By Mark Messer
BLUE HILL — Hattie Slayton and Oshi Ragot, two seniors at George Stevens Academy, will take their love of the Spanish language and interest in the medical field with them on the next Hancock County Medical Mission.
Both have been awarded scholarships for a mission to the Dominican Republic Feb. 9-23.
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 sixth trip to the Dominican Republic, where they are hosted, along with others from the United States and Canada, by Medical Mission International.
“We’re still building the team,” said HCMM’s Ted Spurling Jr. in an email. “The Maine group is always the largest.”
“Besides the surgical team,” Spurling said, “There is a team of family practitioners, Dominican and North American, that goes out by bus each day to different villages … for general checkups, aches and pains, infections, health lessons” and surgical referrals.
Eye and dental teams composed of Dominicans or Haitians also take part.
Ragot and Slayton found out about the opportunity to join the team from GSA alumnae Jessica Soukup and Maya Pelletier, mission volunteers in 2017, and from George Stevens Academy Spanish teacher Nancy Buckingham.
GSA students started participating in the program 19 years ago, Buckingham said, and have gone on the mission most of those years.
“GSA students seem very well prepared in their Spanish and seem motivated,” Spurling said.
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,” he said.
The two students will use their Spanish language skills as translators, but they also will play other roles during the two-week mission to Nagua and El Factor, perhaps sterilizing instruments, or working as medical assistants or in the pharmacy, Spurling said.
Ragot thinks she’ll spend most of her time, “very full days,” interacting with patients.
“I’m interested in studying medicine in college or going into the medical field as a career,” she said, and this will be a great way to find out if she likes it.
She also thinks this will “be a great way to immerse [herself] in the language.”
“I’m definitely not fluent, but [they’ve] prepared me pretty well,” Ragot said of GSA’s Spanish courses, which she started taking as a freshman.
Slayton also started studying Spanish at GSA as a freshman, but this will not be her first long-term immersion experience. She spent her junior year in Zaragoza, a city in Northern Spain, as a student in School Year Abroad. She lived with a host family and took classes with 60 other American students. They studied English and math with teachers from the United States, but teachers from Spain taught them every other subject in Spanish, which helped her improve her language skills quickly.
“When I left, I was starting to feel really confident,” she said. She said that she might have lost some fluency over the summer, “but I think it will come back.” One of her concerns, though, is the accent. “I’ve heard the Dominican accent is very difficult to understand.”
Fortunately, both Slayton and Ragot have opportunities to learn that accent from Miranda Contreras and Ricardo Sanchez, two GSA boarding students from the Dominican Republic.
Slayton, like Ragot, sees this mission as “a good opportunity to experiment with what the medical field looks like and see if that’s what [she’s] interested in.”
The seniors will take part in meetings with other mission volunteers between now and their departure. They also were given a Spanish medical textbook to help them learn some technical vocabulary before the trip, one of Ragot’s main concerns.
“I’m working on my Spanish a lot,” she said.
Slayton also is concerned about “being so important to someone else’s well-being” and whether she’ll be able to learn enough medical Spanish. Perhaps, though, a good deal of her translating will involve less technical vocabulary and more exchanges like “Where does it hurt?” she said.
“We don’t expect high school students to be perfectly fluent in Spanish,” Spurling said. “We’ll never put anyone in a situation beyond their ability.”
Of the overall experience, he said, students “always come home having learned more than they expected.”
To donate toward the purchase of supplies or to learn more about the Hancock County Medical Mission, visit hcmm.homestead.com.