I was in the Dominican Republic from late February through early March, primarily to join an eye clinic mission organized by a group of optometrists from all over the U.S. My Omaha contact is my optometrist. The group has been making trips like this one to developing countries for the last three decades. This was my first time and I hope to go again. While I have no skills or experience in the world of eye care, I was able to provide support. My job was to help patients select sunglasses (the sun is very intense there, thus there is a high prevalence of glaucoma and cataracts) and provide glass cases. I worked at the midpoint of the process and was able to enjoy the smiles once glasses were selected. This is great work for a repurposed old dude.
The clinic partner is the Institute for Latin American Concern (ILAC) and we were housed at their mission. ILAC has a broad set of goals and a long-term partner, Creighton University. ILAC provides a range of programming and a full set of health services. We stayed in casitas on ILAC grounds and ate at their cafeteria. The digs were fine and the food was excellent. If I signed-on for the ILAC diet full-time, I would be a much healthier person. In addition to the casitas, the ILAC property includes a church, classrooms, and dormitory-like lodging. The clinic, including intake and operating rooms is off-site, but contiguous to the main property. The grounds are gorgeous and include some impressive pieces of art.
The Dominican Republic is a puzzling place. It has an elected government, but does not offer equal rights to all citizens. There are about 500 bateyes, shanty-style communities made up of Haitians who have a long history of living in the Dominican Republic. Health conditions in these camps are well below Dominican standards, and are marked by the prevalence of disease, high infant mortality, and low life expectancy.
We were in country for their Independence Day, February 27. I found it interesting that they celebrate independence from Haiti, even though they were under Haitian rule for only 23 years, 1821-1844. Spanish domination in the Dominican ran from the time of Columbus until 1795. The French prevailed until 1814, when Spain recaptured the eastern part of the island which includes the Dominican Republic. I was surprised that they do not celebrate independence from Spain, France, or Raphael Trujillo, the ruthless dictator who ruled over the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961. I suggest that you read, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. It is a story of three Dominican women and their role in the political uprising that took place prior to Trujillo’s assassination.