International Medical Outreach

Dominican Republic

Written by Mariana Ju
Edited by Shuli Lo
Translated by Ariel Chan

Kids from Villa Hermosa

In the aftermath of a hurricane, Tzu Chi travels to the Dominican Republic, bringing medical care, educational services, and hope to the children of La Romana. Photo/Mariana Ju


Located on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north. With a population of approximately 11.4 million people in 2024, the country is the second-largest nation in the Antilles.

With its vibrant coastal vista and direct flights from many European and American regions to the vacation hub in the east, it’s no surprise the Dominican Republic is a favored destination for holidaymakers. Nonetheless, Tzu Chi volunteers and Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) members visited the country not for its scenic beauty but to provide essential aid to disadvantaged communities.

Although the local tourism industry is thriving, the wealth gap is severe. Nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line, and long-term hardships, such as crime and drug-related concerns, affect economic growth in the Dominican Republic.

On September 20, 1998, Hurricane Georges wreaked havoc on the Dominican Republic. After receiving the news, Tzu Chi mobilized volunteers from Taiwan and the United States to conduct disaster assessments in October and November. Accompanied by compassionate Taiwanese businessmen and embassy secretaries, they visited San Juan de la Maguana, Polo, La Romana, and other areas to understand the situation. Soon after, Tzu Chi launched assistance for Polo and La Romana residents. Since there were no other relief organizations in these areas at the time, and due to their border location and limited resources, the disaster survivors urgently needed help.

From December 1998 to February 1999, Tzu Chi’s Argentinian volunteers carried out two large-scale relief and medical service events in the Dominican Republic, delivering supplies to over 2,500 affected households, and providing more than 2,100 medical services. During this period, many Taiwanese business people and Chinese volunteers from overseas joined the relief efforts. On February 26, 1999, Tzu Chi established its first home in the Caribbean as the Tzu Chi Dominican Republic Service Center.

Tzu Chi volunteer visiting the locals
On February 27-28, 1999, Tzu Chi volunteers from the United States and Argentina form a relief team to visit disaster-affected households in San Juan de la Maguana, Polo, and La Romana. Photo/Wangqing Xi

Joining Hands After Disaster Strikes

Tzu Chi’s long-term care commenced with emergency relief. With the aid of Taiwanese businesswoman Susana Yang, a disaster assessment team composed of New Jersey volunteers, including Debbie Chen, entered Villa Hermosa, a town in the Dominican Republic’s La Romana Province. At that time, much of the community consisted of Haitian immigrants living in extreme poverty. A “rubbish mountain” in the community became an essential source of life for nearby residents, who scavenged for food in the heap.

“Many people here have never seen a doctor because medications are expensive,” said Chen. Local Haitians in the Dominican Republic were forced to endure sickness due to poverty, did not have government identity or jobs, and struggled to obtain other necessities. “We saw many local residents who needed medical attention, so while providing aid, we also wanted to offer medical services to help alleviate their suffering,” Chen explained. Since then, TIMA’s clinic team has expanded its reach in the Dominican Republic, starting in La Romana and gradually extending to different provinces in the Dominican Republic. Volunteers collaborated with local doctors in various fields to conduct medical outreach in areas with the highest medical needs, averaging hundreds of visitors each time.

In addition to medical care, Tzu Chi also brought academic resources to the local community. In 2000, a Tzu Chi School was completed and inaugurated, reinvigorating the community and empowering its youths. Over the years, whether it’s families in the local community or the parents and students of the Tzu Chi School in La Romana, all are welcome to Tzu Chi’s medical care.

Tzu Chi volunteer checking Ariana's feet
Ariana, a young Tzu Chi School student experiencing leg and stomach swelling, receives a medical examination. Photo/Mariana Ju

Tzu Chi built a school in the local area, not only helping the local children attain an education, but also useful skills, turning their difficult lives around and letting them embrace a hopeful future.

