Sunday, June 14, 2009

MIT 5 year reunion

Last month, after 5 years, I finally ventured back to the place that I was (5 years ago) only all too happy to leave - my alma mater. The reunion weekend was awesome. It was well-organized from start to finish. The first activity was the best - an evening at Symphony Hall listening to the Boston Pops. This was my first time hearing the Pops and they were fantastic. Even better was the MIT soloist (a junior from Hawaii) who played Rhapsodie in Blue and left the audience speechless. It's nice to see that the MIT musical department continues to attract top talent. I also took a tour of Fenway park and learned all about the storied stadium. I wish I had gone to a Red Sox game when I was a student - in 5 years, I can't believe I never went! I visited the Haystack Observatory at Lincoln Labs - where they receive radio waves from the universe and try to understand what they mean. Aside from the events, I found time to catch up with some of my friends and wander the campus, Cambridge, and Boston. I was happy to see that Cambridge - and in particular Central Square - looked a bit more developed than when I was there. The one eerie thing about reunions, however, is that you see people from all class reunions - 5, 10, 20, etc. You can't help wondering as you see people from older class years - is that what the future has in store for me?

I'm planning to get more involved with the university as an alum. Hopefully it won't be another 5 years before I make it back.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Volunteer Mission to Juarez

A few weeks ago, I travelled to El Paso, Texas to visit a friend of mine and to run a medical / dental clinic in neighboring Juarez, Mexico. This was only my second time visiting El Paso - the first was about 15 years ago when my family did a driving tour of the Southwest, going as far as El Paso before turning around and heading back to California.

I have to admit that I enjoyed El Paso more than I thought I would. I barely remembered it from my first trip. Interestingly, El Paso is at about 4,000 ft above sea level and it is also quite dry. So, I had to drink extra water to stay hydrated. People are very friendly in this town and life moves much slower than it does on either the West Coast or East Coast. The city is about 90% Hispanic and Spanish is probably more common than English. Of course, the Mexican food there is excellent and very authentic. Maybe the best thing about the city is its natural beauty. Thunder storms are common there with high winds. The air is very clean and mountains are jagged and imposing. The desert scenery is quite picturesque. While in El Paso, I visited the Kool Smiles clinic where my friend Neil works as a dentist and met many of his friends.

Of course, the main purpose of the visit to El Paso was to run a free medical / dental clinic in Juarez through our non-profit, HealthCare Volunteer. We partnered with a group called CHIA Missions to run the clinic. The volunteer team consisted of one doctor, four dentists, 10 other volunteers. We left for Juarez early on Sunday morning and setup our clinic at 9am. We had no trouble going into Mexico - there was no line nor did we get searched. This was significant because the previous day our partners at CHIA Missions told us not to bring a lot of medical equipment because we hadn't registered it in advance and we could be turned back to the US or imprisoned if we were searched. As a result, we left a lot of useful equipment behind - and we weren't even searched. The clinic ran smoothly throughout the day and we were given great lunch by the pastor of the church. At 5pm we closed shop having treated 38 dental patients and 22 medical patients - ranging from kids to the elderly. Neil let me do a bit of dental assisting, despite my lack of clinical experience, which was a rewarding experience. That experience has made me more interested in helping non-clinical people do clinical volunteering. I came back and bought the books "Where there is no Dentist" and "Where there is no Doctor" to learn more about how I can provide dental / medical treatment in places in the world where dental / medical professionals don't exist or are lacking.
When people think of Juarez, they think of 1) drug violence and 2) swine flu. I encountered neither on this trip. I was a little nervous the night before, but as soon as we got into Juarez I felt completely safe. Maybe these things are bigger problems elsewhere in Juarez, but not where we were. I've now been to a few 'dangerous' places and things have worked out fine for me. I enjoy going to these places because it adds an element of excitement to the trip. I try to do everything safely to minimize the risks but some risks will always remain.
Our organization learned a lot through this experience. We will certainly do this again - but we don't know when or where. If possible, I will try to make it. I do a lot of administrative work for HealthCare Volunteer which needs to be done for our organization to survive and to grow, but finally being able to work with my hands to treat patients and rest after a hard day's work is the satisfaction that I have been waiting for.
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