The Public Hospital, Santo Domingo

During our first day in Santo Domingo, we toured the public hospital with the head nurse. One of the more surprising aspects of this tour was that the hospital professionals are trained on a regular basis, and the general healthcare system was not as “behind” as expected.

We met many healthcare professionals, including an Emergency Room doctor and a gynecologist. We learned that training sessions are regularly held in each department of the hospital to ensure that all healthcare professionals are up-to-date on procedures, studies and safety regulations in the healthcare system.

We also visited the laboratory, the doctor’s office, the triage area, the Emergency Room, the nurses’ station and the maternity wing of the hospital. In the laboratory, we saw that various samples of tissues and liquids are tested to properly diagnose and treat patients. During a question and answer period, we found out that all professionals in the laboratory hold a degree in biochemistry, and a specialization in an area of interest. In addition, if the lab is well-supported financially, it will be regularly stocked with the appropriate tools and resources. There have apparently been times when it was under-funded, and they unfortunately did not have enough supplies to care for their patients.

In the Emergency Room, we met the Emergency Room doctor and saw the reality of life for critically-ill patients. We saw one patient with anorexia, another with an IV falling out, and another who was violently ill. Surprisingly, there was also a poster with a diagram of a diseased mouse on the wall. This was designed to alert staff, patients, and visitors that if hand hygiene is not practiced, diseases can travel quickly between humans.

At the nurses’ station, the head nurse explained the triage system, patient care, and the discharge process as well as the overall process of becoming a nurse. After completing high school and a one-year healthcare certificate, student nurses must successfully complete a four-year internship designed to prepare them for the workplace. Deserving student nurses who have mastered the theory and had extensive practical training are then hand-selected by the Dean of Nursing to become a professional nurse.

When they found out I had completed a year of nursing, the head nurse expressed an interest in touring a Canadian hospital. Although she and her colleagues would not be able to tour the Emergency Room and ICU, they would still be able to learn from our healthcare system and nursing programs.

The last part of our tour was a short visit to the maternity wing of the hospital. All babies are born in the hospitals, and typically, women who have given birth are discharged the following day. This is simply how the system works, and not due to a lack of resources.

The entire trip to the public hospital in Santo Domingo was an eye-opener, and it profoundly changed my perspective of the healthcare system! I really appreciated the time the doctors and nurses spent with us, answering our questions and showing us the work they do.



Sister Idalina and a Visit to a Batey

Two related themes arose during our visit to the Dominican Republic: the Haitian presence in the Dominican and Human Rights. One morning, we visited Sister Idalina, a Brazilian nun, working in the Dominican to help Haitians improve their rights. The day we visited she was hosting a clinic to help Haitians acquire proper documentation such as their passports, which will allow them to work in the Dominican and make a better life. She is an amazing and inspirational woman and even though we only had a few moments to meet her I think she left a lasting impact on all of us.

Another visit we made with a Haitian connection was to a Batey. A Batey is a town where sugar cutters live.  John, a member of our group from Rayjon who acted as our guide, described it as ‘an island in a sea of sugar cane’. That is truly what it feels like. The little community is surrounded by fields of sugar cane all around as far as the eye can see. It was extremely hot out there since there were no trees and hence very little shade. I cannot imagine what it must be like for workers to spend six months of the year working all day in such conditions. In the past, Haitians were forced to work here under such conditions. Both experiences were eye opening to some of the history and cultural diversity that exists in the Dominican Republic.




Rice, beans and fresh fruit such as melon, pineapple, plantains, banana and avocado were enjoyed regularly.

Fruits and vegetables at the market.


I had a limited Spanish vocabulary to communicate with the people I met but at the end of the week had learned a few words and phrases such as “Ola”-Hello and “Como se llama?”-What is your name?. Even though I wasn’t able to communicate with the children very well, we were still able to play and enjoy our time together, which makes me think of a quote from a Justin Bieber song, “U smile, I smile”.

Playing with the children at Gorge’s school.

I also found being the minority in the Dominican Republic to be an interesting experience.  As a group, we definitely stood out because of our skin colour which gained a lot of attention from the locals.  I personally liked this because I have never experienced this type of attention before in Canada.

I learned a lot about Dominican culture in the week there and got to experience it first hand by trying the food, speaking the language, going out dancing and interacting with the people.



Beach Day

On Sunday, we had a break from our usual busy routine and had a chance to experience the Dominican Republic as a tourist.

In the morning we walked to a local Catholic church in San Pedro.  For me, I thought the mass was similar to one I would go to at home except that I could not understand the language and children singing the hymns added to a more lively atmosphere.

Then we packed up our bags and headed to Santo Domingo.  We stopped in a tourist area and visited a building called the Marcado Modelo which was full of little shops containing lots of souvenirs.  Many people were eager to sell you things and I think everyone learned to bargain a little.  I ended up getting a magnet and a small painting of a sunset as souvenirs of the trip.

For lunch we ate at Pizza Hut then went to a beach in San Cristobal called Playa Palenque.  All the Dominicans were very curious about us.  We were at the beach for about an hour and enjoyed the beautiful view of the water and warm weather- perfect swimming conditions.  At the end of our visit we walked over to the concrete pier and took a few pictures with the locals.


