My eyes pop open as the cooing of roosters awakens my slumber. I roll over on my paper-thin mattress, careful not to hit my head on the bunk above me. Stepping onto the filthy cement floor, I look around to see the other fourteen women in my room. It is hot, sticky, and crowded, but I could not be anymore excited for the day ahead. The night before, I arrived in the poverty-stricken village of Placer Bonito, Dominican Republic for a medical mission trip. As I woke up that morning, I had no idea that the next ten days would possibly be the best of my life thus far.
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On the first morning, I walked out of the run-down church that we were staying at to assess my surroundings. A picket fence housed the churchyard, where children ran laughing and playing. Across from me was a faded blue shack made of paneled two-by-fours that would serve as the medical clinic for the next week and a half. A winding dirt road led its way up the mountain and was currently occupied by a man on a mule who was riding up to tend to his crops. Framing the pathway and everywhere around me were one-room shacks: the structures that the community’s citizens call home.
As I was taking in my location, a little girl ran up to me and wrapped her arms around my legs. Startled, I began to test out my Spanish with her, and she told me her name was Marialis. I immediately felt a bond with this child – we had so many differences, yet we had so much in common. She taught me the games of the locals, and we laughed and played until the sun went down, gathering a small group of kids that assembled every night thereafter.
For the next eight days, I worked alongside the nurses and doctors to help tend to the villagers pains and bond with them. I did not allow my lack of a degree to discourage me as I socialized with the patients, utilizing my Spanish and doing all that I could to help while the doctors immunized and treated those who needed it most. I wrote charts for the patients and gave them de-wormer, and while I could not diagnose, I could connect with the people and make them feel loved. I looked up every once in a while, and nearly every time I saw Marialis staring at me through the spaces between the boarded up windows. On this journey, I truly realized that helping heal the world does not necessarily mean delivering the best material objects, but instead making connections and letting others know they are loved.
As the sun set on that final night in Placer Bonito, I looked around to see all of the Dominicans and Americans embracing eachother, laughing and granting a final “buenas noches”. We boarded the bus and Marialis hugged me for one last tear-filled time, and I had to remind myself that it was not a goodbye but rather a “see you next time”, because I plan to make the same journey this April of 2016.
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