Episcopal Diocese of Albany, NY
Business Office: 68 South Swan Street - Albany, NY 12210 - (518) 465-4737
Christ the King Spiritual Life Center: 575 Burton Road - Greenwich, NY 12834 - (518) 692-9550

Prescribing Prevention

A safe potable water project for the Dominican Republic - 2007 Update

The ten days that our mission team spent in the Dominican Republic (DR) last month were filled with interest, extreme focus, excitement, intense emotion, and rewards beyond any expectation. Since two years ago, when the project that we call “Prescribing Prevention” was added as an enhancement to the medical mission, the project had fallen into a holding pattern. The jet that took off two years ago had not crashed, but neither had it completed a single flight. Just when all the details had seemed to fall into place in 2005, our contact in the DR went off the radar and – as strange as it might seem – our project was left with no one on the ground at the receiving end. As much as I, personally, would have preferred to contribute funds to the project itself instead of paying for my own airfare and accommodations, the realization grew that nothing would happen without a face-to-face encounter.

When my son, Turner, and I realized that we just had to carry the project message to the DR in person, we started by studying Spanish. Once we arrived, we wanted to be able to say what needed to be said as best we could. Other preparations included making a lot of visual instructional materials because if one picture is worth 1,000 words, in English, it would surely be worth 1,000,000 words in Spanish! We bought materials for water testing, accumulated references to water issues particular to the DR, and wrote and duplicated a brochure explaining our program in Spanish. We did a good deal of homework, and, when we deplaned at the Santo Domingo airport, it felt just as if we were about to take an extremely important exam. Excitement crackled, and we were in an energetic state of heightened awareness.

We left Lake Placid in the chartered bus at 9:00pm, spent the night on the bus, got to Kennedy Airport at about 3am, and arrived in Santo Domingo around 12:00 noon. The heat and humidity of the DR felt oppressive, but when we got to the hotel around 5pm, we were much too excited to feel tired. Turner and I immediately tested the water in the hotel, bought some chlorine bleach, and prepared our first 5 gallons of safe water in the hotel room from the hotel tap water - using one of the two home water purifiers that we had brought with us. The hotel tap water was not considered safe to drink otherwise. Early the next morning, we made arrangements to meet the maintenance engineer who was responsible for the water systems at the hotel. The hotel did not use municipal water but pumped water from its own wells. The water for the hotel bathrooms and for the hotel pools received some minimal treatment but was not treated enough to be safe to drink. (In the DR, there is one particular waterborne parasite that can infect a person through the skin. It does not need to be ingested to infect someone.) The water for the hotel kitchen received thorough, state-of-the-art treatment and was perfectly fit to drink. We spent a long time talking with the hotel engineer and learned quite a bit about the water situation in the DR. One thing we learned was that every Dominican who could afford it bought bottled water for direct consumption.

The mission medical team set up shop at the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Gautier, and my son and I set up our pure water booth alongside the areas where the medical team’s three medical care providers were treating their patients. Whenever a doctor or the nurse practitioner finished with a patient who had been suffering from waterborne illness, they sent that person to hear my talk about hygiene, safe water, and home water treatment. We agreed that such patients would hear my talk before the pharmacy filled their prescription so that they would not leave without learning about prevention. While I spoke to the adults, Turner used a pictorial learning game to teach the youngsters about the importance of hygiene and safe water. Almost all the adults already realized the importance of hygiene and of safe drinking water. Once recognizing this situation, I changed the emphasis of my message slightly to highlight that the adults take special pains to pass their knowledge of hygiene and safe water on to their children. Almost everyone said that he or she purchased safe water in bottles, but I could tell that some could not really afford it, and some worried that the bottles were not actually being filled at the water treatment plant and may have contained unsafe water. They paid a little less than $US 1.00 for a 5 gallon container of treated water. People who had good jobs at the hotel could earn $US 8 to 12 working for a 10 or 12 hour workday. These people really needed to be able to make safe water at home, and they became very excited when I showed them the home water purifier that I had brought along.

On the third day that we were at the St. Thomas Church in Gautier, Father Felix sent a half dozen community leaders to us to hear about the home water purifiers. These folks volunteered to teach their community about these home water purifiers and to help the church sell them – at a price that even poor people could afford. I promised to send them 200 home water purifiers this summer. Finally, I had not just one but a half dozen people who would hold up the DR end of our project. I felt the kind of relief that you get after you know that you have passed that feared final exam. Better than that, I had the feeling that you get after you have saved a person’s life. I remember hugging some folks and feeling tears run down my cheeks. It was a good to have had a tissue in my pocket because I needed to blow my nose, too.

We did not actually walk a mile in Dominican shoes, but we really did try hard to learn about the harsh realities that the Dominicans encounter in their daily lives which conspire to prevent them from being able to drink safe water. They all wanted safe water to drink, but there was the year around heat and humidity; the physically hard work in the cane fields; the constant thirst; the tempting spigot offering untreated water at the ball field; the unpredictable times that the water delivery truck came by; the heavy 5 gallon bottles balanced on the bicycle; and the unhealthy tradition of accepting a life of diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. We could help them, but the help would not be a simple, easy thing for them, or for us.

