A Community's Health
It is not often that I get to meet someone who really makes me go “WOW.” Someone who evokes that feeling of, “I’ve just met a truly special person.”
In November, I had the privilege of meeting Leona, a woman of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic, who dedicates her life to serving her community and securing members’ access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. She lives in Batey Yabacao, a poor village (called a batey) with unpaved roads, scant indoor plumbing, outhouses, and precarious shelters. When it rains, excrement and garbage flood the area, making for extremely unsanitary and unsafe conditions. The community’s inhabitants must traverse a several-mile dirt road to get to the closest town, meaning that when someone is in need of a doctor, they often don’t get there. When they do reach a public clinic, because they are black, they often are seen last, regardless of what time they arrived.
Leona wakes up at 5:30 every morning to hand deliver doses of medicine to her neighbors. Once she has finished, she heads to that day’s batey to be served by PROFAMILIA’s mobile health unit (MHU). She spends the entire day leading informal chats on safe sex, condom use, pregnancy and STI prevention, as well as distributing condoms and pills to underserved women, men and young people who would have nowhere else to turn. When someone is in need of more serious attention that the MHU does not provide, Leona provides them with vouchers to get services at PROFAMILA for free. The clients I spoke to say that in PROFAMILIA, they are equals. No one treats them like a second-class citizen because of the color of their skin.
Leona has an uncanny ability to instinctively know when something is up with one of her community members. She introduced me to a young woman she knew was pregnant just by looking at her, even though she was less than one month. The woman herself didn’t even know! Leona gave her a voucher to visit PROFAMILIA’s closest clinic and it turns out that the young woman was indeed six weeks pregnant.
Leona’s dedication to serving those in need is an inspiration to me in my own work, and has made me even more dedicated to doing all that I can to ensure that all people are able to exercise their right to make informed decisions and enjoy their sexuality happily, safely and freely.