A local medical professional helped a non-profit organization rally residents to fight third world poverty
By Erika Wells
A Richmond doctor traveled to the Dominican Republic in June to spread relief efforts in paradise.
Dr. Mark Ryan joined medical professionals and members of the academic community from the Dominican Aid Society of Virginia (DASV) on a yearly trip to a small town on an island named Paraíso, the Spanish word for “paradise,” to offer medical and social support to Dominican residents .
The team developed long-term, maintainable community projects instead of doing ‘duffle bag medicine,’ which involves handing out supplies on short visits, Ryan said.
“We go beyond ‘duffel bag medicine’ because there simply is no value in it,” said Ryan, the executive director of the non-profit organization. “After we give out medicine, we still want our presence to be there.”
Ryan helped set up DASV, established in 2006, to bring together volunteers interested in fighting poverty in the third world country.
“There is a Dominican community in Richmond with families still in the Dominican Republic that are affected,” Ryan said. “But we’re not just looking for people who want to get involved because we’re a Dominican-focused organization. We want people who just want to do the right thing.”
Delivering medicine and hope
This summer, DASV volunteers set up a temporary clinic in a school in Paraíso, where they provided free medicine and checkups. They also went to the homes of people who were unable to get to the school.
Additional aides from the Fundación Sol Naciente (FUSNI), a relief organization based in Moda, Dominican Republic, guided the DASV volunteers.
“We are trying to increase the amount of mission trips here and possibly distribute more medicine,” said Dr. Ramon A. Lopez, CEO of FUSNI. “The Dominican people are waiting here with hope, and the doctors are making a great impact.”
The members of DASV also worked with people from the partner program called the Student Organization for Medical Outreach and Sustainability (SOMOS) at the College of William & Mary.
Dr. David Aday, the director of academic affairs for SOMOS and a university professor, helped students conduct research on the trip.
“The students have an incredible amount of flexibility,” Aday said. “This is great because they experience the medical and community aspects of each trip. The medical aspect is critical but it’s also important for the students to go far beyond academia.”
For example, Laura Olsen, a College of William & Mary graduate student, took trips to the Dominican Republic with DASV and SOMOS between 2006 and 2008.
“It’s been very interesting to watch how the programs have grown,” Olsen said. “The people in the Dominican Republic touch your life and add perspective to each trip, which makes everything worthwhile.
Although people should fight poverty in America, there is a ‘different level of poverty’ in places like Paraíso, Ryan said.
“Poverty can lead to civil unrest if people feel they have nothing to lose,” Ryan said. “So people in Richmond should want to help because they believe in helping other people … One condition may affect everyone.”
A bar and grill in Shockoe Bottom allows Richmonders to experience the tastes and sounds of the Dominican Republic. A family-friendly environment transforms into a dance club within a matter of hours. View a slide show presentation of the popular establishment.
Going back to his roots
Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Ryan lived in South America for eight years. Later, He studied medicine at the College of Williams & Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University. Now, Ryan works at the Hayes E. Willis Health Center in South Richmond.
In future, he plans to continue working with DASV in Paraíso and to possibly apply what he has learned about community development to the Richmond community, Ryan said.
“A lot people say that we should be helping people in America, but we can do both,” Ryan said. “There’s no such thing as ‘international medicine’ because medicine is everywhere. There are no borders around medicine anymore.”