This post is also available in: Spanish
From the 26th of July to the 9th of August, the Clinica de Familia, a center dedicated to providing medical assistance to women and children with HIV, as well as numerous support programs aimed at the greater La Romana community, is hosting their annual “Camp Hope and Joy”.
This incredible activity gives more than 80 HIV positive children from the poorest, most vulnerable families in the Eastern region of the Dominican Republic, the opportunity to have fun and just be kids in a safe, supportive, and loving environment.
Here, Adam Halpern from Seattle shares with you his life-changing experience of love at Camp Hope and Joy.
Clínica de Familia La Romana’s Camp Hope and Joy
By Adam Halpern, Volunteer Camp Counselor
The Dominican Republic is different than my hometown Seattle – it’s sunnier, more colorful, more joyful, and louder. Although I sensed this when I strolled through the streets of La Romana, it wasn’t until my first week as a camp counselor at Camp Hope and Joy that I fully embraced Dominican culture. The camp’s joy, music, and laughter were contagious.
Every summer, Campamento Esperanza y Alegría, or Camp Hope and Joy, hosts 80 children living with HIV, as well as numerous international and Dominican volunteer counselors. La Romana’s Clínica de Familia, which inaugurated the camp nine years ago, chose me to be a camp counselor along with a number of other Dominican and American volunteers.
The bus ride from the Clínica de Familia to the camp in Bonao provided a window into the tremendous fun I would experience over the two weeks at camp. One counselor played the drum, while another played a güira (a metal Dominican percussion instrument). Together, we sang, danced and shared stories. Laughter and smiles flowed from Dominican and international volunteers alike, and within an hour we were building tight bonds. The warm Dominican culture quickly melted our differences.
We spent the first weekend at the camp preparing for the campers’ arrival. Over these few days, I learned more about Dominican culture and the Dominicans learned about my Seattle culture. Through an endless exchange of ideas, thoughts, and feelings, we became a strong team. The team made final preparations for art, environment, culture, life skills, and sports activities we hoped the campers would enjoy. By the end of our weekend together, we were ready for the campers’ arrival.
When the kids arrived, they were amazing. They were full of energy, eager to participate in all of the camp’s activities and so welcoming to those of us with less than perfect Spanish. They taught me Dominican songs and dancing, as well as the art of baseball. They taught me the names of the different foods we were eating, from batata to mangú. And they shared their dreams and difficulties of living with HIV.
As I strengthened my own bonds with the staff and campers, I became more and more impressed with the Dominican’s endless care and love. I saw how counselors came together as a team to make sure that we met every camper’s needs. I saw how the community cared for campers with disabilities – never teasing them, patiently engaging them in activities, and cheering them on at the talent show. It was an inspirational two weeks, in which the love among the campers and staff was so fantastic that I forgot that these cheerful smiling children confront tremendous challenges in their daily lives.
As camp came to a close and the younger kids boarded the bus to leave , their eyes filled with tears. Counselors’ eyes, both Dominican and international, were soon wet as well. With the bus pulling away, I reflected on all I had learned about the unique Dominican culture. More importantly, however, I found that regardless of our differences, we had been able to connect through love and compassion. Nowhere have I felt that love more than at Camp Hope and Joy.
Clínica de Familia La Romana
Find out more about the Clínica de Familia La Romana at:
You can also watch an informative 18 minute video in English about Clínica de Familia’s programs and services at: www.clinicadefamilia.org.do/video.