January 3, 2012. We are visited by a delegation from the Santo Domingo Norte’s Mayor’s Office. The medical doctor who directs “community outreach medical services” for the local government has come with photographers to document and herald the work of our clinic. She has brought along a municipal flag and asks that we all gather for pictures, with the promise that our work will be reported in local news stories. We are ambivalent, wishing for support from the local government in some more pragmatic form: help with transportation; collaboration in the form of access to immunization services; discussions of access for local residents to government clinics that might help us to provide more continuity of care. One of our docs is a Dominican-American and she is less generous in her assessment. It’s an election year, she notes—and how dare they?
Our old friend Señor Wallace is along, as always looking for ways to promote positive change. He serves as president of the presidents of approximately 1,000 junta de vecinos (neighborhood associations) in Santo Domingo Norte. He gets a small salary from the Mayor’s Office, and he works hard to represent the efforts of local juntas. He attended our first “block” meeting and has seen the outline of our five-year plan for Esfuerzo. He tells us that he will bring an engineer in the afternoon to discuss the cañada and what can be done to alleviate flooding. He is eager to promote the ideas we have for dredging and for longer-term solutions.
Señor Wallace and the engineer arrive in the mid-afternoon, along with an old friend whom we have not seen for several years. The friend is “Pinto,” an engineer himself who lived formerly in Esfuerzo and who, at one time, served as secretary-treasurer of the junta. That junta was unseated somewhat unceremoniously several years ago amid rumors of financial malfeasance. We learned about the incident as it was happening and played a small part in trying to help manage the transition to a new junta. Still, those of us who were involved at the time were uncertain of the allegations and remained strongly and positively impressed by Señor Pinto’s commitment to the community and its improvement.
Señor Pinto is convinced that the immediate solution to the problem of flooding is dredging. The other engineer, from a local government office, is less certain but acknowledges that dredging could be a temporary (four-to-six year) fix. He is enthusiastic about our plan to support temporary solutions while we help to advance longer term strategies, perhaps involving Engineers Without Borders or other non-government organizations. Señor Pinto wants access to government equipment that he could operate to do the dredging. He has news articles that provide evidence that the government has the necessary equipment, and he has copies of correspondence in which he has formally requested access to the equipment. He wants us to accompany him and Señor Wallace to the appropriate national government office to demand access, and we agree. We are to meet at eight o’clock in the morning to travel to the office in uptown Santo Domingo.