Friday, November 25, 2022

The Last Day

The first thing Ms. French said to us when we gathered as a full Watkinson team for the first time, months ago in the dining hall, was “This trip is not about you.” Ms. French meant that we must all put ego aside as we devote ourselves to the work of service. However, as we prepare to leave the DR early tomorrow morning, it seems as if Ms. French was wrong. This trip is about each of our 11 students who traveled to the DR, in a very specific way. Part of the mission of Watkinson school is to turn our students into responsible global citizens and to give them the power to shape the world around them. As evidenced by Gaby R.’s testimony below, this trip has gone a long way towards accomplishing that mission.

Gaby — As our trip comes to a close, and the chaos of repacking begins, I've begun to reflect on my experiences on the trip. From meeting the sweetest kids at construction, to hectically sorting through medicine for patients at the med clinic, this week was one like I’ve never experienced before. When I return home, I'll bring with me a completely new mindset and way of thinking about my life. The wonderful people I’ve met this week have taught me that even when I feel at my lowest I should always give love and have a positive attitude. The people I bonded with at Batey Papita were some of the sweetest I’ve ever met despite how they were living. I'll think about them for the rest of my life. Never did I think I would do the things I’ve done this week and here I am. I send an endless amount of gratitude to everyone involved in this trip and everyone I met along the way. I would never trade any of this for the world and I’m beyond grateful that I got to experience it with these people :-)

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving From The DR!

Today’s blog post is brought to you by our four UCONN doctors and Maryam H.

Alvaro, Mythri, Ellie, and Amanda (UCONN Doctors) - While taking care of close to 500 patients in the last 4 days, we continued to treat many undiagnosed conditions. Patients presented with an amalgam of different conditions varying from infectious diseases to chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and hypercholesterolemia. Unsurprisingly, many of these patients require further care in the hospital, but sometimes diagnosis is not clear at all. Fortunately our portable ultrasound came handy in diagnosing potentially fatal conditions such as heart failure and pulmonary embolism. 

While we were busy taking glucose strips to patients with potential diabetes, Ellie was busy looking at kids ears, eyes and throat and even looking at a kid with polydactyly (more than 5 fingers) She also assessed a heart murmur with ultrasound and reassured the patient’s mother of his heart condition. Overall, another very productive day at the med clinic, we left the place feeling exhausted but with a big smile on our faces. Another day at the office someone would say.   

Maryam- The construction team, same as all previous days, returned to Batey Papita. Driving down the dirt road approaching the houses, young children could be seen jumping and clapping as they saw our yellow bus pull in for another day of work and fun. We worked on painting the outside and inside of concrete houses.

The residents had even helped to move their furniture for us to paint their rooms. As the day progressed, the kids had begun to surround themselves with us, wanting to blow bubbles and play baseball. There was one specific girl,Tiana, who was continuously around Kendall and me throughout our time at the Batey. The work day came to an eventful end, the bus being stuck in mud crossing a small river, but thankfully we managed to make it out.

The day concluded with a team Thanksgiving dinner at Casa de Campo, thankful to have the ability to help people in need.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Student Takeover!

 Today’s student takeover is brought to you by Maryam H., Kendall R., and Sofia A.!

From Sofia — Once again, the construction team arrived at Batey Papita. Some were tired, yet others were excited, with it being their first time working construction there. The team was getting ready to spend the day painting the Church inside and out. Throughout the day many curious children came up to us while we were working, wanting to see what we were doing. While classic 80s music was playing, bonds were being formed with kids all around the Batey. By the end of the day, both the inside and outside of the church were covered in a new coat of paint, bringing the church back to life. 

    While the construction team was hard at work, the med clinic was on the grind helping around 140 patients to make sense of their medical conditions. 

