Maria toppled infrastructure with over 100 miles per hour winds, flooded cities with over 2 feet of rain, and obliterated 95% of cellphone towers and power grids. Left in its wake is a humanitarian crisis with little support and slow response times. After MDJunior’s successful Emergency Relief Mission last summer, we decided to continue to support the recovery process by conducting more missions focused on communities struggling to fully recover from the hurricane’s devastation.
MDJunior deployed a student volunteer team on July 25 to help aid in reconstruction post Hurricane Maria. Our work on the ground was focused on a holistic approach, including both medical and public health initiatives. Our mission was a huge success, both for impact on the local community and the lasting impression left on our youth.
Here are some of our youth's stories.
Learning from each other
MDJunior Mission Trips allow one to learn from others. They allow one to interact with others. It is an experience that one should not miss and Ria Devakottai from our last mission trip shares her story:
At the beginning of our second health fair, Dr. Shamard conducted a check up on an 11-month old baby, Sheilanys. She had rashes on her back, the left and right side of her face, and a few areas on her arm. In addition, one of her arms was bigger than the other, and she had delayed capillary refill. All of these, as Dr. Shamard explained, were strong indicators of lymphadenopathy, which occurs when the lymph nodes are abnormal in size, consistency, or color. Dr. Shamard stated that this case would be rare within other states because usually, a problem like Sheilanys’ would have been caught early on; however, medical care is not as easily accessible to Puerto Rico as it is in other states, despite Puerto Rico being a commonwealth of the country. The Puerto Rican community deserves better, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have helped the people that I did. You can’t really tell but that’s Sheilanys. Overall the trip was a very rewarding experience. I got to meet this amazing group of people, and I was able to help different communities. On one of the first days we went to this company and they helped us learn all about mosquitoes from how they are born to the different diseases associated with them. The next day some of the group went to a town called Yabucoa. There was a youth art school, CREARTE, that got hit pretty bad from the hurricane. We helped repaint the place. At the art school, there was a man telling us what to do to and he would tell us about what going through the hurricane was like, as well as what it was like to be from Puerto Rico in regards to the United States. His name was Pedro J. Rosa Santos. He told us that Puerto Rico doesn’t get as many rights as the people living in the other 50 states despite being a part of they United States. The next day we went to Naguabo, Puerto Rico. We went to a place that was decently heavy in gang affiliation. We provided medical attention to a range of people. I got to learn many new things in medicine, such as the fact that seeking medical attention is harder in that area and how to use a stethoscope. There was also a water filtration company there telling us about how the water quality is in Puerto Rico and how they were trying to solve it.
A life changing experience
Going on this mission trip is an amazing experience for anyone who decided to go; some may even call it inspirational, like Sanjana Reddy, one of the youth volunteers lucky enough to go on this trip on a lifetime. Along, with learning so much from this experience, some are lucky enough to connect with the local people there, which is exactly what Sanjana did.
During her stay in Puerto Rico, Sanjana met Sylvia, an inspirational public health professional who worked for the Vector Control Unit (VCU), an NGO that works to prevent the spread of disease via controlling the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, a common vector of diseases such as zika and dengue. Sanjana was amazed by Sylvia’s genuine compassion and dedication with regards to educating the Puerto Rican people on the dangers of mosquito breeding sites. Additionally, Sylvia recently realized that they wanted to help change the health care policies in Puerto Rico, directing their focus more towards those in need, and thus, she applied and enrolled in law school at the University of Puerto Rico. Sylvia works at the VCU every day from 8 AM to 4 PM, and after a quick break, attends class from 8 PM to midnight. Sanjana describes her experience as if she found herself so inspired by Sylvia’s drive to create a better future for her people, by her selfless passion to help others, and her dedication to continue learning. Sanjana says she will work to employ the health professionals amazing qualities in her life, and it is her goal to bring positive change to public health as passionately and effectively as the inspiring health professional does.
Community based impact
When in Puerto Rico, it is inevitable that one will talk to the local people there. They will learn their story and become engrossed in their culture. During this mission trip last year, Prisha Namdakumar did just that to help the people there. Here is what she said she lived about the trip:
While at the first health fair, there was a woman- the age of 41, but appeared to be 60 plus- who was given a check up by Dr. Baz, along with her two children, both 9 years old. After consulting with her, we came to know she had high blood sugar and various respiratory problems. She came from a impoverished household and could not afford her needed medicines and aids. During Hurricane Maria, her only glucometer was damaged and she could no longer check her blood sugar regularly. In fact, it had been 8 months since her last reading. After talking to her for some more time we also came to know that she had continuous chest pains at night, also known as agina. This is caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. The medicine she took for this, nitroglycerin, had run out and she could not afford to buy any more. She began to tear up while explaining her conditions of deteriorating health and how she could no longer look after her children properly. It was distressing to see that pain in her eyes, as you could see the helplessness she felt. She knew that she was at high risk for heart attack but was more agonized with the worry of leaving her children. Her and her two children live in a isolated, mountainous area of San Juan where people often burned their trash, due to not having proper disposal facilities and services. This contributed to her respiratory issues and even her daughter’s asthma. Their family’s condition was scant do begin with and then the hurricane had made their living conditions far worse.