Tropical, warm, friendly… these words always come to mind when I am in the Dominican Republic, a country that I have been fortunate to have worked with for 10 years now. Today was our first day of camp, the 9th annual “Yo Si Puedo” (Yes, I Can!) bringing together 42 boys with hemophilia for three days of fun, socialization, education and medical treatment.
We arrived last night and were met by Mecho Benoit, good friend and executive member of the Fundación Apoyo al Hemofílico (FAHEM), the national hemophilia organization. We drove to her sister Haydee de Garcia’s home. Haydee is the president of FAHEM. Any baseball fans reading this? Her husband is Damaso Garcia, former second baseman of the Toronto Bluejays. They have a wonderful son with hemophilia, now 23.
We brought with us lots of factor, toys and supplies for the 42 campers. After a wonderful meal (food is delicious and fresh in the DR) we repacked a bit and retired, worried a little about the weather as it might rain.
We had overcast skies today but no rain. We met up with the boys and their moms at the Robert Reid Cabral Hospital in the capital, Santo Domingo. After some joyful reunions, we toured the new hemophilia wing of the hospital. Most impressive! Funded by the Bill Clinton Foundation, it was amazing to think that just 10 years ago, there was barely any care at all for patients with hemophilia: no factor, little training, certainly no place to call their own. But one thing the DR did have was dedicated people, like Haydee and Mecho, and also doctors Joanne Travers and Rosa Nieves.
Camp was just 20 minutes away at a lush and beautiful location in San Cristobal. Today’s agenda was settling in, some athletic and team building games on the basketball court by Raphael, a volunteer phys. ed teacher, arts and crafts, lunch and a lecture by a dentist, which was actually informative and a lot of fun.
We also took the opportunity to interview some of the campers to update their profiles for Save One Life. I won’t lie to you: not everything is happy and rosy in the DR. Too many children, far too many, are crippled, especially the teens, but even some of the younger ones. There are many reasons for that, which I’ll try to share tomorrow (if I can blog).
This is a special camp for us. Save One Life raised enough funds last year to provide 50% of camp funding. We have provided almost all the factor. But most of all, I witness that all those boy I met when they were eight years old, are now young men, returning as counselors, ready to help the next generation. I know I am getting old when I gasp at their height, their maturity, their potential now being realized. Where did those little boys go? Now we marvel at the younger boys, just learning about leaving home, socializing with other with hemophilia and experiencing camp for the first time. Whatever the language or culture, one thing for certain about hemophilia, camp is a winning program for all.