By Mark Messer
Special to The Ellsworth American
BLUE HILL — Mara Pickering and Vanessa Sherwood, seniors at George Stevens Academy, will travel to the Dominican Republic with the Hancock County Medical Mission in February.
Nearly every year since 1989, medical professionals and others from Hancock County have volunteered their time to provide primary care and surgical services to underserved populations in Ecuador, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. This is their seventh trip to the Dominican Republic, where they and others from the United States and Canada are hosted by Medical Ministry International.
“We’ve booked 10 flights,” said HCMM’s Ted Spurling Jr. in an email, “and it looks like we’ll fill them, and [we] hope to get a few more members besides.”
“The surgical team will work in the hospital in El Factor again,” Spurling said, “with the family medical team going out by bus each day to various small towns” for general checkups, aches and pains, infections, health lessons and surgical referrals.
“We’ll live in a Catholic church camp in Nagua, … a quiet space with great cooks and time in the evening to hang out, play cards or Triominos.”
Pickering and Sherwood found out about the opportunity to join the team from George Stevens Academy Spanish teacher Nancy Buckingham. GSA students began participating in the program 20 years ago, Buckingham said, and have gone on the mission most of those years.
Though the application process is open to juniors and seniors from all Hancock County high schools, “it’s mostly from GSA, Ellsworth and MDI that we get applicants,” Spurling said.
In addition to Sherwood and Pickering, Rachel Barnes, a senior from Ellsworth High School, and Rebekah Woodward, Pickering’s mother and a registered nurse, will travel to the Dominican Republic.
Pickering said she was so excited to find out that she and her mother would be able to go together. Her mother has been a real role model, she said, and is one reason why she looks forward to a future as an orthopedic surgeon. The other reason? She has broken a lot of bones.
Sherwood also plans to pursue a career in the medical field, perhaps as a doctor or dentist, and she may have been inspired by family. “My grandparents were nurses,” she said, “so that might have something to do with it.”
When she found out she’d been selected, Sherwood was “really happy,” she said. “I want to travel, and I think learning about other cultures is important … and I want to be able to speak Spanish better.”
The two students will use their Spanish language skills as translators, but they also will play other roles during the two-week mission, perhaps sterilizing instruments, or working as medical assistants or in the pharmacy, said Spurling.
The seniors will take part in meetings with other mission volunteers between now and their departure. They also need to work on their Spanish medical vocabulary.
As this is Sherwood’s first trip to another country, she needs to get her passport and check to see if she has all the necessary vaccinations, but “going somewhere I’ve never been before and being immersed in the culture” will make it all worthwhile, she said.
Pickering is all caught up on her vaccinations, as she traveled to the Dominican Republic on a family vacation in 2018. Though the purpose of her vacation was to relax, she said she saw people who looked like they needed help, and she is happy to go back to do just that.
To donate toward the purchase of supplies or to learn more about the Hancock County Medical Mission, visit hcmm.homestead.com.