Sunday, September 13, 2015

Service: a noble adventure

Service: a noble adventure
Darrel L. Hammon

the gang at a gift shop with shop employees
Recently, I had the incredible opportunity to accompany a group of students representing Utah Valley University (UVU) and Mobility Mission to the Dominican Republic (DR). What a marvelous activity it was! 

Frederico and his family (with Abbey and Claribel)
The purpose of the trip was humanitarian. The Mobility Mission works with groups to provide prosthetic limbs to those who need them. I visited Julie Bagley, the director of the program, some months ago. She decided to go to the DR. Since we had worked with the Asociación Dominicana de Rehabilitación (ADR) when Joanne and I served there as Welfare Specialists, I called Dr. Carlos Zometa and made the arrangements. He was so good to work with.

One of the patients and his family (with Julie Bagley)
Only July 18, we trundled to the DR with 17 in our group, mostly students and former students at UVU. Unfortunately, Julie and one of the students had to stay behind in Miami because the student lost her passport. I told Julie I would accompany them and get them to the destination. So, off we went. Ultimately, though, Julie and the student who, through a miracle, received a duplicate passport in record time.

Edith, one of the incredible technicians
I believe the students were shocked when they landed but even more shocked with the driving. The first morning we went to the ADR, they gasped more than once at the crazy driving we encountered. Nonetheless, we made it to the ADR and the incredible people there.

Alan, the Director of the Lab, and Karlita, one of the incredible technicians
When we arrived, we met the staff. Alan was the director of the lab. Two of the young women, Edith and Karl, who were technicians were actually fairly new from outside of the DR. All of the technicians took the young people under their wings, and we began to work.

Brett interviewing one of the patients
Fifteen people were waiting for us in the Santo Domingo ADR. The students measured each patient and then began working with technicians to create the new prostheses. The fifteen patients were wonderful, ranging from young men and women to more mature men and women. We instantly bonded with the patients. They were so appreciative of the attention they were receiving. Finally, they were receiving a new leg. Some had been waiting for a long time; others, not so long, a year or two. Nonetheless, having no leg was a challenge for all of them.

Cindy working with one of the technicians
Once all of the patients had been fitted, the students and the technicians began feverishly working to develop each prosthesis from scratch. We had brought with us the hardware for the knees and the joints. It was tedious, hot work. The laboratory didn't have air conditioning; so, we sweat a lot during the week.
Some of the group with Ana Mercedes
One of the surprises for me was meeting Ana Mercedes. Joanne and I had meet her in 2012 when we took the Spencers, wheelchair specialists from the Church, on a tour to meet some of the people who had received wheelchairs from the partnership between the ADR and the Church. Ana had been a 17-year-old young woman who was on the national basketball team with a promising athletic career. One evening, a stray bullet struck her in the spine, paralyzing her from the waist down. At the time we met here, she was working with a non-profit organization. On one of the days we were at the ADR, I went out the wrong door and saw a young woman at the reception desk. She looked vaguely familiar. When I approached here, I discovered it was Ana, our good friend. She remembered me, and we had such a wonderful conversation. We even met her father. She was now working at the ADR.

Sunset at Bayahibe
At the end of the week, we took a break. I had made arrangements with John our good friend from Scuba Fun in Bayahibe to take us to the Isla Catalina for a day of fun and snorkeling. The night before the great event, two of the students became engaged. As the sun was setting in the eastern sky, he proposed on the boardwalk, overlooking the ocean. How romantic is that?

La Isla Catalina
The next day at sea, we went snorkeling and then on to the Isla Catalina. Spectacular! Many of the students couldn't believe the beauty and the color of the water. Some of us were able to see Captain Kidd's cannons buried, just off the coast of La Isla Catalina. What a sight it was!

The Mango Twins with two of the patients
On Monday, we motored to La Vega, a city about 1.5 hours from Santo Domingo to measure an additional ten patients. What a reception we received.

Waiting at the bus stop (with Dr. Carlos Zometa)
 We met some incredible people. One of the people we met was Frederico, a 20-year-old young man.

Frederico with his mother (Darrel and Abbey)
Abbey and I had the opportunity to interview him and his mother. His words were profound and brought tears to our eyes. He said, "My mother told me that God had a leg for me. Today, God has brought you here." I couldn't barely continue the interview. Such faith from both the mother and the son! Just that moment served as one reason why we were there. We soon met his father and his younger sister. They were so happy that Frederico would be receiving a leg.

"Soy Dominicano" (I am Dominican) was all this man would say (with Julie and Kelsey)
We spent then next couple of days, making the prostheses for these patients. Two days later, we returned to La Vega to fit the patients and teach them to walk. Many of them had brought their mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews for the entrega or the handover of the prosthetic limb. What a glorious day for all of us to have been there.

Cindy with Karlita (l) and Edith (r), two of the technicians
The most difficult part was saying good bye to all of the technicians. We had gave abrazos (hugs), shed tears, told each other how much we enjoyed working with them. It was both a sad and happy day, sad because we were leaving eternal friends, happy because we had new friends we would never forget. That is what service is all about: You serve others, you make eternal friends, and you experience things you have never experienced before and ones you will never forget.

Helping people learn to walk
Truly UVU's Mobility Mission changes lives--both the patients and the those who participate. In this case, students and former students. They shall never forget the experiences, the friends, the crazy driving, la Isla Catalina, the smiles on the patients' faces, the grand abrazos they received, the lives they have touched, and the new Facebook connections. All in all, the trip was extraordinary!

Patients waiting in La Vega