Volunteer Zhang Ciyang comforts Ariana
Volunteer Rosa Chang comforts Ariana as she receives her first blood test. Photo/Mariana Ju
Ariana’s swelling eases following her treatment, and she shares a smile with volunteers. Photo/Mariana Ju

A Young Girl in Need of Help

Ariana, a student at the Tzu Chi School, is not yet ten years old but was experiencing a great deal of stomach and leg swelling. After a joint consultation by TIMA and a local pediatrician, Dr. Richardson, it was determined that Ariana was experiencing kidney problems. Therefore, they referred her to a public pediatric hospital served by Richardson.

Volunteer Rosa Chang accompanied Ariana, traveling from La Romana in the east to the capital’s pediatric hospital. Ariana, who never had her blood drawn before, was both concerned and nervous. Chang held her small hand and spoke to her, trying to keep the little girl’s spirit high and ease her dread of needles.

During the days Ariana stayed in the hospital, in addition to receiving attentive care from medical staff, Tzu Chi volunteers took turns visiting her to understand and stay updated on her situation. On the day of Ariana’s discharge, friends assisted in bringing the mother and daughter pair home to help relieve their fatigue from traveling.

After treatment, Ariana’s health had finally improved; she completed her elementary school education, and although she eventually moved away from La Romana, the love she felt from Tzu Chi remained deep in her heart.

Healing Every Tooth

Taiwanese dentist Dr. Silverio Hsu has been a steadfast presence in the Dominican Republic since the beginning of Tzu Chi’s care locally. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tzu Chi’s large-scale dental care missions here came to a halt. Yet, with the help of dental equipment brought by TIMA, Dr. Hsu has regularly offered dental services at the La Romana Tzu Chi School since 2019, taking care of the oral hygiene of Tzu Chi School students.

The children at the Tzu Chi School in La Romana didn’t dare to laugh in front of us; it turned out they’d all lost their teeth.

Dr. Shen Junshan explains to Ruth how to perform treatment
Dr. Angela Sun explains the examination and treatment process to a young patient named Ruth, and endeavors to assuage her worries. Photo/Mariana Ju
Ruth's mother raised her hands outside the classroom, hoping God would help her daughter ease her pain
Ruth’s mother raises her hands in prayer outside the classroom, hoping God will help ease her daughter’s pain. Photo/Mariana Ju

Ruth, a 12-year-old student, had never seen a dentist. Debbie Chen considers the Dominican Republic her second home and is deeply aware of local needs. She explained that this is a common situation for children like Ruth from more remote areas of the country. 

On September 29, 2019, Ruth came with her mother to seek dental treatment. Dr. Hsu and Dr. Angela Sun examined and treated her as a team. “Her teeth couldn’t be extracted because effective anesthesia wouldn’t have been able to be achieved. She had already received three injections of anesthesia,” said Dr. Hsu, who’d found that Ruth’s tooth decay was severe. One tooth also couldn’t be pulled out because the root was broken. During the treatment, Ruth shouted in distress in the examination room, and her parents’ hearts were all but shattered. Her mother could only raise her hands in prayer outside the classroom, hoping God would help ease her daughter’s pain.

After the exam, the dentists invited a teacher to accompany them to a dental clinic in La Romana with more comprehensive facilities for oral surgery. With the support of Tzu Chi, Ruth finally revealed her smile and healthy teeth free of pain, and the weight in the hearts of the doctors and volunteers finally lifted. “Now, when they smile, the feeling is truly different,” shared Debbie Chen. Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces, Chen also beamed brightly, saying, “Being able to participate in this activity and take care of patients, I feel very proud and honored. I hope that besides caring for Tzu Chi’s children, we can also take care of their families.”

With time, the global health crisis slowly eased due to the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations. As the situation became more stable, Tzu Chi’s dental treatments resumed in March 2023, and these footprints of relief reached even further. Today, dental outreach is no longer limited to students at the La Romana Tzu Chi School, but has expanded to serve surrounding communities. Volunteers also promote environmental protection programs in Los Ríos and Santo Domingo, distribute supplies in Monte Plata, and spread Tzu Chi’s kindness in other disadvantaged communities.

From 1998 to 2023, Tzu Chi’s love has never diminished. The seeds of great love have been cultivated widely across the Dominican Republic. Indeed, once seeds of compassion are nourished into trees, they will provide a protective canopy for all to seek comfort.


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