From Maryam — After patients had taken “bug juice” (an oral medicine that helps to kill parasites in the body) and had their weight recorded, the first station in the clinic was blood pressure. It was my second day working at the blood pressure station so I was already acquainted with using a stethoscope and sphygmomanometer, as well as speaking in Spanish to let the patients know their pressure and asking basic questions. As the day went on, I had given out Frozen styled stickers to the kids I would see in the clinic, and in doing so I became close friends with two 7 year old girls, Emeili and Julissa, who ended up waving goodbye as we left on the bus. 

From Kendall — While handing out shoes, hygiene products, and food boxes, I became more knowledgeable about patients' lifestyles and needs, seeing the impact we were making first hand. While handing needed items out, I also gave Emilio, who is the head honcho of the med clinic, all of the medicines he would hand out to the patients. This helped me learn more Spanish, and furthered my knowledge and friendships with the patients. Emilio was very helpful and happy, spreading that energy all throughout the med clinic. Overall, the med clinic today was super successful, providing aid to the people who need it the most.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Making Connections

The med team knew we were in for something special when we arrived at Los Coco Boca Chica, a children’s community center, run by a powerhouse named Jackie, which served as our pop-up med clinic for the day. Surrounded by the children’s recycled art projects and amid the song-filled welcome, we immediately began the work but also started making unbelievable connections with the children and staff. Our Spanish improved (or for some- woke up) so we were able to have conversations, share stories, play and dance in a way that seemed impossible a day ago. All those Spanish lessons back at Wat really paid off as we had the real-world task “hanging out” with our new friends. With our systems in place and our efficiency at a peak, our Wat travelers were able to connect with the community in the batey and turned a day of “work” into a day of learning.

The construction team returned to Batey Papita again today, to finish the roof for the new workers' barracks and to distribute food to the families there. Many of the people who we handed out food packs to invited us into their homes, which gave us the chance to interact with them and get a glimpse of what their lives are like. The Watkinson students particularly enjoyed their interactions with the children of the batey, particularly two young boys Jaden, a tiny boy of about 4 or 5, and Matteo, an 8 year old with a wide smile and a mischievous glint in his eye. While Autumn and Pia gave the kids stickers and bubbles, Alex and Logan started a game of baseball at the edge of the sugar cane fields.

But as fun as the moments with the kids were, there were more poignant moments as well. Gaby and Mr. Z went into the house of an elderly woman named Fani, whose husband used to be a sugarcane worker. However, both have grown too old to work and only get by due to the kindness of their neighbors and with aid from non-profit organizations. Fani showed us where a hurricane earlier this year had damaged her roof, causing water to pour into her bedroom whenever it rains. She pointed to streaks of mold across the walls caused by the leaking and prayed that it would get fixed soon. While Fani spoke about the problems facing them, her husband went to the impromptu medical clinic set up by Mary O’Brien for help with an ongoing knee injury. Mary gave him pain medication and wrapped his knee with a bandage.

After some downtime, which we used to reflect on the day's events, the service team went out to enjoy a professional baseball game, only fitting in a country where the game is closer to a religion than a sport. The team enjoyed a closely contested game, featuring multiple MLB players, before turning in for the night in preparation for tomorrow.  

Monday, November 21, 2022

On The Bateyes

After a quick breakfast, we loaded our two buses up with all the supplies for the day and headed out into the countryside to our work sites for the week: the bateyes. Bateyes are settlements that have grown up around sugar cane fields. Most of the sugarcane in the Dominican Republic is harvested by Haitian migrant workers who survive on low pay and live in very poor conditions. We drove for an hour past strands of palm trees, groves of West Indian Cedars and solitary mahogany trees, the distant green hills growing larger every minute.