We rolled up our sleeves to work harder, but our efforts were compromised by sickness. No, we did not drink contaminated water – at least to our knowledge – but most of the medical team as well as my son and I suffered diarrhea and nausea. We could not eat, we became dehydrated, and soon we did not feel so inspired to do our work. If we had not had immediate access to medication, our medical and prevention work would have been greatly diminished or, perhaps, it would have come to an end. (We think that some of our food at the hotel must have been contaminated)

After we had finished three days’ work at the St. Thomas Church in Gautier, we transported all our supplies and set everything up again at the church clinic at Buen Pastor. The clinic was very crowded, and there was no room there for my booth about prevention. However, at Buen Pastor, I quickly learned that the little water treatment plant that had been set up two years ago had not yet made even one drop of potable water. Everything at the plant was all ready to go except that test equipment to measure the chlorine concentration in the finished water was lacking. If the water did not have a high enough chlorine concentration, the water disinfection process would not be adequate, and the finished water could make someone sick. It was so satisfying to reach into my pocket and find a chlorine concentration test kit that I had brought to donate to the cause of safe water.

We rounded up the two water treatment plant operators, and within two days we put the plant through its paces and produced 500 gallons of good, safe potable water. (Curiously, I found that I could speak adequate Spanish, or I could think about the complexities of water treatment, but I could not seem to do both at the same time. Turner’s Spanish was not yet up to the task, but he could find answers to the water treatment questions that confronted us, and so I translated his deliberations.) We practiced water production as well as filter backwash and decided on a proper chlorination protocol. The operators were very capable fellows, and, when we finally left after two days, I had every confidence that they were able and ready to produce good safe water. I had so much confidence that we all toasted the success with the very water that we had just prepared!

That water was as good for my body as it was for my soul. The nuns were a little doubtful about drinking the toast, but I preached to them about faith, and finally they understood that when you have good equipment, sound procedures, and proper monitoring there comes a time when you have to trust the system.

Now I understood that the nuns at Buen Pastor had not been interested in home water purifiers in 2006 because they had been so intent on trying to get their little water treatment plant up and running. The people at the St. Thomas Church are, by contrast, as interested in home water treatment as the nuns at Buen Pastor are disinterested. Now that I comprehend the situation, I will be able to assist at both locations in a way that suits each best. At last, I know and have enlisted the aid of a half dozen people who will be eager to correspond and help me carry out our enhancement – Prescribing Prevention - both at the little water treatment plant at Buen Pastor, and at the St. Thomas church, where people are excited about the idea of home water treatment and about our home water purifiers.

In the days that have passed since our return from the DR, I have purchased additional water analysis supplies that have been sent to Buen Pastor. I have contacted Dr. Bernal, and he has agreed to bring the 200 home water purifiers to St. Thomas Church this coming summer of 2007. I have arranged to have analysis done on the water samples that I brought home, and I have sent email to all my new Dominican friends just to revel in having good people on the ground in the DR.

I must include a salute to all the people of our mission group, and especially to Robin Baxter. While we were traveling and while we were working in the DR, I never could keep track of what Robin was doing or even where she was, but, whenever I needed something, Robin was right next to me ready to provide exactly what I required. The doctors and the nurse practitioner had 3 or 4 balls in the air all the time, and, if they dropped one, the nurses would reach over and catch it before it hit the ground. The youngsters would toss new balls into the game and bid farewell, with a smile or a hug, to those people who had been treated, inspired with prevention, given their proper medication, and blessed and anointed by the Sullivans. The pharmacy team was awesome. In addition, it should be noted that this team consisted of highly skilled people who went beyond competence and treated the patients with compassion and love as much as they did with their expertise. Very, very little of what my son and I accomplished could have been achieved without the support and encouragement of the medical team. The medical team believed in the power of prevention, and they saw the importance of providing safe water to the people that they were treating.

The subject of support and encouragement reminds me of Deacon Biddle and of the Sullivans who worked together to remind everyone that our strength, competence, and all the special talents are gifts from God. When Deacon Biddle preached and sang hymns, it was as if his ecclesiastical garments had transformed him into a superhero. His words and songs were beyond what we expect of mere mortals. When the Sullivans led us in prayer, I found the lump in my throat choking the words and tears blurring my vision.

The visit to the DR was a complete, unmitigated success, and once again the Prescribing Prevention safe potable water project is roaring ahead with jet speed! :-)

Paul Gutmann

Back to News

Disciples Making Disciples

Beaver Cross | Christ the King Spiritual Life Center | Donate to the SLC
News | Find A Church | About The Church | Directories | Event Calendar
Find A Cleric | Documents | Our Ministries | Site Map

© 2000 - 2009 Episcopal Diocese of Albany New York, All Rights Reserved
Optimized for Mozilla Firefox 3