Finding Barahonas Hero: A Reflection of Service from IAUPR’s VOSH President



When I was asked to write an article on my experience in the Dominican Republic for IAUPR School of Optometry’s VOSH mission trip, I immediately knew that I wanted to find a hero with a story that could inspire everyone. I was on a mission to write this article and I was determined to complete it.

Upon arriving to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic at Las America’s International, the seven of us student missionaries’ felt our stomachs turned with nervous butterflies in anticipation for what the day would bring.

Recalling those events I am immediately taken back to the moment when I first step foot outside of customs and was greeted by a gentleman with the most kind smile, holding a small handmade sign that read “VOSH”.  Our previous feelings of anxiety were immediately lifted off of our shoulders. We had finally arrived and were excited and willing to serve.

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Lewis, the pastor, immediately began telling us his story of ministry at Calvary Chapel. He told us stories of how he has helped children throughout Barahona, his hometown; get everything from uniforms for school to food to survive. He described a life of nothing less than selflessness. This was it. Without even stepping foot inside of Barahona I found a man that has dedicated his entire life, his entire being, to service. I had found Barahona’s hero.

The seven of us made our way to the neighborhood projects of Alpha in the city of Barahona where paved cement roads were a thing of the past and houses with four complete walls were no longer a reality. Suddenly, I was taken back to the Las America’s International Airport. Anticipation, anxiety and uneasiness returned in the form of those small fluttering butterflies as we rocked back and forth along the cement-less roads in our 8-passenger van.

Upon arriving to the church the 8 of us were greeted by the most caring, warm-hearted smiles I could have ever imagined. It was a feeling all too familiar. It was here that I realized that a welcoming, kind hearted, smile had the ability to wipe away any worries. That smile that commands that everything is going to be all right, was not a characteristic unique to our hero Lewis. It was unique to this neighborhood of Alfa in the city of Barahona.

Person after person I continued to see the same yet unique personalized version of that smile. Not only was it the smile that was so intriguing, but also the stories that stood behind those smiles where inspiration lived and filled the room.

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A few heroes I met were Jared and Stephanie. A young married couple that gave up their home in Northern Maryland to move to the island. The couple assists the church with food distribution and participates in the youth group.

Pastor Doug McClean, whom with Lewis founded the church through a simple bible study four years ago. Since then it has grown to having it’s own building and youth sponsorship programs throughout the city.

Steve and Christine, whom sponsor three children through the church and have traveled to the Dominican Republic and Greece on missionary trips. Daniel, Lewis and Esteban, the dancing preteens that wanted noting more than laughter and conversation.

Each patient was not only receptive, but also thankful for our care. The theme repeated itself over and over again. Each conversation always starting with that smile, continued by inspiration and ending leaving each and everyone of the SVOSH members touched at the heart and inspired by the mind.

Traveling to Barahona and searching for a hero was a lost cause. I failed at my mission. Not because Barahona is a city that cannot be saved but because it is a city that has already been saved. That savior found by the grace, hope and inspiration that revealed itself to me in something as simple and as universal as a smile.

-Dominique M. Oker
IAUPR School of Optometry Third Year Student




“They say your life is defined by places you go and people you meet. This VOSH trip to Dominican Republic definitely  played a role in making me a better citizen of the world. The trip not only proved to be a great professional learning experience but also provided an insight into state of vision care beyond the boundaries of our nation. I am extremely thankful to VOSH Puerto Rico and Dr. Carrion for allowing me the opportunity to serve a community much in need of vision care and to contribute towards VOSH’s mission”.

-Dharti Joshi
IAUPR School of Optometry Third Year Student

“My experience in Barahona, DR was educational as well as a humbling quest. We traveled up the hills of this small town village where most of the houses were constructed with palm-wood boards and any other material they can find.  Most homes consisted of one room, little to no amenities, 3 to 5 people, and only one bed if even that. As we examimined the residents, there was a trend of cataracts, pterygiums, and dry eyes. Most of it has to do with their living conditions and sanitary practices. Even though we were able to facilitate over 500 residents and had the oppertunity to witness some of them put on a pair of glasses for the first time time, it feels like it is not enough. If they were better educated about their eyes, some of these disorders may be prevented”.

-Danny Soliman
IAUPR School of Optometry Second Year Student

“Going to the Dominican Republic was the most fulfilling experience. Being able to use the skills I have learned to help others, brought an overwhelming completeness to me. This trip reiterated why I am going into health care and how blessed I am. For those thinking of doing a medical mission, I highly advise you to go on one. It will be the most memorable experience of your life, it was definitely the most memorable of mine”.

-Ratidzo Macharaga
IAUPR School of Optometry Third Year Student

“I went on this trip expecting to help people, and in return they impacted me more than I ever would have imagined. The people of Barahona and their unforgettable smiles humbled me beyond words can explain. Watching the joy from putting on a pair of glasses for the first time to see the world around them in a way they have never seen it before, made me realize how much I can change a person’s quality of life as an optometrist and reinforced my love for optometry”.

-Pariya Shamsaee
IAUPR School of Optometry Third Year Student

For more information on Calvary’s Care through the Calvary Chapel of Barahona Dominican Republic visit:

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For more information on IAUPR School of Optometry visit:

For more information on SVOSH Puerto Rico visit:




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