We sometimes have the privilege of having the perspective of volunteers on our blog. This time we had the privilege of having the perspective of Dr. Daniel Griffin who volunteered at Project Restauración in the Dominican Republic. He shares his experience below:
A bit about me
I am a physician-scientist (MD PhD) currently with a research appointment in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and a clinical appointment in the Department of Medicine/Division of Infectious Diseases at Columbia University in New York City. I also do clinical work for a large multispecialty group, ProHealth, so one might find me doing travel medicine, HIV care, and Infectious Disease consults at a few of the Long Island Hospitals (Northshore, LIJ, Syossett, Plainview). I have been fortunate enough to have specialty training in Internal Medicine, Infectious Disease, Global Health and Tropical Medicine. Despite these many obligations and the time I spend producing my podcast, This Week in Parasitism, and my textbook, Parasitic Diseases, I have had the opportunity to be involved in Global Health in South America, Africa, Asia including time in hospitals and clinics in Nepal, Malawi, Thailand, Cambodia, Peru, India to name a few. Here in New York City we have such a large immigrant population and number of visitors from all over the world that I often joke that I practice tropical medicine without leaving home!
As I have spent time with various individuals, groups and organizations over the last few decades and I have developed my own ideas on what approach to overseas work is most in line with my values. I also think there is a big difference between dropping in for a brief stay and putting in place projects and relationships that can be built on and that endure. I began my search in earnest in the spring of 2016 to find an organization that was most aligned with these ideas and ultimately selected Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC). The two biggest principles that I embrace with regard to all my work either domestic or abroad are humility and cooperation. FIMRC I discovered is an organization that shares these principles.
I found FIMRC to be an organization that embraced the idea that compassion is truly a universal language and had a reputation that I experienced first hand for establishing strong relationships with the people living in many of the resource poor regions of our planet. I came to understand that FIMRC had a commitment to making long-term impacts by working alongside local individuals in a cooperative approach that was leading to these communities developing the capacity to help themselves rather than just continue with the propagation of a culture of dependence on foreign aid. I was also attracted by FIMRC’s mission to provide opportunities to young individuals exploring the possibility of making Global Health a part of their future. Teaching and working with young individuals has always been one of the joys of my personal and professional life.
Why Restauración in the Dominican Republic
Here the credit goes largely to the guidance provided to me in making this decision from Maghan Knight, the FIMRC Global Health Volunteer Program Manager. Maghan and I communicated with regard to my interests, background and skills. When we narrowed down these options my final thought was that with such a large number of patients in my current practice being from the Dominican Republic and their frequently travel back and forth this would be the best fit for me. I was impressed by the time and thought Maghan put into guiding me through this process!
My time in the Dominican Republic
After many months of anticipation I arrived on a flight from Newark, NJ into the airport in Santiago, Dominican Republic. When I exited baggage claim a very pleasant young man, Joel Peralta, who would be my driver to Restauración, met me. Joel greeted me then connected me with Gina Cappuccitti, the project manager in Restauración on his mobile phone. Joel spoke only Spanish on the drive so this gave me an initial chance to start trying out my much too limited Spanish abilities. Joel and I stopped once in route for a short break and my first taste of Dominican coffee. Joel and I quickly became friends and spent the following weekend exploring Santiago and hiking up on the northern coast together!
Gina met me on my arrival in Restauración and introduced me to Mary Luz at whose home I would be staying for the 2 weeks. It was dinnertime when I arrived and Gina took me up to meet Angela at whose home I would be eating breakfast, lunch and dinner (desayuno, almuerzo y cena) for the next 2 weeks. I am not used to someone preparing my meals for me so this was definitely a treat! The food was always delicious and there was always hot coffee waiting for me in the mornings.
The next two weeks were filled from morning to night with exciting and enriching experiences. I was initially introduced the Hospital Administrator of the local hospital in Restauración and after some discussion and touring the hospital the plan was for me to come up with a list of potential improvements ranging from what to do about the water coming down through the flat concrete roofs to how to make changes in the Tuberculosis treatment room to allow for proper ventilation, UV lights and infection control. I began going on home child development visits with Alexandra Nitsos, a nurse who was doing her Internship at this location. I also worked with Marina Milad, another intern, doing Diabetes and Hypertension home visits as well as teaching sessions for the local children and young mothers. One high point was getting to run one of the evening diabetic exercise classes when Marina was under the weather.
I had the opportunity to lecture about the prevention of diabetic foot infections with the patients at the Diabetes Festival and even did lectures on HIV and Hepatitis B at the hospital for the local staff. I did all these lectures in Spanish with a great amount of help from Gina and the other staff members! We did mobile clinics up in the mountains where 100-200 patients might show up for what was just about their only access to health care. In the hospitals and during our mobile clinics we saw individuals with Diabetes, Hypertension, HIV, Arthritis, Insomnia, Scabies, Tonsillitis, URIs, Atopic Dermatitis, Amebiasis, Giardiasis, Ascariasis, Tinea corporis, Tinea capitus, Trichomoniasis, Vulvovaginal candidiasis, Dysentery, Vertigo, Dyspepsia, Migraine headaches, Abdominal migraine, Gastroenteritis, Staph folliculitis, Acne, Cutaneous Larva Migrans, Asthma, Asthma exacerbation, BPH, Renal Failure, Mastitis, and Head lice. Medications and diagnostics were limited and challenging but the experience was fantastic.
FIMRC has turned out to be all that I had hoped it would be and I look forward to times in the future when I can either return to Restauración or travel to work at one of their other sites. Overseas global aid work has always been rewarding and I have connected with an organization and a group of people that share my vision for how to make a difference.