The Pre-Medical Club’s (PMC) Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is a health-oriented service and educational trip for students at the University of Michigan. Since its beginning in the early 2000s, PMC has worked with the Community Service Alliance (CSA) in the Dominican Republic to organize and plan the spring breaks each year. CSA is a multi-faceted organization which strives to empower communities through health initiatives, educational and youth programs, and a focus on supporting female community members. We have continued to partner with CSA throughout the years because of the positive effects we observe in the communities and because of the level of involvement they permit students to have.
Although CSA has many projects in multiple areas throughout the Dominican Republic, our group has chosen to orient our spring breaks around their health initiatives and educational programs. Additionally, the past four years we have been in the same province: Hato Mayor. Each year, the details of the project change, however the objectives remain the same. Following the goals of CSA, we hope to empower and build up communities in terms of health to a point where they can continue health practices safely and independently after we and CSA leave.
Our spring break this year focused on two main projects: water filter installation and bathroom construction. Before embarking on our journey, CSA provided us with the schedule and project goals. We aimed to install eight water filters and construct two bathrooms in two separate communities during our five days of work. Along with the manual work, we also allotted two afternoons of the trip to speak with school children about hand-washing and general hygiene tips. On the schedule were other events where we could learn more about the Dominican Republic and its health system and culture. These events included a tour of a cacao farm, dance lessons from a local dance group, and a visit to a local health clinic for a presentation and a Q&A session.
With our schedule set and our goals in mind, we departed for the Dominican Republic. At the end of the week we had completed most of our objectives. In total, we ended up installing ten water filters and surveying over fifteen households about their previously installed filters. We started the construction of two bathrooms, however we were unable to finish them due to the rainy weather and time restrictions. Despite not finishing them ourselves, CSA will continue to work with the communities and other volunteer groups to guarantee they are completed in a timely manner.
The last two afternoons of our trip, we shifted our focus to education and working directly with the school students. The school in the community was kindergarten through eighth grade and students’ ages ranged from four years old to fourteen years old. One of the water filters we installed was at the school so part of our lessons was about the benefits of clean drinking water and its importance. The other part of our lessons was about hand-washing. For this section, we used motions and a catchy poem/song to make the habit memorable for the students as well as make the task more fun for the younger ones. Reflecting back now, I am very happy with the work we were able to complete in our short time there. Although we did not see the bathrooms to completion, we installed more filters than intended and were able to spread an important health message to the students in the community.
As this is an annual trip, the next step for PMC is to begin planning next year’s trip! Before this begins, however, I will follow-up with CSA to receive feedback from them as well as give them my own feedback on how the trip went this year. Additionally, I will ask all of the participants for their feedback both for me and for CSA. This follow-up survey for the participants is something new this year and was actually suggested to me by my mentor. I think it will be very helpful for next year’s leader. Hopefully, with all of the feedback from various viewpoints, next year’s trip will be even better than this year’s. Currently, I am interviewing potential candidates for the leadership position. From there we will have a transition meeting and the rest of the planning is their responsibility, although I will always be available if they have any questions.
We utilized the Library Mini Grant to allow more students and financially disadvantaged students to participate. The cost to participate in PMC’s ASB is quite costly, averaging around $900 and not including airfare. Nine-hundred dollars is a large sum and although we, and CSA, work together each year to try to lower the cost, there are reasons we cannot do so. The water filters we install and the materials we use to construct the bathrooms all come with a cost, and we are required to pay for a portion of the supplies we use throughout the week. CSA is a non-profit organization and without our supplemental payments, the number of water filters and size of construction projects may lessen. For these reasons, financial aid is available for participants who require it. This year, the Library Mini Grant was used to provide financial assistance to five students who were great assets throughout the week.
My Library Mentor was Gurpreet Rana, a Global Health Coordinator at the University. Gurpreet helped me in preparation for the trip in a number of ways. Because I wanted to educate the participants about the Dominican Republic before we left, Gurpreet connected me with numerous databases, websites, and organizations to find reliable and extensive information. Before meeting with Gurpreet, I had not known about many of these sources so they were very useful when I created my pre-departure presentations and information sheets. Additionally, Gurpreet showed me sources to utilize when creating the educational lessons. I based the language and actions in the lessons on examples found on a number of educational websites. Overall, I think the lessons were as effective as they were because of the resources Gurpreet showed me.