Poco a Poco – Sharing Jaibon, Dominican Republic – Janet Brown

Published: 11/01/2018 - 16:15
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Two weeks ago, my daughter Franni and I (along with two other moms and their 8th grade girls) embarked on a volunteer trip to Jaibon, Dominican Republic through a not for profit— Outreach 360. We spent the week teaching English to children aged kindergarten through sixth grade and worked on a project associated with a boy’s orphanage that homed 22 amazing boys. The school principal and orphanage founder were one in the same – “La Tia” – the Aunt.


I was able to connect this experience to my passion for health care sustainability by going online to identify the local hospital. I sent some emails and was able to identify a contact that was able to get a list of supplies that were in need. We all know, by now, the complexity around donation of equipment, materials and supplies to developing countries. We know that all too often, these “donations” are really garbage in disguise. (Scratching the Surface – October 2011)

Coincidentally, the Friday before embarking on the trip, I had a field trip to Practice Greenhealth Strategic Resource Network Member IMEC ‘s warehouse with Practice Greenhealth member Covenant Health System’s Green Team. I was already familiar with IMEC’s work and had learned about their responsible equipment and furniture donation program, through conversations with its founder, Tom Keefe. IMEC is very careful about controlling what and where supplies are sent. While hospitals are challenged to increase their recycling rates, donation of broken or even too technical, equipment can cause more harm than good. I was thrilled to be given a carry-on medical supply kit that was fully inventoried and neatly packaged so that I could take it with me to the Dominican Republic. I reviewed the contents and found a brand new, beautifully packaged stethoscope, gloves, gauze and other essentials. I transferred it into two large duffels, since I was informed by our group leader that boxes can delay customs. It was challenging to get the duffels to my contact, Jonny Emilio Marte. But I did make the connection and he transferred the supplies to the hospital’s principal, Braulio Reynoso Ventura and the administrator Jose Rodríguez.

While we were in the Dominican Republic to teach English and learn more about another culture, I was struck— there was virtually no waste collection. As waste was generated, it was dropped to the ground—wherever that happened to be. While the boys cleaned up the school yard and grounds every single morning before school, they transferred the plastics, juice boxes and other packaging and dumped them in the plantain field. The school children purchased sugary beverages, candy and chips during their “recreo” and dropped the waste to the ground as each treat was consumed. Recycling? Of course not— but here we were faced with a different challenge. There is no recycling or even regular waste collection. So what is the first step? What is the practical action for this scenario? The mom’s and I put our heads together and we came up with our small step. We gave Mario, our leader from Outreach 360 some money to buy five large waste barrels to place throughout the school yard. They would integrate waste collection education into the teaching (with a future round of volunteers) and identify a place to dump the waste, separately from the plantains. By teaching the children to put their waste in a receptacle instead of on the ground, we agreed it was the first “practical” step in making progress. We also felt the boys from the orphanage would very much appreciate collecting gathered waste, rather than picking it up from the ground. It felt good knowing we would make the boy’s daily chores a little lighter. They were up each day very early to work. On Saturdays they slept late— til 6. We certainly realized that creating our own private “landfill” was not the best case scenario, but there was no way to remove the waste on a regular basis. That would be next. So for now, getting the garbage into receptacles and then into a less public site, seemed logical.


Trash pick-up after Recreo


The issues we address in the US were enhanced in the Dominican Republic – cheap candies versus healthy foods, recycling and waste infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms, basic educational supplies and safe building structures. But there was a great spirit and attitude. We met beautiful children who were very excited about learning English, making art, playing games, reading books and helping out with our work projects. With no internet access or phone use, we played games, read books, went to sleep early and awoke to the roosters.
One of the terms we learned there was “poco a poco.” One step at a time. Getting waste picked up and put into garbage cans was our first step. Poco a poco.
We learned a lot on the trip and upon my return, I felt sad for quite some time. Sad about America’s excess, overuse and wasted resources. I look forward to making connections with individuals and organizations to further our reach and increase POSITIVE connections with other cultures and organizations. And we could learn a thing or two or three here, about simplicity, doing more with less, pacing and interesting conversations. Poco a poco. 

Janet Brown, EDAC
Director of  Sustainable Operations
Practice Greenhealth

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