First update from our students on the ground

By the McMaster ELE students in La Romana —-

Let’s start off by introducing ourselves a little bit. We are Chris, Daniel, Brendan, and Julianne, a group of four Health Sciences students from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. We’re part of a specialization called Global Health, one component of which is the completion of an Embedded Learning Experience where we spend a semester working with locally based organizations anywhere in the world. Right now, we have classmates in many countries including Ghana, Malawi, Nicaragua, India, Thailand, Taiwan, and Canada. We have been in La Romana for 4 weeks now, and will be staying another two months, leaving around the beginning of December. We want to give you a picture of the work that we have been doing here, and talk a little bit about our ongoing plans.

During our first week here, we were fortunate to have Dr. Lin, Dr. Loh, and Dr. Marlinga from The 53rd Week here with us. They helped us us get acclimated to the city of La Romana, develop our project, and get it underway. One of the biggest and more constant shocks to us was the change in climate here; none of us seem to be able to quite adjust to the heat, especially since it is supposed to be our fall right now! A lot of this first week was meeting the people who we would be working with over the next three months and would be building relationships with. We had a meeting early on with several hospital officials at the Good Samaritan Hospital, with which we will be closely affiliated with while we are here. We also made and continue to have a great relationship with a local organization here in La Romana called Clinica de Familia. They have been very generous in providing resources and support for us since we have been on our own. Through many meetings and plenty of discussion as a group, we developed a plan that we hope will assist with the hospital’s proposed projects, as well as collect valuable information from the people of the bateyes. We began the process of designing a needs assessment to address the sexual health needs of the teenagers in the bateyes with the aim of using this information to assist with the creation of future programs.

Some local stakeholders at the hospital have an inspiration to create a peer-mentorship program in five pilot bateyes to address family planning needs among teenage girls aged 11-19. Our goal is to clarify some key issues that we feel should be addressed. To begin, we would like to determine if sexual health an area that the people of the bateyes feel would be beneficial for them to learn about. If they identify this as important, we then ask them to specify areas of sexual health they view as the most crucial. We have consulted with experts at Good Sam as well as local experts and stakeholders including Clinica de Familia to identify a list of the most important and prevalent potential needs of the people in the bateyes. With the design of our survey, we are looking to see which aspects the people themselves view as the most essential, as opposed to someone telling them what is important. We are also attempting to determine who the people of the bateyes would want to learn about specific sexual health topics from. We hope that this data will be able to provide a good starting point for development of this program.

Having completed our survey and the ethics approval process, we are now ready to begin collecting the data. One of the biggest challenges we have faced is operating in a culture much different than our own. We were told in class how different it is working cross culturally, but until you are actually involved in the work, it can be hard to fully comprehend what that means. Not only dealing with the language barrier, but also adapting to the different customs and methods of interaction with people. The prep work we completed this summer was definitely an excellent introduction that helped prepare us for a lot of the challenges that we have been facing. We have also grown as a group, learning to work together, support each other, and develop a group image of our project to help promote a cohesive future direction. Since piloting our survey recently, we have received increasingly positive results with each adjustment we make from feedback. This has allowed us to create a finely tuned survey that we are now ready to implement in various bateyes in the upcoming weeks.

We would like to thank everyone at The 53rd Week and their affiliates for their continued support of our project. We are eagerly looking forward to our next steps and promise to provide updates as we go along.  

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