January 2, 2012. It takes some time to set up the clinic, arrange the tables and meds in the pharmacy, and get ready for our first clinic session. With Dr. Mark Ryan and a team of pharmacy professionals leading the effort, we are ready to see our first patients by a little after 9 am.
The field research team heads for Esfuerzo, proceeding house-to-house to extend invitations and deliver summaries of the project proposals. By 12:30, I’m anticipating the trudge back up the hill to the school—and I’ve accepted that this will be the first of two trips today. As always, the cooking is done by local residents at the school. We provide money to buy the groceries; they shop and cook. And, as predictably, the food is tasty: rice and beans, chicken, plantains. At 2:30 we are getting anxious about finishing lunch and getting back to Esfuerzo in time for the scheduled 3:30 meeting. We know better, of course, but our time orientation is powerful.
We are at the meeting site, a flat spot in the middle of a road by 3pm. We move through the area “reminding” people of the meeting time and encouraging them to come out. They assure us that they are coming. It is a classic “Catch 22.” In the Dominican Republic village of Esfuerzo, as is true in so many places around the world, “Nobody comes until everybody is there.” Residents don’t like to come to meetings until others have arrived because they know that “others” usually don’t arrive on time. Our challenge is to get some to come out so that others will follow. We make another pass or two through the area and then go to the local colmado (small local store) to borrow plastic chairs. We hope that setting up chairs will signal that the meeting is going to start. By 4pm, a few people have arrived; we offer small plastic cups with soda, and we begin the meeting around 4:15—not bad for a 3:30 schedule.
Led by Kevin Salinas, Taylor Hurst, and Joanna Weeks, residents and SOMOS team members reviewed project ideas to alleviate problems of flooding, contaminated water, and trash. (We even have a flip chart, though the telescoping easel will prove to be as disappointing as it is low-tech.) There were moments when the discussions were intense and animated—especially when residents expressed frustration with the inaction of the junta de vecino. There was widely shared and intense agreement that flooding from the cañada is the most urgent problem; that the community should form a commission (“committee”) to organize efforts to get the government to fix the problem. There is enthusiasm for the idea of a “community shelter,” a structure where household goods could be stored, community events could be held, and the roof could be used for rain water catchment.