Volunteer Angelina Gomes Shares Her Experience Working at DCI’s Clinic in Dhaka

Angelina-GomesWhen I stepped out of the airport and was greeted by a gust of hot, humid air and the buzzing of mosquitoes, I remember thinking, “This is Bangladesh.” This summer I had the great fortune of going to Bangladesh for the first time with a grant I received from my university to volunteer with Distressed Children & Infants International (DCI). I had never been able to go to Bangladesh previously and thought that working with an organization like DCI would be a perfect opportunity. They work in Dhaka and the villages of Bangladesh to provide better opportunities for children and their families through sponsorship, educational incentives, health care, and income generating programs. I had found the organization through their website and proposed a summer volunteer project to my university that incorporated my passion for medicine with my desire to better connect to my community.

I proposed to work in their clinic in Dhaka and also help with public health research over a period of eight weeks. I had received funding in previous years to do similar work in Cameroon and Guatemala, and thought that I would have a similar experience in Bangladesh. However, I soon found that being in Bangladesh was very different. In my previous trips, I had stayed with host families, but never with people who were actually related to me. It was incredible to go into the homes of people who I had always known about, but had never met face-to-face, and be immediately accepted with open arms. Moreover, having the experience of working with people with whom I have a shared background added a certain depth to my work. I was able to understand their culture, their way of thinking, and sympathize more deeply with their pain and frustrations.

I typically went to work at the clinic in the morning—where I observed the doctor and helped with patient records—and to the slums in the afternoon to survey the people living there. The people who lived there made up the main patient population of the clinic, as it was free after a 10 Tk registration fee. The clinic was one of a kind in this regard, because they did not require their patients to pay to see the doctor or to receive medical care. Many of the health problems of these people related to their living and working conditions. Many children came in with rashes or bacterial infections from living in the unhygienic conditions of the slums, and many rickshaw drivers complained of pain and gastrointestinal problems caused by working too hard and too long. It was frustrating to see my fellow people suffering from ailments that could be avoided if other opportunities were available to them.

When I visited the slums to perform surveys, I was touched by how welcomed I was; people who barely had enough food to eat would invite me into their homes and offer me tea. However, it was still a difficult experience because many of them complained that many people came to visit them and learn more about their living conditions without making any changes. I tried to do my part by working for the clinic and also informing them of its availability as a resource to them. The clinic is a tremendous asset to the community, and DCI does a great job at providing other resources to other villages in the country as well. However, I would personally like to take a more active role once I have completed my studies in medicine. Before going on this trip, I had done some research on the condition of health care in Bangladesh, but actually going to the country and participating in an internship and daily life there provided me with greater insight into the situation. I hope to return one day and continue to contribute to my community both through DCI and independently.