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Long Island Nurse Lends Hand in Dominican Republic

Inspired by a notice in a church bulletin about a humanitarian trip to the Dominican Republic fellow parishioners had taken, Barbara Hanft, RN, and her neighbors Al and Diane Ruenes, knew they had to help. They decided to forgo a traditional vacation, and in November made the trip to Parish of Our Lady Fatima in Hondo Valle, Dominican Republic — one of the three Catholic missions run by Sister Jane of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., and Saint Vincent DePaul of Bethpage, N.Y.

With the help of family and friends, the trio collected more than 200 pounds of medical supplies without asking for a single monetary donation. “Al’s son is a surgeon in Pennsylvania who makes a trip to Africa on a yearly basis to volunteer,” says Hanft, former director of home-based primary care, a geriatric home care program at Northport (N.Y.) VA Medical Center. “He was able to get a lot of his friends to donate supplies.”

Barbara Hanft, RN, and Diane Ruenes ready supplies for the day.

Armed with 220 pounds of hospital scrubs, antibiotics, bandages, sutures, gauze and even a pair of crutches, the trio boarded a JetBlue flight bound for Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital. The airline donated the tickets to the group upon learning of their efforts. “Al sent them an e-mail, and they responded,” Hanft says.

After arriving in Santo Domingo, they made the 120-mile trek to Hondo Valle, right outside the border with Haiti, a trip that took six hours because of the poor roads. Unlike the resorts on the island, Hondo Valle is a rural poverty-stricken area. During the week they were there, the three cared for 43 families, all of whom were in need of medical care. Because facilities in the area don’t have enough space or staff to house patients who’ve had surgeries, they usually are sent home sooner than they should. The crutches came in handy for a young girl whose leg recently had been amputated after cancer spread through it.

The trio attempted to visit Haiti as well, but were turned away at the border because of a cholera outbreak. “Cholera was literally coming down the hill [from Haiti],” Hanft says.

Hanft says the experience changed her. “Many people travel to the [Dominican Republic] and don’t realize it’s a third-world country,” she says. Most of the residents of Hondo Valle, for example, don’t have latrines to use. “That’s Sister Jane’s main goal, to build latrines because the water is contaminated and can lead to disease,” Hanft says. Each latrine costs about $250 to build and donations are being collected by the mission. “But the idea is not to just give,” Hanft says. “One, they have to want it and two, they have to help build it.”

Barbara Hanft, RN, left, stands with neighbors Diane and Al Ruenes, far right, and border patrol officers at the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The trio was unable to cross because of a cholera outbreak in Haiti.

A return trip would take Hanft to another part of the Dominican Republic. “If I go back, I’m going to Cercado,” Hanft says. “It’s a little further south than Hondo Valle, but they have a hospital there that I’d like to visit.”

Hanft says she plans to continue to volunteer because it is humbling and makes her thankful for what she has. “You give, but you get so much,” she says. “Volunteering is contagious.”

To donate to the Dominican Republic Mission, visit the Diocese of Rockville Centre website at

By | 2020-04-15T13:04:45-04:00 February 21st, 2011|Categories: New York/New Jersey Metro, Regional|0 Comments

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