NORTH KINGSTOWN – Architect Andy Pearce was ready to accept a job with Keough Construction, but before he did, he told his new employer he couldn’t start until after Feb. 12.
It’s more a question of why. Pearce had committed to being part of a mission team from First Baptist Church in Wickford that was planning a trip to the Dominican Republic from Feb. 5-12.
Not only did his new boss agree to the stipulation, he donated money to the effort.
The church has supported the Good Samaritan Hospital in La Romana, an hour east of Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, for many years – in fact, team member Cathy Horridge was making her 24th trip.
It was a first-time experience for engineer Matt Bellisle, of Exeter, who was so deeply affected by the experience that he’s already planning to return and take his teenage daughter along.
“It was so fulfilling to be able to give back and to share what I can do, whatever it was, that was helpful to somebody else,” he reflected. “I got a [spiritual] recharge, but left a little bit of me down there. I can’t wait to go back and help again. People in the villages are very poor; homes are very small — made of corrugated metal – with no windows, no doors and cement floors.”
Bellisle is office manager and senior vice president in the Foxboro office of Pare Corporation, a civil engineering and planning firm headquartered in Lincoln. “It was such a rewarding experience,” he said. “There’s such a need, whatever you can do. Everyone had something to offer and everyone supported each other while we were down there.”
Besides Pearce, Bellisle and Cathy Horridge, the team comprised Cathy’s husband, Walt – on his ninth trip – electrician Michael Faiola, Dr. Jim Ziegler, a pediatric cardiologist and his daughter Meg, a senior at North Kingstown High School, who is fluent in Spanish and acted as translator, two colleagues of Ziegler’s from Rhode Island Hospital and Ziegler’s nephew from Florida.
“It was the first time we’ve had a crew of this size go down,” noted Bellisle. “Before, two or three went.” “Our goal was to help with the hospital’s [continued construction] then go to the villages – called bateys – and work with medical clinics taking blood pressures, having consultations and follow-up visits,” Bellisle explained.
Although he was primarily concerned with the construction aspect, he said one of most memorable events involved a six-year-old boy who had been severely burned in a house fire when he was only a few months old. Heavy scar tissue had left his arm deformed.
“Our doctors determined the scar tissue could be released,” said Bellisle. “We were able to give him some really good news.”
The boy’s mother was in a state of shock. “She didn’t know if she could really believe it,” he added. “Doctors at the clinic were so excited.”
Rhode Island Hospital doctors coordinated a visit from a hand surgeon who will go down this month and perform the operation.
“It was very uplifting to see that.”
The Good Samaritan Hospital itself is quite a story. Still under construction, it was founded to provide health care to the Haitian population who were typically turned away from Dominican hospitals.
“There’s strong nationalism; they don’t necessarily get along,” said Bellisle. “The Haitians work the cane fields and are not as accepted [by society]. Now everybody goes to this hospital. It’s the only one that offers any hope. Good Samaritan doesn’t turn anyone away.”
When the team arrived, the hospital had two fully-functioning floors with a third being finished and a fourth just starting. Faiola, the electrician, moved the air conditioner to the roof and others were part of a crew moving 1,500 cement blocks from the ground to the third floor – using a lone hand-pulley pulled by hand, much as the Egyptians built the Great Pyramids.
“It was good for the architect and the engineer to see how things are built,” Bellisle noted. The team also painted inside the hospital and helped with general maintenance. The medical personnel, including a paid staff and volunteers, were “very receptive to assistance” and gave the Rhode Islanders a “warm reception”.
He said many of the team members took these words from missionary Kristy Engel, who has served La Romana for nine years, as their new motto: “You do what you can with what you’ve got in the moment you’re given.”
Martha Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .