S.O.M.O.S in Paraiso, DR- The Primary Findings

As I left from Bolivia to start off my summer work in Dominican Republic, I had a bunch of feelings running through me. The work myself and two other SOMOS (Student Organization for Medical Outreach and Sustainability) members (Bruce Pfirrmann ’13 and JoAnna Weeks ’13) were about to start was a big change for our student organization. We were moving away from the various interviews and GPS layouts we have done in the small community on the outskirts of Villa Mella zone of the Dominican Republic that we’ve been working with for the last seven years; and moving towards what is hopefully forming a contract for the next 4-5 in the future. This contract will not only outline the relationship of SOMOS with the community, but also contain 3-5 goals, ideas, and/or projects that the whole community and SOMOS members both agree to work towards to improve health in the community.

As my flight arrived to M.I.A (Miami International Airport) from Bolivia, I barely had anytime to get to the gate of my connecting flight that left in the coming hour to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. To add to the stress I already accumulated, I still needed to get money out from the nearest ATM. All my worries disappeared though when I met up with the other two SOMOS members at Gate 39.

Once we arrived to the DR, we stayed at a hostel in the zona colonial for a few nights until we settled down into an apartment we found in the swankiest location in Santo Domingo… Piantini. As things began to calm down, we had a conversation about what stage SOMOS is at the moment, and the steps that need to be taken for the future. We talked about the water project I had in mind for this summer’s research and whether it was ideal to have such a project at such a critical time with SOMOS’ relationship with the community. We came to the conclusion that we would focus on what was on SOMOS’ agenda as a first priority, and that the water project would be something the group could possibly do at the end of summer, if there was time.

The reason why such a decision was made, is because we are at a point in the SOMOS project where the community has seen us for seven years doing interviews and doing various social network research, that they are, what I believe, getting anxious to see us do something else other than more research projects. What SOMOS and the community needs are projects that involve direct communication and working alongside community members. A research project such as the Water studies I planned on doing this summer wouldn’t be as beneficial at this moment for both parties.

Once we decided what was on the top of our priority list, we went into the community the next day (Thursday July 13th). We walked around the so that community members could recognize our arrival. In past, SOMOS has researched and analyzed social networks and dynamics in the community and between its members. The data we collected shows that the there are four big “blocks” the community can be broken down in terms of their social network relationship. Studying the social blocks in depth, we realized that there are members of the community that could be center nodes. This means that their social network web in terms of relationship and communication amongst members is more outstanding than others. We talked about what description to give to these certain community members, and decided that they could be somewhat like representatives for each of their blocks, designated by our social network data. These representatives are members of the community that are respected, well known, and possible facilitators for future projects that could be implemented in the coming years.

Our plan for this summer was rather than hosting another community wide meeting, we were going to start of with a meeting with the representatives first. The representative meeting was used as a way to organize the smaller block meeting we were going to host in the upcoming weeks. Prior to this meeting, we walked to each representative’s house (which was about 2-3 representatives for each block) and explained to him/her our block hypothesis and the motives for having a representative meeting.

The day this meeting was held, we got a fairly decent turnout by the representatives (about 13 of the 16 we invited). During the meeting we restated the goals of the S.O.M.O.S project and gave them a summary of what SOMOS has done in the past 7 years in their community. The meeting itself went fairly smoothly. We had a simple introduction, but our goal of the meeting was to have a more informal conversation within the community members and rather us act more as facilitators of the conversation. What was established in the meeting was that each block and its representatives designated specific locations, dates and times for each meeting. When we explained that by having these much smaller block meetings, we would hope it would increase participation, as in past meetings, the turnout of community members was low due to the location of the meeting being somewhat far for some members.

Once the representative meeting was done, we stated that after meeting with each block that we would like to meet again with the representatives (them). To talk about the various ideas and projects each block had come up with. The purpose of the final representative meeting would be to find a consensus within blocks and the community members via the representatives. We explained that SOMOS members would then write up a formal contract during the fall semester, and thus the contract would be ready to sign by all SOMOS and community members when we returned in the January.

Now we are in that step, starting to write up invitations for each block member. These invitations are a way in which we think could increase participation, as it is a physical invitation that each member could hold and used to remind themselves of the meeting. All of community notes were and will be typed up and updated to the SOMOS member page, where every other undergraduate member can see and be used for further analysis and comments.

For the next blogs I post, I will explain more in depth the function of each block meeting and the decisions taken by members in each of them.