Just before Christmas, Lisa Makarick finished a course in community health. Just after Christmas, Makarick discovered a profound contrast between the classroom and Cabarete, Dominican Republic, where she traveled with 11 others from Keuka College to bring health education to some of the youngest residents of the community.
“It’s one thing to do a windshield study on [community health] and it’s a whole other beast to do a service project, to get down there with the people and work hand-in-hand with them,” said Makarick, a Hammondsport resident.
Makarick is pursuing her baccalaureate nursing degree through the College’s Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP). She attends classes at Corning Community College, one of 2o ASAP sites around the state. Nine other nursing students from cohorts in the Syracuse, Elmira, Ithaca, and Utica areas, and one occupational science major from the home campus in Keuka Park, also traveled to Cabarete.
From January 2-9, the Keuka College group, led by Patty Mattingly, associate professor of nursing, assisted the Mariposa DR Foundation, which invests in sustainable solutions to end generational poverty, serving girls as young as 8-years-old. By battling barriers that keep the poor vulnerable and limited, and offering support such as access to quality health care and education, the Mariposa DR Foundation seeks to educate, empower and employ girls in Cabarete to ultimately give back to their community.
The students presented a workshop on dental hygiene and hand-washing, gave a first-aid presentation to parents, and made home visits to assess safety risks and recommend follow-up by Foundation staff. In addition, students also toured a public hospital and an HIV clinic in the area. The trip also fulfilled Keuka College Field Period ™ requirements for the students. Typically, a Field Period ™ enables a student to explore professions, other cultures, or even provide community service for others, but usually, only one of those elements happens at one time. However, the 2014 Keuka College team accomplished all of the above.
According to Makarick, a maternal service nurse and mother of five who will finish her nursing program in April, the trip was an “amazing experience” that she hopes to repeat. The team worked with 15 girls, ages 8 -11, providing encouragement with extracurricular activities that included simple games and health-care instruction. In that region, children only attend a half-day of school and often lack positive alternatives to “just wandering around all afternoon,” said Makarick.
Thanks to one of her daughters, Makarick said she was educated on the threat of sex trafficking and modern slavery facing these young girls. According to New Friends, New Life, a human rights agency seeking to raise awareness, 13 is the average age at which American girls, particularly those vulnerable to poverty, are trafficked into the sex industry. For the poor and vulnerable from developing countries, where legal protection is nearly nonexistent, sexual exploitation and forced prostitution may happen even earlier. As such, Makarick said the impact the team could make was clear.
“I was absolutely not disappointed,” said Makarick. “You can see the effect fairly quickly, even small, little [things] of having someone encourage them … they just bonded with us, and we learned from them, too.”
The group split into two teams of six to conduct home inspections in the neighborhoods where the girls lived, and, in some cases, the level of poverty was “pretty overwhelming,” Mattingly said, describing scenarios where rat poison was left where children could come in contact with it. One student described barbed wire “clotheslines” so low to the ground that children’s bodies and faces bore cuts from running into it. Other elements of culture shock were encountered in el barrio (the ghetto) and the local hospital, which had just five beds in its Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and where equipment and staff practice was like “turning the clock back 30 years,” said Makarick.
In some of the neighborhoods, there was only one water spigot for what would equate to a U.S. “block” of residents, making access to water a daily barrier, Mattingly described.
That spurred Makarick and others to instruct Calabrete girls in hand washing, using a Peace Corps invention known as a “Tippy-Tap” station. Essentially, the device is created with twine, a stone or wooden block, and a jug of water in which a small hole has been cut. Suspended at an angle by the twine, the jug tips slightly when the foot pedal is pressed, releasing a small amount of water sufficient to wash hands.
This was the second trip made by Keuka College students; a group of nursing students from Cohort 395 (OCC) were the first Americans to serve with the Mariposa Foundation last April. At that time, the Foundation was so new that help with basic infrastructure was still needed, so students helped clear some rubble and then painted an infirmary building. They also visited a local school, where they conducted vision and hearing screenings, along with blood pressure checks.
This time, Mattingly said, an inter-professional collaboration was achieved, involving not only a variety of adult nursing students from multiple ASAP cohorts but a compatible major of study, represented by Lindsay Holmes ’14 of Henrietta, an occupational science major who minors in Spanish. The familiarity with a second language enabled Holmes to serve as a de facto interpreter for other students, and she was given the opportunity to make a presentation on the signs of dehydration – in Spanish – to the parents and families of each girl served by the Foundation.
“The life skills are very health-centered. We were teaching them to break through their social and cultural norms by empowering them,” Holmes said, adding that she appreciated seeing first-hand how OT can play a part within a community setting. She was also struck by the perspectives of the people she met.
“Even though, from an American standpoint, they’re living in terrible conditions – shacks without running water or electricity – they are so happy, and yet here in America, we have everything and people are so unhappy with their lives,” said Holmes.
As the coordinator of the service trip, Mattingly drew comparisons between the mission and values of Keuka College and those of the Mariposa Foundation, which include experiential learning. It’s part of why she hopes the trip can become an annual tradition, offered in either January or April, and why she hopes the inter-professional collaboration can continue. Not only does the trip serve to fulfill a Field Period ™ requirement for nursing students or OT majors, but it also meets pre-certification OT requirements in an area known as “emerging” practice.
Toward the close of the trip, Holmes was able to give an internal presentation to the Keuka nursing students on how occupational therapy could be useful for the girls served by Mariposa, and followed it up with a brief survey assessing what the nurses learned about OT from her presentation. As such, she met educational requirements for community-focused practice in the field.
“We had a little culture shock at first, but the service we did was amazing and it was a perfect fit for an OT student and for nurses,” said Holmes. “It was awesome and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Since returning home, Makarick said she’s trying to rally support for the Mariposa Foundation from her classmates and others in her community,including her local pharmacist, who leads a local Girl Scout troop.
“So far, so good,” Makarick said. “I would totally do it again, to help in any way I can.”
For more images from the 2014 and 2013 trips, check out the photo gallery below.