The medical team arrived at their batey for the day and quickly transformed a cramped one room schoolhouse into a med clinic for the day. Over the course of five hours they treated 115 patients: mostly women, children and the elderly. They dispensed all the children’s vitamins they had packed for the day, along with large amounts of allergy meds, Tylenol, and blood pressure and diabetes medications. Brooke, Olivia and Rose somehow managed to take blood pressure at their station- right at the entrance where everyone was lined up to enter and see the doctors. While hearing the heartbeats was a challenge, their newly found expertise allowed them to use the gently bouncing needle on the BP cuff to assess the heartbeats and pressure. Sofia used her fluency in Spanish to manage the “bug juice station” giving children a dose of anti-parasite medicine. Maryam quickly mastered the meds (working with Mr Gemme and Ms OB)- reading the challenging handwriting (doctors!!) and sifting through the bins for just the right med. Kerry carefully matched each patient with a pair of shoes before they left. Last but not least, doctors Alvaro, Ellie, Mythri, and Amanda and nurse and Watkinson alum Mary provided the medical care that was so needed in this batey.

While the medical team ran the clinic, the construction team arrived in Batey Papita and learned that their task for the day would be to help with the roofing of a new dormitory for the workers there. Using materials which were all paid for by generous Watkinson donors, the team applied double coatings of enamel paint to corrugated tin roofing panels to protect them from rust, corrosion, and to keep the houses cool in the fierce Caribbean sun. The children of the batey came out to greet the team and were gifted stickers and bubbles, and even joined in with the team to paint the roofs. 

After a long day the teams came back to the dorms and spent the evening creating food packs for distribution to families on the bateyes tomorrow. By the time the last pack was filled and placed in the corner of the dining room, the Watkinson kids filed upstairs to bed, tired and sore, but ready for another day tomorrow. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022


Our first full day in the Dominican Republic was all about sorting. Sorting pills, sorting shoes, sorting hygienic items. You name it, we sorted it. To carry out our sorting we divided into three teams. The first (and largest) team was the pill team. They were put in charge of organizing the huge supply of vitamins and medication that we carried over with us. They sat for hours in the dining room, counting pills and sorting them into plastic bags for our med teams to distribute to patients over the coming days. While the pill team carried out their work, the second team went out into the far courtyard and created individual hygiene kits (filled with soap, shampoos, toothpaste and various other products) to be handed out at this week’s med clinics. The final team went into the near courtyard and organized the countless number of sneakers, boots and flip flops that had been donated by the Watkinson community. They formed six large piles filled with men’s, women’s and children’s footwear for distribution at the week’s med clinics and construction sites.

After a few hours, the outdoor teams were done with their work, and had neatly stacked their labeled bags full of shoes and hygiene products in the supply closet, but there were still piles of pills to be sorted. The entire service team joined the pill team and worked for the next two hours (with a brief break for lunch) until our doctors and nurses were satisfied that they would have enough medicine for the patients they expected to see. 

With the week’s supplies organized and ready to go, we could afford to have a little fun. We piled into a van and drove to a local beach. For two hours we splashed in the warm waters of the Caribbean and lounged in the sand, some of us working on a nice November tan, while others slathered themselves in SPF 70, hoping to avoid sunburns or adding to their collection of freckles. 

When we returned home after the beach, with salty skin and sun kissed smiles, the final bit of sorting remained to be carried out: sorting ourselves into work teams for tomorrow. After a crash course in taking blood pressure, administered by our doctors and nurses, we were ready to sign up for either the construction or medical team. After a few rounds of cards and Connect 4 we went to bed early, ready for our first work day. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022


We gathered inside the Feringa Dining Room in the pre-dawn gloom. The atmosphere was muffled, by more than just the early hour and the frosty air. Anxious smiles and nervous laughter traded places with pensive silence. Most of the eleven students crowded together in the dining hall, with their teachers and fellow team members, had never traveled without their parents before, some had never left the country. They were all preparing to leave the familiar behind for a week, and take a big step into the wide, unknown world.

But by the time our school bus was driving away from Santo Domingo, several hours later, all the anxiety had melted away. As we drove along the azure blue waters of the Caribbean, a warm tropical breeze blowing through the bus, all the nerves had been left far behind. Unconstrained laughter rang out through the bus, accompanied by excited questions about the work to come. They had taken their first timid steps and were now eager to take a giant leap into the week ahead.