by Jessica Gaulter, HHI Intern
As the wheels of our plane touched down at the Puerto Plata Airport, the cabin was filled with applause and cheering. I have been away from the Dominican Republic for almost exactly two years and had forgotten about this local tradition. Whether they were thanking the pilot, relieved to have made it through the long journey, or excited to see family and friends, I cannot be sure. One thing was obvious, they were home and in so many ways, so was I. I first came to the Dominican Republic as a study abroad student in college, eager to learn Spanish and live abroad. I have since returned many times to visit my host family, meet up with old friends, and spend a summer working as an interpreter for medical groups. Each trip I am reminded of all that this country and its people have to offer.
This summer I have the privilege of working as the Health Education Intern for HHI. I am a medical student from the University of Iowa with a strong interest in global public health. The goal of my project is to create new health education materials for Community Health Workers to use regularly with their patients. These include easy-to-read handouts about hypertension, diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, and other important health topics.
The best part of the project has been chatting with Community Health Workers about how they explain these chronic diseases to their patients. I have learned that diabetes is known as “azúcar” and hypertension as “presión.” While I may have access to infinite research on these topics and a year of medical education behind me, the community health workers here are the true experts. They know how to explain these complicated diseases to their patients in a way that leads to understanding and change. They recognize the barriers to chronic care treatment when you live half an hour from the nearest clinic. They know that the foods available in the campo make maintaining a balanced diet difficult for someone with diabetes or high blood pressure. Above all else, they passionately advocate for their patients.
While my project and summer is coming to an end, I plan to stay involved with the important work of HHI. In the next few years, I will begin seeing my own patients. I only hope that I can be as passionate and caring as the Community Health Workers here at HHI. I could not have completed my project without their input and I could not have had such an amazing experience without their friendship. I will not forget the importance of advocating for your patients and will always remember that one empowered individual can make a huge difference.