Our next FIMRC alumni blog post comes from Joe South, who helped open FIMRC’s site at Project Restauración in 2012 and served as our Field Operations Manager (FOM) there until 2014. Read on to learn more about Joe’s unexpected path to a career in public health.
Global Health Volunteer Hosanna Nagasaka recalls her second experience at Project Restauración with Clemson FIMRC. As a returned volunteer, Hosanna has had a unique experience in that she has been able to see our youngest site develop over the past year and to return to some familiar faces in the community.
As a second-year returnee to Project Restauración, I didn’t think my experience could get any better or any more memorable than the year before, but in many ways, it was. For several of us, the return to Restauración felt like reuniting with a dear friend; for newcomers on the team, it seemed as if the town was already opening up her arms to welcome them. Being back, we quickly discovered a number of on-site improvements, including a new FIMRC supply building and portable generator—a welcome addition to the growing arsenal of educational tools used for community outreach. We also observed healthy growth in local businesses. The town’s newest open-air eatery became a late night hangout for many of us on the team. Aside from appreciating recent developments, we also took time to revisit the past. Walking to the community library and seeing the mural we had painted on its walls nearly one year ago, I realized that even the smallest changes can make lasting impacts.
FIMRC’s impact on the community is immense. We saw local programs—many which were nonexistent or in their formative stages one year ago—already yielding fruit. The future looks bright, as the harvest is already extending beyond Restauración. The morning we took a walking tour of FIMRC’s latrine project, we met one man who had already finished prepping his land for a latrine, even before the supplies had been delivered. Seeing such eagerness and enthusiasm made our whole hike worthwhile. Later in the week, we had the opportunity to sit through a Chicas Maravillas session taught by Tania, Restauración's very own health education coordinator. That afternoon’s lesson focused on HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, and Tania’s innovative teaching methods had me on the edge of my seat, learning alongside the girls. Her passion was contagious, and witnessing her students’ willingness to engage was nothing short of incredible.
Social media provides invaluable updates, but it can’t compete with raw, hands-on experience gained as a volunteer working on-site. It was thrilling to read about Joe South (our field manager) jumpstarting Club Superman, but it was only after I listened to 9-year old José chatter about how much he enjoyed it, that I realized how impactful the program had been to the boys. It’s one thing to read reports about a successful health fair; it’s another story altogether, when you’re given the opportunity to be a part of one.
During my time spent in Restauración and in Tilori, Haiti, I saw many beautiful faces, everywhere I went. I realized that each one of these faces had a unique and special story. Many of their stories end without happy endings; some stories end unfairly—and much too early. I witnessed many things that broke my heart… Even so, the strength and determination of each and every person I met was both humbling and inspiring. They put me to shame. Nonetheless, they still need the support of individuals who will be attentive to their needs, dedicated to finding viable solutions, and willing to work in partnership with the locals. Witnessing Joe’s relationship with the people in and around Restauración—his investment for the people, and in their stories—challenged me to do the same.
In fact, my favorite moments from this year were building upon relationships from the year before; I’ll always remember my reunion with the boys of Restauración as one of the sweetest and happiest moments of my life. Catching one of Chelo's smiles, cracking coconuts with Chino, playing hide-and-seek with Daveen, discussing baseball with José, designing posters with Miguel, enduring another year of Victor's (affectionate) teasing—these are moments that will be stored in my mind's memory box forever.
Such precious memory-making would be impossible if Restauración hadn’t first reached out to welcome us first. There aren't enough words to describe "Mami" Cuca, my host mother. From giving up her own bed so that we could rest comfortably, to preparing hot coffee and sneaking us sweets from her "colmado" every morning, I was left with the irrepressible impression that Cuca cared for us, not only as guests, but as her own daughters. This was true for others as well. Our last afternoon in Restauración, I witnessed a very tender moment pass between Angela (our wonderful cook) and one of my friends. The two had formed a special bond the year before, and I had watched as it grew even stronger over the course of the week. I don't recall any particular words being exchanged, but they weren't any needed. As I watched Angela fondly threading her hands through my friend’s hair, I realized that for many of us, Restauración had become our second home.
It’s been over one week since I returned from FIMRC's project site in Restauración, but I've only begun to unpack the stories that took place. I pray that this testimonial could be read as a heartfelt letter of gratitude to FIMRC, Joe South, Jamie Conover, Abigail Proctor, Maghan Knight, each and every one of my Clemson FIMRC family (plus Matt!), Josiel, Cuca, Angela, and the community of Restauración, for making my time in the Dominican Republic so incredibly and unforgettably special. Even if we had preserved every moment of our trip in a photograph, it would still fail to capture all the heartfelt memories experienced in that beautiful country.