Short-term global health education: know more, do more

By Alyssa Wiener —-

The 53rd Week recently returned after a trip Dec 14-22 with medical students from all over Canada and the United States participating in clinical, research, and health promotion activities with the batey community of La Romana. For these students, the memories and thoughts are still fresh. Over the holidays, however, we recently asked one of our volunteers from our 2012-13 trip, Alyssa Wiener, whether her thoughts had changed during the year since shed gone, and she kindly shares them with us below.


About a year ago on a warm Dominican morning, I got on a school bus with The 53rd Week to set up the first clinic of that year’s trip (and my first clinic of that sort, ever). At the end of the week, my immediate reaction to the entire experience was not a coherent one. I had been overwhelmed, bombarded, by different emotions and bits of information. My conflicted feelings about the daily challenges the batey workers faced tempered the joy I felt working with The 53rd Week team, interpreters, and batey children. The more I learned about life in the bateys, the more I felt profoundly ignorant about the culture and history of the peoples I was trying, in my very small way, to serve. I absolutely treasure the incredible people I met and the lessons I learned on the trip, but I left the Dominican Republic with far more questions and uncertainties than when I arrived.

I want to be clear—even at the time, I did not view this at all as a negative outcome. Really, it was the expected result of an uninformed interloper venturing into a world she didn’t understand. Now that I am able to look back with what I think is the clarity of some distance, I can see a little further beyond my confusion.

A first time trip with The 53rd Week is not something where one goes to the Dominican Republic and comes home perfectly satisfied, brushing one’s hands off at a job well done. The work is not done. A trip is but one among many journeys. It sounds so obvious now, but when I was in the thick of things last year, the trip’s status as one part of a larger goal wasn’t as apparent to me. Of course, the needs of different batey children cannot be met or even understood in a week. That is why The 53rd Week exists. I think that people should return from the Dominican Republic with questions because the search for answers is ongoing.

After all, the questions and uncertainties I carried on my flight back from the Dominican Republic did not mark so much the ending of one trip but the beginning of my desire to know more and do more. Like The 53rd Week’s goals, my own vague goals, “know more and do more”, are not endpoints of a straightforward path. However, the very weight of these challenges motivates me and turns me to the future. I hope to move forwards one step at a time, just as I hope to return someday to La Romana with The 53rd Week in one more step among many.     

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