This past summer, I had the opportunity to be involved in two AYUDA programs in the Dominican Republic. The first was Ganémosle la Carrera a la diabetes (Let’s Beat Diabetes campaign), in which volunteers such as myself work closely on a national diabetes prevention and exercise campaign, which culminates in a fitness event including a 5k and 10k run/walk, and Zumbathon. On the second program, Campo Amigo, volunteers worked closely with local partner organization Aprendiendo a Vivir (AAV) to plan and implement community outreach programs and weekend education camps for children and their families. The following is my account of these life-changing experiences.
This past summer in the Dominican Republic (DR) was the first experience I’ve had with diabetes management outside of my own bubble of technology-laden, precision-seeking, sometimes fear-driven control. Though there were many blatant differences in diabetes management techniques between what I’m used to and what I saw in the DR, I found the most constant contrast was the amount of blood tests taken each day. I get a bit anal about my blood sugars, and despite them being the biggest money pit in my diabetes arsenal; my strips are (mostly) covered by insurance and therefore I use a lot. I’m an active person, and I like knowing where my blood sugar is, so I often test 8 to 10 times a day. That’s a bit more than the American Diabetes Association’s recommended ≥ 3 times a day (situation dependent, of course) and the Canadian Diabetes Association’s ≥ 4 times a day. And it’s certainly a lot more than many people in the DR, who can’t afford to purchase their own test strips, and get one bottle of 25 per month.
In the DR, I met a family who rigorously recorded their daughter’s blood glucose levels in a diary, including all of her insulin doses and meals. But they couldn’t afford to buy enough test strips to test daily, so their daughter had to test her blood every other day, rotating time of day, to see if patterns could be detected. As many of us living with diabetes know, it’s hard enough to spot patterns when you’re testing four times a day, let alone looking at a month’s worth of data, where things can change drastically from week to week. Where I have an insulin pump that uses Humalog, nearly the fastest-acting insulin on the market, many of the individuals I worked with in the DR were using NPH and R (types of insulin I haven’t used for over thirteen years). Many people were on a fixed dose of both NPH and R, and hadn’t received very much, if any, education about how these work.
Spending nearly six weeks in the DR this summer changed my life. My tiny diabetes world expanded, and I came away with a new perspective on what the big issues are. I saw and felt those big differences, but I also closed some gaps. No matter how you take care of yourself and your diabetes, we all go through the same thing. We all have the same struggles, and the same fears, and it doesn’t matter if you take NPH or Apidra, have a “OneTouch” meter, or a continuous glucose monitor, use a pump or syringes, or live in the USA or the DR. The camps and outreach programs gave everyone involved a sense of belonging. At the culmination of the Ganémosle program, I ran a 10k race with diabetes, then proceeded to run straight to our camp where I promptly had my face painted by a three-year-old girl with diabetes. As her father looked at me, shocked and in awe, I realized that without AYUDA, he might never have believed his little girl could have the chance to live a healthy and happy life with diabetes, just like me.
Louise Kyle was a first time, dual-program volunteer with AYUDA this past summer. She currently lives in Nelson, British Columbia. Louise has been living with type 1 for nineteen years and enjoys running (and racing), skiing, climbing, and riding her bike.