University of Kentucky pediatricians Dr. Donna Grigsby, M. D., and Dr. Carol Steltenkamp, M. D., traveled to Ecuador with Shoulder to Shoulder Global in 2016 on the August health brigade where they met an impoverished family of nine that they immediately knew needed help.
During the 10-day multidisciplinary health brigade, Grigsby and Steltenkamp were conducting a clinic at a local school in Santo Domingo when one of the teachers brought two of the children to them to be treated since they weren't getting the proper care they needed. After talking to the teacher, Grigsby and Steltenkamp engaged the local STSG community members to learn more about the family of the two children.
"Dr. Grigsby and I were pulled both eyes and heart to help this family because they were willing to help themselves, but didn't have the resources to do so," Steltenkamp said. "The family wasn't looking for hand outs, but it was obvious they needed a hand up."
The children were initially brought in for medical care, but Grigsby and Steltenkamp soon learned the family had more needs. Grigsby and Steltenkamp found out that the family lived in a small town near Santo Domingo called El Poste and the family was made up of a single father providing for his eight children since the mother had left them many years ago.
"We found out that the family was living in substandard housing with a dirt floor, had limited access to fresh water and the children only got one meal per day," Steltenkamp said. "One of the younger boys in the family wasn't even able to attend school because he didn't have a pair of shoes."
After finding out the extreme needs of the family, Grigsby and Steltenkamp both knew right away they needed to help this family. Grigsby said they first asked the local STSG staff to put together a budget for the family's financial assistance.
"Through the help of our sponsorship, the local STSG staff and community were able to dig a new fresh water well for the family as well as put a metal roof over their house," Grigsby said. "The children also got new shoes, clothes and supplies so they are all able to attend school."
This year on the 2017 August brigade, Grigsby and Steltenkamp went back to Santo Domingo where they made a home visit to see how the father and his eight children were doing after receiving help from their local community.
"This year during our visit, we were able to get the family clean mattresses since all of the children had been sharing a single mattress," Steltenkamp said. "We also got everyone a large plastic storage container to put their things in to avoid the dirt and got all the children their own plastic chair."
Along with working with the children in Ecuador, both Grigsby and Steltenkamp brought their sons with them on the brigades so that they could experience serving others abroad. Steltenkamp said that it was incredibly rewarding to see her two sons learn new things on the brigade and step outside of their comfort zones. Grigsby also brought her son along for the transformative experience.
"The experience on the brigade helped my son realize that he wanted to practice medicine," Grigsby said. "It also helped him understand why I and his father who is also a doctor, do what we do."
Grigsby and Steltenkamp said they have deemed themselves the "August girls" and want to continue to go back to Ecuador with STSG to continue serving others as well as the family in El Poste.
"The brigade is such a heart wrenching and rewarding experience when you realize that such poverty exists, but then you see the children there still have joy getting a new box of crayons or a soccer ball," Steltenkamp said. "To participate in that is the balancing part of this whole experience."
Grigsby added that going on one these brigades to Ecuador is such a humbling experience and that it is so nice to have this experience with her good friend Steltenkamp.
"It's our responsibility to give back and recognize circumstances where we can help make a difference in the lives of others who need it the most," Grigsby said. "The fact that we were there together and did what we did to help this family just adds to the already positive experience."