Addressing Mental Health Issues in Lechería, Dominican Republic

Star of the week awards, Photo by Holly Lavin, 2018.

Star of the week awards, Photo by Holly Lavin, 2018

By Holly Lavin

Published August 14, 2018

“I learned that whether our efforts are big or small – establishing trauma-informed programs or simply lending an ear – social workers can have a positive impact on children’s lives everywhere.”
Holly Lavin, Recipient of Funding
Community for Global Health Equity

In the United States, students suffering mental health issues related to trauma can often find help from school social workers. Unfortunately, many countries lack these services. In the Dominican Republic, less than 1% of the country’s health care finances are allocated to mental health. Social work is not an available career, therefore children suffering mental health issues have limited access to care.

From January to April 2018, with support from the Community for Global Health Equity, I worked in Lechería, a semi-rural area located on the outskirts of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. I collaborated with a school, Centro Santo Niño Jesús, and Community Service Alliance (CSA), a nonprofit organization. Through a previous internship with East Community High School in Buffalo, I worked with students who had experienced trauma, developing interventions focused on self-esteem, emotion identification, establishing goals for the future, and relaxation. I incorporated these exercises with children at Centro Santo Niño Jesús through classroom and pull-out activities.

Many of the children of Centro Santo Niño Jesús live in poverty. About 20% of the population in the Dominican Republic live on less than $2 per day. Children at 7 and 8 years of age have experienced many hardships and trauma that impact their health and wellbeing. Although economic support for social workers is unavailable in the Dominican Republic, Centro Santo Niño Jesús’ principal supported my work. This project fueled my passion for working with children.

Although I was only in the Dominican Republic for several months, I learned so much from my friends and colleagues about the importance of social work in schools. Most importantly, I learned that whether our efforts are big or small – establishing trauma-informed programs or simply lending an ear – social workers can have a positive impact on children’s lives everywhere.