Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Are YOU being called to join, pray, support the Dominican Republic Medical Mission?

An interview & invitation to join Nancy Gaunt, Pat Penny, Ken Messer & Larry and Karen Snyder on a medical mission in 2010.

For more information, read on! Or call the Snyders at 217-575-0045... or e-mail larryasnyder@gmail.com for info or to enlist!

For twenty-two years an Episcopal medical mission group that originated in the eastern U.S. has offered medical care in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The medical mission was begun by Bishop MacBurney in Haiti, but due to safety concerns this annual outreach moved several years ago to the north shore of Hispaniola, Dominican Republic. The mission began to have midwestern participation when Father Larry Snyder and his wife Karen moved to Illinois to serve St. Paul's, Warsaw. The tie with Iowa started when Larry began to serve St. John's, Keokuk.

When he started going on the mission trips in 2002, Larry says, they had a team of eight to ten people traveling to Haiti; two doctors, two to three nurses and a couple of priests. They slept in tents on beaches and one year stayed in a hotel that was later condemned. Karen noted that if a hotel is condemned in Haiti, you have to know that it was in really bad condition. Now, the mission team members stay at a nice hotel with a beautiful view of the ocean. It is not a posh resort hotel, but is a comfortable, safe facility with good services, and provides a good home base for the medical team.

For the past five years, Larry and Karen Snyder have been co-leaders of a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, which occurs annually during the last week in January and the first week in February. And during the time of their leadership, the medical mission has grown to include 52 people; two teams with six to seven doctors and nurse practioners on each team. Each morning, each team boards a bus packed with people, medical equipment and medicines to travel to a rural village or urban barrio, where they set up a health clinic. The need is intense, and the team's visit is anticipated; in one barrio this year, 600 patients were seen in one day! The clinics serve mainly Dominicans, but more each year, the teams are seeing clients in villages crowded with impoverished Haitian refugees with critical health needs.

The Snyders enthusiastically invite people to volunteer for the mission trips each year: always the last week in January and the first week in February; in 2010: January 24 - February 6. Volunteers can choose to come for the entire two weeks, or for just a few days at any time during the two-week period. The cost = $1,200.00, with everyone paying their own expenses (though sometimes churches, friends and relatives help sponsor a missioner). Although half of the 52 volunteers this year were medical professionals, including surgeons, neonatalogists, infectious disease specialists, pulmonologists, ob-gyns, physician assistants, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, nurses, operating room techs, dentists & EMTs, Karen and Larry are adamant that you don't have to be in the medical field to be a valued volunteer. Everyone on the team wears scrubs to identify them as being part of the medical mission team. Nancy Gaunt, a retired teacher from Keokuk, said that this year was her first time with the mission team. She felt very much an active part of the team as she worked to distribute over 500 pairs of reading glasses and help dispense medications at the clinics each day.

The volunteers, according to the Snyders, represent a wide range of medical and religious backgrounds, and age is not barrier. For instance, young people are welcome as volunteers. The Snyders state that adding 'kids' to the mission team makes a real difference in the young people's lives and creates a better dimension for the whole mission team. Working together, youths from both the U.S. and the Dominican Republic provide excellent services as Spanish-English interpreters for the team.

A Eucharist is offered every morning overlooking the ocean at dawn. Ken Messer describes the morning liturgy as "a beautiful, holy way to start the day... beginning in grey pre-dawn moments and seeing the sun fill the sky with pink and then luminous brilliance as the Eucharist progresses... becoming filled with the power of the Spirit and armed with a significant homiletic message." The service is optional, because the mission team includes not only "Episcopalians of every flavor," but also Roman Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, as well as a number of Jewish people, who spiritedly call themselves, "the Jew crew."

Larry pointed out that their older son asked why his parents were putting so much effort into going overseas. His son asked, "Why not do medical clinics here in this country?" Larry explained that the doctors they work with on mission have said that it is difficult to do the same type of clinic here, because of the paper work, bureaucratic regulations, insurance requirements, etc. Pat Penny added, "The poorest of the poor in this country are rich in comparison to the people we see in the Dominican Republic." Larry said, "Even if a patient is able to receive treatment at a public hospital or somehow is able to pay up front for services in a private hospital, there is no one to care for the patient beyond the direct medical treatment. A patient must bring his or her own food and bed linens, and family members to provide nursing care."

The team has established good partnerships with the local hospital, an orphanage and the hotel where they stay. Each year, the team leaves its surplus of supplies and medicines with a local hospital. Last year, they shared the surplus with an orphanage. And every year, the team holds a clinic for the hotel staff and their employees. The first year of the clinic at the hotel, about 30 to 40 staff and family members were expected; 175 people came in as patients. And, each year, the number of patients increases at the hotel clinic. They are also working to establish a year round clinic in Montellano that employs local doctors and will encourage some of the mission team's long-time volunteers to visit through the year. Larry notes, "We have also become very close to members of St. Mary's Episcopal parish in Montellano, which makes our annual return to the Dominican Republic exceedingly joyous, and our departure very difficult. We have become a spiritual family, working together to care for the physical needs of the poorest of the poor, reaching out to them in the name of Christ."

Pat rejoiced, "The people we see year after year seem healthier. We are able to address diabetes and blood pressure problems on a more long term basis, because we do go annually and are getting to know the poeple we see each year." Pat said that she would like to see more classes addressing nutrition (diet), exercise and foot cleanliness. Pat commented, "I keep going on these missions, because I come back with so much more than I go with. I also like that we give longer term care than other medical missions, and that it doesn't matter what religion you are. God knows no boundaries. I became a nurse late in life, and sincerely feel since God called me to be a nurse, I need to share that skill in mission."

Nancy said she was surprised at how patient the people were waiting in a long line, standing in the heat for hours, waiting to get into the clnic. She was also amazed that in the midst of all the poverty and illness, the people were so clean, smelled good and everywhere had fresh laundry hanging out to dry. She said, "I didn't see even one dirty child." Karen agreed, and added, "Although the women tend to have children when they are too young, they do have happy, well-behaved children." Larry noted that this is different among the Haitian people, who are more economically stressed as illegal immigrants and have more aggressive behaviors and poorer hygiene.

Karen stated, "Those we work with year after year have become family." She told of a young woman named Irene, whom a number of team members sponsored to go to the University. After they first informed Irene what they hoped to do for her education, she disappeared. She was found crying with gratitude. "I didn't know strangers could be so kind to me," she said. Irene has since graduated from the University, and now works at the local airport. She is considered a beloved daughter by the mission team.

Larry concluded, "First, we invite people to participation in the upcoming mission trip, but of course, we could never turn away financial support. And," he smiled, "Your prayers are always welcome." He added, "We would like to increase the Iowa level of participation." Karen noted that
the team is excited about the possibility of Dr. Terry Shively, St. Alban's, Spirit Lake, going next year to offer dental services at the mission clinics, and they welcome more Iowans to come along, too.

For more information or to indicate your interest in going on the 2010 medical mission to the Dominican Republic, please:

call the Snyders at 217-575-0045 or e-mail: larryasnyder@gmail.com

The Snyders "would love to bring our stories and pictures to congregations in the diocese. Just call!" Larry says, "You will be truly blessed by your participation."