It is a humid summer day in the San Pedro de Marcoris province of the Dominican Republic and 12 Fresno State students gather in a local batey, where a community of sugarcane worker, mainly poor, reside. Surrounding them are countless locals – men, women and mostly children, who are waiting to be treated for head lice. For the next few hours, the students washed the heads of the locals and applied lice disinfectant, in an effort to get rid of the unwelcome, but common parasites. 

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On another day, the students went door-to-door distributing staples such as rice, salt, beans and peanut butter to hundreds of families in need. Personal hygiene items like soap, shampoo and dental supplies were also provided. For many of the families, these simple necessities would only last one week.

For many of the Public Health students that participated in this service-learning opportunity, their lives were forever changed. One of these students was Marie Anne Martinez, a Public Health senior.

“We are so aware of the fact that we are coming to an age where we have developed so much technology, have decades and centuries of research and learning, but what is really determining the social outcomes for most people is their socioeconomic status,” Martinez said. “The fact that people live in impoverished countries really focuses and magnifies what their health outcomes are like.”

For Martinez, who aspires to be a health educator in the future, the opportunity to gain real-world knowledge was immense. 

“It’s so easy to be lost in the theory and the statistics, but being able to have this hands-on experience and taking everything I have learned from the previous semesters and applying it to a young mother and her nine-year-old boy who is having issues with parasites was a really great learning experience,” Martinez said. 

For five consecutive years, Dr. Miguel Perez, professor in the Department of Public Health, has taken a handful of students from Fresno State to the region to provide preventative and curative services to local residents, with a focus on global sustainable health development. Their work specifically centers on the bateyes, where residents face some of the worst forms of poverty and lack access to basic healthcare, hygiene products, or even food essentials like rice and beans.

Something that differed from previous years was fundraising efforts. Six months prior to leaving for the impoverished region, the students worked together to raise funds in order to purchase the head lice disinfectant and food, but also for other items like mosquito nets, de-worming medication, insect repellant, feminine hygiene products and more. In total, nearly $5,000 was raised by the students.

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While in the Dominican Republic, Martinez was able to connect with fellow students with similar interests and mindsets. Her classmates provided their own testimonies as to the profound effect the service -earning project had on their own lives:

“We take so much for granted. After meeting these sweet kids, you start holding on tight to the little things in life – especially when you see those who do not have them. Only at such times, do you tide over the insignificant and immaterial things and appreciate the bigger picture. So fortunate to have met these angels.” – Ericka Corchado

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“I am so thankful to have gone to the Dominican Republic and to make a small contribution to families in the bateyes. Seeing everyone from kids to adults smile made me so happy, but at the same time so heartbroken. I wish there was more we could have done.” – Iraiz Rodriguez

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“With this trip, I learned to never take anything for granted. Something as simple as clean water and electricity is something we all take for granted.  I also had the pleasure to make so many friends along the way. One thing I will never forget is the gratitude of the people we were able to help and the feeling of wanting to do more.” – Saul Armenta

“No words, pictures, or videos can truly explain life at the Bateyes.  It isn’t until you step foot when you really get to see what it’s all about.  These are definitely the moments I live for. Thanks to everyone who was able to donate and help make a difference in the lives of those who need it the most.” – Grecia Lopez

Martinez says the chance to travel abroad would not have been possible without the numerous grants and scholarships she received. 

“I think it is very valuable for us to have the chance for new experiences and to be able to bring it back in order to enrich Fresno State and the community itself with what we’ve learned,” Martinez reflected.

In addition to to their crowdfunding efforts, other funds were made possible through the generous financial support of Fresno State’s Friends for Civic Engagement, the Fresno Rotary and community donors. Additionally, local store, Pink Cow Thrift Shop, donated clothing items and the Global Protection Corporation provided condoms.

To support future service-learning opportunities in the Dominican Republic, contact Amy Millis, Development Director for the College of Health and Human Services, at amillis@csufresno.edu or 559.278.5590 – or make a gift on the Fresno State Day of Giving on Nov. 7!

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  • Blog written by Kelsey Lyman, CHHS Communication Student Writer
  • Video produced by Mark Morales, CHHS Multimedia Student Assistant