At the beach. (missing Sabrina)

That night we went out dancing at a disco called La Fama.  We had the opportunity to practice the bachata, salsa and merengue dances.  I definitely had a lot of fun even though I couldn’t get the dances quite right and it was great to experience Dominican dancing; a perfect ending to our tourist day!

Accomodations Throughout the Week

Each place we stayed at was simple but nice in its own unique way.

For the first two nights we stayed at a teacher’s college in San Pedro called Juan Vicente de Moscoso. We stayed in a dorm where students from out of town would normally board. The campus way very pretty with lots of flowers and trees, a cage of birds, a basketball court and outside benches and tables to enjoy the nice weather.

This is a picture of the room I stayed in at the school and shows a mosquito over the bed.

This is a picture of the room I stayed in at the school and shows a mosquito over the bed.

For the next two nights we stayed at a former resort called Boca Canaste Caribe in Bani. This place was very quiet and serene and after a long busy day we had the opportunity to relax by the pool. We were right on the beach and could here the crashing waves as we slept at night. We learned to make do without electricity and found the light of our candles created a very peaceful atmosphere.

View of the beach at sunrise.

View of the beach at sunrise.

For the last two nights, we stayed at Manresa Altagracia, a religious place where nuns and priests lived in Santo Domingo. I don’t think we had ever been so thankful for hot water and electricity before. The grounds were very sunny and offered a beautiful view of the houses in the city below and and the city lights at night from the rooftop.

My room at the religious house.

My room at the religious house.

Sonrisas and El Arca

Hola! Hola!

In the DR, there are so many amazing organizations that are working towards improving the health and well-being of the population. We visited two such organizations in Santo Domingo called Sonrisas and El Arca.

Sonrisas or Smiles in English is a dental clinic that provides free dental care to children and low cost dental care to adults. Sonrisas is actually a sister organization with the Smiles Foundation founded in Toronto and is the only clinic in the Dominican Republic that provides free dental care to children and dental care to adults at half the cost of private clinics. Whilst we were there we were able to receive a tour of the clinic and learn about the services that they offer. Fun fact: John, one of our Rayjon trip leaders, worked at Sonrisas for a few years when he lived in the DR. It was awesome to see the work that Sonrisas is doing and the impact that they are trying to have on dental care in the DR. There are also great opportunities to get involved with Sonrisas and the Smiles Foundation. Definitely check out their website!

El Arca or L’Arche in English is an organization that has communities around the world that provide care for adults with developmental disabilities. We visited the only home in the Dominican Republic that provides care for 11 people. At El Arca, the residents participate in a variety of activities such as arts and crafts, cooking and sports with the help of assistants. When we were there we were given a tour by Juan Miguel who has been working with El Arca for about 12 years. When we arrived the residents were making coconut jewelry. I asked about the process of making the jewelry and was told that it took about a day to make a piece of jewelry and there were a lot of difficult steps involved. The residents of the home also make a variety of coconut and bead jewelry for sale to help raise money for the home. We definitely bought a bunch while we were there. It is unfortunate that this is the only home of its type in the Dominican Republic as typically people with developmental disabilities would be considered an outcast by the rest of society. Dominicans are definitely making strides in the right direction to improve the quality of life of the population and these two organizations are prime examples of this. Here is a video of El Arca de Santo Domingo so you can see a bit of what the home is like.

Fralan School

Fralan School

In Bani,we met a man named Francis who guided us around the town and showed us what we wouldn’t have noticed if he was not there. On the fifth day we got to visit Fralan Computer Services, which was started and is now run by Francis himself. In this school, they teach computer skills including accounting, pharmacy, economics, sales, and information technology where the students can get jobs in business and secretary services. Francis has teachers who teach 3 alternating shifts a day, morning, afternoon, and night. The students have to pay for their textbooks, and approximately 10 pesos a month for tuition, which equals to $0.25 CND. The teachers get paid by how much the work during the day. For one shift a day for the week, the teachers will get paid around 4000 pesos, which is $98.00 CND. Along with teaching us about the schooling available  we got an insight on how Francis got to this stage in his life. He started by telling us about his dream as a young kid about opening a computer school called Fralan. His friends knew how much he wanted to open a school, so they started to call him Fralan. Francis goes on to tell us about how it was hard getting the funding and materials to build the school and after lots or perseverance we was granted the land to build the school. When the plans were finalized and the building was about to start being constructed, he was offered a well-paying paying job in Santo Domingo that include very good benefits. After lots of thought and prayers, he decided to go with his school even though it was a huge risk. But the risk was worth it! The school was built, and classes started with great success. There has been ups and downs in the running of his school, and sometimes there is the fear of not being able to run the classes because of fund shortages, but he manages to make it through at the end of the day! Francis explains to us his dreams in a simple quote, “If you feed them in the morning, they will be hunger again in the afternoon. But is you teach them how to make food, they will never be hungry again!” Francis has inspired me personally showing me that no matter how big of dreams you have, and even though they might seem impossible, through perseverance you can reach them. The visit was very enlightening and encouraging to me, and many of the other girls on this trip.

Until next time!

Lisa 🙂