanish-sounding names in the US baseball leagues are DR in origin. The Caribbean has its own league, and the La Romana Toros (bulls) are perennial champions. They were named, I think, in honour of the bulls that used to haul to cane wagons - a task today mostly devolved to huge tractors. CR still raises bulls, though, and we see imposing Brahmans in pastureland.

Stop signs (PARE in Spanish) are only a suggestion. In Canada, we might be ticketed for not stopping completely, but in DR everyone barely slows down for stop signs.

To curb speeding in sensitive areas, DR has sleeping policemen that really mean it. It’s advisable to come to an almost complete stop before tackling one of these, or risk losing the entire suspension of the vehicle.

Main highways between major cities are good-quality divided four-lane affairs. But the rule is to use any lane regardless of speed. Motorcycles (of which there are many) use both shoulders, in either direction, and without any lights at night. Scary.

All Dominicans at the wheel practice what Dr Bob calls “nosediving”: At intersections, priority goes to whichever driver advances most aggressively.

I’m surprisingly un-bothered by bugs. I feel I’m taking the Chlorquinone anti-malarial for no reason. I hear, though, that Casa de Campo keeps the bugs at bay by spraying regularly with DDT!

One of the team commented that there are many beautiful flowers but that none of them has any smell.
Road construction accommodates tropical downpours by building deep culverts, instead of soft shoulders, at the sides of the roads. Don’t stray off the side of the asphalt because the wheels will drop into the culvert and the chassis will hit the ground. In towns, these culverts have to continue across intersections, which does as well as the sleeping policemen for slowing down the traffic. Tackle with care.

All houses and business have security grills to prevent break-ins, and most have walls topped with razor wire or broken glass. Charmingly, though, the Spanish mentality is to make a virtue out of that necessity, so that the grills are often very decorative and quite pretty. If I return, I might compile a photo-essay and DR grillwork.

About half of the Rotary team was hit with the “runs”. One had a gall bladder attack, and two arrived with bad colds, one of which degenerated into a full bronchial infection that required anti-biotics.
Water filters have been installed in DR for the last 10 years. 7810’s involvement has been in the last 3 years, since the new model plastic filters were developed to replace the original concrete design. Of these plastic filters, 3,000 have been installed, and another order for 2,200 will need to be placed soon on the manufacturer in Michigan. With about 400 batays throughout DR, and an average 100 homes per batay, we have only scratched the surface.

Batay cane cutters are paid about $10 per DAY. They must provide their own food,  clothing and tools. Usually that means there is not enough money for children to go to school. Schools are available, but not in every batay, so often the child has to walk, even though some public bus service along main roads might be available. Some schools require a basic uniform, which is but one more barrier to education in the batays. Some batay families will grow their own food or raise livestock, but officially this is not allowed.

Dominican time means “whenever”.

The Good Samaritan hospital has a program at the moment doing about 20 tubal ligations every day. The trick is get the woman to the hospital, perform the surgery and then return her to the batay BEFORE the husband comes home from the cane fields, so that he doesn’t find out!
Casa de Campo may be the largest and richest resort in the Caribbean - name a celebrity and they probably have a villa there - but the sewage system still won’t handle toilet paper. Throw it, used, into a waste bin and it is land-filled or burned.

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