Our History

The Dominican Republic Outreach Project was initiated in January 2003 when the first group of School of Public Health students went to the Dominican Republic. This and other trips in the early years of the project were undertaken in collaboration with Crossroads, a non-denominational mission that serves the poor. The mission provides housing, transportation, and translation services to visiting student and church groups. These resources provided our students the opportunity to provide a range of health promotion and primary care services in nearby bateyes and the new Haitian village of Ascension that was built by Crossroads and other philanthropic groups to house poor and homeless Haitians. Between 2003 and 2007, approximately 100 students and faculty made annual one week trips to stay at and work with Crossroads.

In 2006, the Project shifted its focus to rural Haitian enclaves and bateyes located one to two hours to the west of Crossroads. These communities - because of their distance from resorts and tourist towns - receive minimal or no assistance from religious or other service organizations. With the help of Crossroads, Dr. Grau began work in these communities in 2004 during her frequent stays at Costambar, a small community that is in reasonable driving distance of these sites. In 2006 she was introduced to local Haitian community leader known as “Blanco,” by Claudia Docker, a long standing resident of Costambar. Blanco is well known in both the Dominican and Haitian community for his commitment to poor children, the elderly and the sick. At that time he devoted his free time and extremely limited resources to the care of a group of orphans and children of destitute single parents. None of these children were in school, some were homeless or living in perilous conditions, and all lacked adequate food. In 2007 we were able to enroll three of the children in private schools (the public school refused their admission) and to pay the rent for a shack that served as home to a young woman (Marilyn) and the 6 orphans she cared for. The project became known as “Blanco's Kids“ and currently provides uniforms, school supplies, school fees and a feeding program to 33 children. We have built a safe house and partially completed an active school which serves 35 children and supports 4 Haitian teachers.  The project is coordinated by Claudia Docker, a local Costambar resident, who donated the land upon which the house and school have been built.  

In 2008, the Outreach Project took advantage of these developments by housing students in Costambar to facilitate their access to the bateyes described above. The number of student trips increased from one each year to two or three. These changes have the important advantage of allowing student groups to provide prevention programs according to time guidelines and to follow high risk individuals and those requiring on-going care. They also assure ongoing oversight of Blanco's Kids . Each student trip includes an all day beach party for the children where they engage in arts and crafts as well as receive a health assessment and have their health record updated. Blanco is a key resource in planning specific trip activities because of his strong ties with the Haitian community and his knowledge of community and individual needs. He accompanies each student group and serves as our Haitian Creole translator.