Timmy Transitions in the Dominican Republic

Timmy Transitions in the Dominican Republic
April 22, 2013 Callie Daniels-Howell

by Jose Vazquez

Jose Vazquez is Timmy Global Health’s new Medical Programs Coordinator in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic. He is from Yakima, a small town in the eastern part of Washington State.  Jose graduated with a B.A. in Public Health and a minor in Classical Studies from the University of Washington-Seattle in June 2011.  At the UW, he had the opportunity to study abroad in Rome, Greece and Sierra Leone. Little known facts:  He played trumpet for the UW-Husky Marching Band, sang bass for the Gospel choir, and served as vice-president for his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Order. This blog post is an introduction to Jose and an overview of his plans for Timmy’s programming in the D.R.

I’ve recently completed 18 months of service as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer. I originally sought out placement as a volunteer to extend what I had witnessed and felt while studying abroad in Sierra Leone. Though I only lived in a tribal village for three weeks, it was enough to categorize need, yet also experience the vitality and the potential of the community. It was a time in which I found a rawness within me that I hadn’t felt before—having to strip myself of my lifestyle in the U.S. and submerge myself into something unknown and thrilling at the same time. Simply, my inspiration to join Peace Corps was wanting the opportunity to live somewhere totally different, delve myself into a new culture, and come back to the states with a perspective that would allow me to feel more ‘complete,’ for a lack of a better word.

My experience in the D.R. has been all of that and so much more. Joining Peace Corps has provided me with an opportunity to live in an environment completely different from the one I had in the states—delving into music, food and culture has been so fun! In this placement I’ve also been able to apply concepts that I learned as an undergrad to my work, especially as they pertain to disease transmission, treatment, and prevention.

The first project site that I was stationed at with Peace Corps was in Pimentel, Duarte Province.  My primary projects revolved around working with youth and women’s groups with health sector initiatives to prevent the contraction of HIV and advocate about teen pregnancy and mother/infant health. In December 2012, group leaders and I graduated a total of six youth groups and four women’s groups in the above topics.  Some of the featured group work that we used were an HIV-themed play for World AIDS Day that received PEPFAR Funding with the youth groups and income generation projects with the women’s groups.

Within the past months, I’ve phased out my projects in Pimentel, and have taken on a new Medical Project Coordinator position with Timmy Global Health in Monte Cristi. It’s been living in Monte Cristi for about four weeks, but it was a three-month transition process.  I owe a ton to Alyson Davidson, who was the first Timmy volunteer in the DR, and whose position I’ll be taking over.  I spent a week on her couch as she showed me the ropes in clinic visits, medical trip organization, and life in the new town in general. She’ll be leaving the D.R. soon to attend medical school back in the sate, and I hope I’ll be able to fill her shoes and help to build upon what she’s initiated.

Before I go into more of my own story, I should share some more details about Timmy’s partner organization in the Dominican Republic: Banelino. Banelino is a fair trade banana cooperative that ships primarily to European markets. For every box of bananas that Banelino ships, it receives $1 USD.  The monies received are then collected and shifted to Banelino’s social programs—one of which includes health services. Banelino’s health program has been in full force since 2002, and is nearing its one-year anniversary as a partner of Timmy Global Health. Banelino’s health program currently serves a total of 11 communities, in both the provinces of Monte Cristi and Valverde, reaching both cooperative workers and community members.  Banelino’s health team includes two doctors, one nurse, and a team of about 15 health promoters that help to provide primary care services, a vaccination program, trainings for health promoters in health related topics, and even an ambulance for emergency transport.

Two of the five communities that we serve in the Monte Cristi area have a predominant Haitian population. Haitian families migrate to the D.R. to work mostly in agriculture. In Monte Cristi, agriculture is predominantly focused on banana production.  All of the communities that Timmy/Banelino operate in are very marginalized due to their rural location, as well as poor road conditions and other logistical challenges that limit access to health services. Our Haitian patients are further marginalized due to language and cultural barriers that they face.

Recently, Alyson and I have started a photo campaign to help us manage the medical records of our Haitian patients. The task has involved two full days of work in predominantly Haitian-migrant communities where we’ve discarded duplicate folders, and in their place, have taken pictures to match faces with each available patient record. We intend that this effort will allow a more efficient way of sorting through the records when it comes to weekly medical clinics as well as Timmy medical trips. A challenge to this new record-management system however, is the reality of migration patters. On one of the site visit days, our translator informed us that about 18 Haitians had left for Haiti on the same day! This poses the challenge of not knowing who these patients were, and thus, leaving a portion of the picture project finished until they (hopefully) return. Regardless, 108 pictures have been developed and placed in records, and we’re still counting! We consider this a great success.

In addition to the photo project, Alyson and I are also collaborating on strengthening the current patient referral system.  During clinic days and during Timmy’s primary care medical trips, some patients are referred for advanced care or testing. Timmy takes charge of the financial aspect of the project, and Banelino helps to coordinate the logistics for referring the patients to specialized clinics in Monte Cristi and throughout the country. We intend for the referral program to continue to grow as we take on new patients, and we believe that through it, Timmy and Banelino will be able to promote a greater sense of sustainability with the complete provision of health services to our patients.

It was August 2012 when I arrived to Monte Cristi for the first time.  I’d never participate in a medical trip before (with Timmy Global Health or otherwise), and I looked forward to translating for what was, at the time, just the second medical trip Timmy had coordinated with Banelino. I could never have imagined that just a few months later, I would be interviewing for the MPC position, as well as taking the lead on these programs as of March 2013!  The trek thus far has been very exciting.  I’m still getting a gauge for what this role will fully entail, but regardless, I’m stoked for what will come. And I’m thrilled to be a part of this Timmy-Banelino partnership, all in the spirit of a Peace Corps volunteer.



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