The Encounter Church mission trip to the Dominican Republican may have been impacted by the mosquito-transmitted chikungunya virus, but it didn't keep everyone away from helping those in need.
"We still wanted to go and this is where (the Dominicans) need us most and we can't run away," Milky Martinez, 26, of Norwalk, said.
The virus, which causes severe fevers and joint pain, has been "blowing up" in the Dominican, Martinez said. More than 264,000 cases have been reported in the Caribbean, according to the Center for Disease Research and Policy. The virus usually leaves the body within a week, but there have been cases of patients who have joint pain months or even years after contracting the illness.
"We trusted in God that none of us would get sick," Martinez said. None of the six volunteers contracted the virus while they were in the Dominican July 2-9.
For the last four years, volunteers from Encounter Church, which meets in Darien's Calvary Baptist Church on the Post Road, have spent a week each year in the Dominican Republic working with the Fundación Rescates Latinos, which translates to Latinos Rescue Foundation. It is commonly referred to as Furela, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving aid to those in need in the Dominican Republic. Martinez's mother, Dr. Cristina Castillo, founded the organization following the 2010 earthquake that left Haiti in shambles.
Furela provides free medical and dental clinics, meals for underprivileged children and Dolls for Hopes, a project that teaches women to make dolls that can be sold around the Dominican Republic. The money is then reinvested into the community.
The Encounter mission trip provided medicine, worked and sang with the children and led Bible studies, said Aaron Flocke, 31, of Stamford, and one of the trip leaders.
"We don't just throw the medication around," Martinez said, adding that the group takes the time to work with each patient.
"The pharmacies are lacking in quality medication." Martinez said.
There is no cure or vaccine for chikungunya, though the treatment is as simple as taking Advil or Tylenol, Martinez said.
While in the Dominican Republic, Martinez, a dental hygienist who will attend the University of Connecticut in the fall, performed cleanings for the children and some adults. While his mother is a full-time missionary in the Dominican Republic, Martinez represents Furela in the United States by spreading the word of the nonprofit.
One of his friends wanted to help, but did not have a medical background. Martinez asked what his friend did know how to do. Haircuts, his friend told him.
"So he started giving haircuts to the kids," Martinez said.
Often, the mission trip includes nursing students.
"We work the whole day so that people can be treated," Martinez said, adding that they do find time to explore and enjoy the Dominican Republican.
Through the missionary trip, Flocke has learned that there are people all over the world who need help and that there are people who are happy with very little to call their own.
"One thing I definitely learned is that God loves everybody and that to be happy you don't need a lot of stuff," Flocke said. "We see some of the most poor people and they're just filled with joy."