Calling carries Prospect doctor to Dominican Republic

Ronicha Azard, an optometrist with Vision Associates of Prospect, performs an eye exam while on a mission trip in La Romana, Dominican Republic earlier this summer. –CONTRIBUTED

PROSPECT — Ronicha Azard has always felt a calling to help others.

“I grew up in a Christian home,” Azard said. “From the beginning, [my parents] have rooted values in me about service and the Christian beliefs about serving others and being the hands and feet of Jesus in the way we live.”

So, it wasn’t a surprise when Azard, a 30-year-old optometrist with Vision Associates of Prospect, found herself in a sugar workers’ village, known as a batey, in a poverty-stricken area of the Dominican Republic providing needed medical assistance.

The mission trip began on June 30 and lasted nine days. The First Baptist Church of Wallingford has sponsored the trips since 1990 to build schools and churches, and provide medical attention to impoverished workers near La Romana, Dominican Republic.

While in the Dominican Republic, Azard worked in a medical clinic that traveled to different bateyes in the area.

“It was the first time they had an optometrist, so it was the first time they had eye services. Before, all they had were these random glasses and they would say, ‘Just pick ones you can see out of,’” Azard said.

Azard conducted accurate eye exams for the residents, allowing them to get glasses at the Good Samaritan Hospital, which was also built by The First Baptist Church of Wallingford.

Azard said there was an outbreak of bacterial conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye, this year, and she was able to help treat it.

“It was one of those experiences where I felt I needed to be there. It was almost as if God said, ‘This was your year to be there,’ because that has never happened before where they had all those eye infection cases,” Azard said.

The bateyes are mostly inhabited by Haitian immigrants who either came to the Dominican Republic or whose parents came to the Dominican Republic seeking work in the sugar cane plantations, Azard said.

When The First Baptist Church of Wallingford first sent missionaries there in 1990, there were only about five people on the trip, Azard said. In 2017, Azard was one of more than 150 missionaries who went to the Dominican Republic.

Azard has gone on missions in America and worked at homeless shelters. The trip to the Dominican Republic was her first mission trip abroad.

“It was really important for me to see the people who are some of the poorest people in the world but are some of the happiest people in the world. Living in the States it is sometimes nice to go out to where you are not in your comfort zone and you don’t have running water and all of the things we are used to having,” Azard said. “That’s one of the things that really impacted me, and it was really important to be a part of that.”

The mission took on a special meaning for Azard, who is Haitian.

“It was a good way for me to give back to my people,” Azard said.

Azard has been back home for over a month now, but a conversation with a young girl sticks in her mind.

After the mission hosted a movie night for the local children in one of the bateyes, Azard said she was preparing to say goodbye and struck up a conversation with a 7-year-old girl.

“I asked her what she wanted me to pray for her for,” Azard recalled. “Mind you, she’s 7. She said, ‘Pray that I find work.’ I said you’re only 7, what do you want work for. She said, ‘So, I can help my family.’”

“That broke my heart,” Azard continued. “My prayer is that we can help them enough that they can get out of that and that she, at 7, can worry about finding a doll to play with, not looking for a job. That one moment stuck out to me because it showed me that is how oppressed these people are. That is how hard it is to live there. That is how hard these people struggle.”

Azard has already made up her mind about next year’s mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

“I definitely want to go again next year,” Azard said.