Somos Amigos Medical Missions
Somos Amigos Medical Missions is a service trip that travels to the El Naranjito, Dominican Republic several times a year to provide medical and dental care for the local communities. The program was established in 1997 by a group of volunteers, dentists and physicians looking to bring care for under-served areas in developing countries. The program welcomes physicians, dentists, hygienists, medical and dental students, nurses and translators of all backgrounds and ages. The group brings together volunteers from around the United States and the world.
Establishment and philosophy
The Somos Amigos Medical Mission formed as a result of Georgetown Preparatory School's Somos Amigos service trips. This program, formed about 20 years ago, took juniors at Georgetown Prep to various parts of the Dominican Republic every summer for about five weeks to work directly with a community. These trips often built water supplies, schools, churches and anything else the community needed. Around 1997, one of the founders of this trip, Frank Brightwell, consulted his doctor, Dr Mike Keegan, and a dentist and Prep Alum, Dr John Conaghan, to bring a few people down to provide medical and dental care. This first trip included six volunteers, one doctor and one dentist. They could only serve basic needs for the community, but laid the foundation and experience to help the trip grow.
One of the most important aspects of this trip is the relationship with the community of Naranjito. From the outset, Somos Amigos has worked directly with the community on every decision concerning the program. This is essential to the program's philosophy, that the program is not just giving medical care to the campesinos, but establishing a relationship with the people they serve. Somos Amigos realizes that nothing would be possible without the support and help from the community of Naranjito, as well as the donors and the volunteers who come on each trip.
The town of El Naranjito is located in the mountains of the Santiago Province, about two and a half hours west of Santiago, Dominican Republic. The volunteers spend about a week in the village, staying in the homes of the campesinos. Over the course of the week, the program sees about 800 people, and holds medical and dental records for over 3500 people. The doctors will typically see around 650 people, and the dentists around 250 people. All of the services provided are free of charge to the campesinos. Because Somos Amigos is a non-profit, the program relies solely on donations to purchase the supplies it needs, including medical and dental equipment, medicines and other supplies required to support a large group of people.
In the early years, the clinic was conducted in the community church and school. As the program grew, there was need for more space. Eventually a dedicated clinic building was erected in 2004 to give the doctors and the pharmacy a larger and more permanent place to work. With the backing of various donors and funding, the clinic area continued to grow as the program began seeing more patients from the surrounding areas. A second building was added in 2005 at the back of the first so that the dentists had their own premises in which to work. Over the next few years, a new school was built so that the children would not have to miss school while the clinic was open. The old school became a lab and women's clinic as the program sought to expand the services they could provide for the people. A new church was recently built for the community.
The program has grown much from its humble beginnings. The number of volunteers has expanded from about 15 in the early years to around 55 people. The clinic now runs three trips a year, typically in January, June and October. This allows for the volunteers to choose when they can serve based on their work and personal schedules, and also allows for a greater number of people to become involved without overwhelming the Naranjito community. The program brings together people from various professional and social backgrounds, including high school volunteers, medical students, young professionals, translators and professional physicians and dentists.