Coming into La Romana, the Dominican Republic, has been a whirlwind! I arrived in La Romana on the evening of July 22nd and after having a quick one-day introduction to Clínica de Familia, where I will be working for the next year, I was immediately off to Campamento Esperanza y Alegría. I spent my first two weeks of work at the campamento and due to limited WiFi I am just now being able to write and reflect back on my entry into La Romana and the beginnings of my work with the clínica.
To begin, Campamento Esperanza y Alegría is part of Clínica de la Familia. It is a two-week summer camp for HIV-positive youth. The first week had children from around ages 5 to 10 years old with the second week having campers ages 11 to 18 years old. This camp truly lives out its name Esperanza (Hope) and Alegría (Joy). For the youth the tías and tíos (aunts and uncles) at the camp offered them the hope that they have a bright future ahead of them, continually having discussions that they are valued and valuable. We encouraged them to believe in themselves despite what others say because we believe in them. This camp also offered the joy that they are unconditionally loved no matter what their ailments may be.
The youth that attend this camp are often from some of the poorest areas in La Romana and have very difficult family situations. During the weeks of camp the entire staff tries to instill and exemplify the values of love, respect, and security to the youth. The youth know that at this camp they are loved, something that outside of the walls they may not hear or experience every day. They also learn to respect others and themselves, and most importantly they know they are safe. They are in a safe space to have community with others who share their same status and know that the camp staff will keep their status private outside the walls of camp. They are in a safe space to learn and grow in improving adherence and learning emotional coping skills to go off into the community.
The joy in the faces of the youth when they come, the sadness when they leave, and the hope for next year is something that greatly moved me. In my first few weeks here, Clínca de Familia has really shown me that it embodies its name and truly is a family. I am thrilled to have my first full week back from camp and be in the clinic this week, continuing to work with the camp staff on our evaluation of the camp and ways in which we can keep growing moving forward. ¡Hasta pronto!