“Glue the pipe together here,” he indicated with one hand, “and angle the ninety-degree elbow up, like so.” He tweaked the joint, stepped back to admire his work, and proclaimed, “That’s a finished product.”
Posed over a jumble of PVC pipes, brackets, angles, elbows, and drills, Carl Ladd resembled more of a mad scientist than an International Rescue and Relief contract instructor. The contraption at his feet seemed like a prop from some fantasy film instead of a water pump.
Ladd and the four students who assisted in assembly huddle around the pump and discuss the project—how it is both affordable and sustainable; how it connects to a filtration system to provide fresh, clean water; how it shapes the future of community development.
They joined the other four students inside who have completed the frame for a Biosand filter, the second half of the water system. Constructed from a blue 55-gallon drum and PVC pipe, the filter is also cheap and easy to build. Connected to the pump, this system can channel water from a natural source and purify it through the sand and gravel inside the drum, which contains natural microorganisms capable of consuming pathogens and, after one year of maturity, viruses too.
If this technology is shaping the future of water sustainability, then these eight International Rescue and Relief students are shaping the future of relief work. Alongside instructors Aaron and Lauren Kent, this team will spend 89 days in Nicaragua, living, learning and lending the expertise they have spent years cultivating in Union College’s unique Bachelor of Science program.
Over the course of the semester abroad, students will learn survival skills, participate in rural clinics, and volunteer with local EMS crews, all while adapting to a foreign culture and language and taking course work in Emergency Care, Global health, Travel and Tropical Medicine and Expeditionary Leadership.
“This semester in Nicaragua is the seminal experience of IRR,” said trip leader, instructor, and Union alum Aaron Kent. “Everything they have learned over the years leads to this.”
Kent has led the trip to Nicaragua five times and says each one is different. This unpredictability is often due to the varying number of students in attendance each trip. With eight students compared to the 16 from last year, this is the smallest group yet.
“There are unique challenges with so few people,” said Kent, indicating the eight students huddled over the water filter. “That is your social group. That is your family. If one loses patience with another, it has to be resolved, because we will be together nearly every day for three months.”
He assessed the group and smiled. “Social dynamics are always unpredictable.”
Until then, however, the students presented solidarity in their interactions. Juniors Zack Leyda and Josh Wahl joked about coastal survival, which they claim is less survival and more relaxation. “Sipping coconuts, getting a tan, catching some fish,” said Leyda, “it doesn’t get much better than that.”
“It’s gonna be a dream,” laughed Wahl.
“Survival is all about locating food and water,” Kent agreed, his hand straying toward the communal M&M bag. “It’s nothing but foraging. But on the coast, everything you need is right there. Food, water, shelter, it’s nice.” He paused and chuckled, “The ocean survival, however, that is the worst experience known to man.”
Kent referred to the 24 hours students spend together on a life raft in open water. “It’s nothing but rocking and seasickness,” Kent said, grimacing at the prospect.
Once the eight days of survival training are finished, students shift into the medical phase of their semester. This year, the group will be exploring a new region along the Caribbean Coast in the northwestern most part of Nicaragua. The North Atlantic Autonomous Region is one of the poorest and most undeveloped in the country. For two weeks the group will travel by boat through the dense mangrove swamps, delivering medical aid to the indigenous groups living in that territory.
Senior Joellyn Sheehy, who will graduate this year with an emphasis in pre-medicine, is eager for the opportunities and exposure this experience will present. “I want a better understanding of what development work looks like,” said Sheehy, pausing from her drill work on the biosand filter. “And I want to learn the strategies for implementing it.”
Other students express more interest in the opportunities following the medical excursion. Newlyweds Dillon and Erica Whittaker are both eager to work with the EMS crews based out of Managua and Grenada.
“The experience will be unlike anything in Nebraska,” said Erica, who recently quit her job as a paramedic for Midwest Medical. “There will be such a diverse range of patients and cases that one never sees in developed countries.”
For Dillon, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. “I’m just excited to travel,” says Whittaker. “I’ve never done anything like this.” Not only will Dillon be on foreign soil for the first time in his life, he will also be learning and practicing valuable career skills there. “I’ll get the experience I need by working with the fire crews in Managua,” he said. “That will give me an edge when I graduate.”
Getting an edge is an important aspect for IRR students. Graduates of the program are offered such a diverse range of experiences that they are able to pursue careers in many fields. One graduate is a crisis counselor for an outdoor program. Another is an investigator of accident claims for an insurance company. Still another works for ADRA. Many pursue graduate degrees and join NGO’s working in development.
Ladd, for example, has participated in, led, and been sponsored on water-based development projects in fifteen nations, including Sudan, China and Romania. It is because of his passion and experience that Union College brought him back to help prepare the students for their semester abroad.
Even though they may not build a water system in Nicaragua, Ladd believes it is important for them to learn appropriate technology for sustainable development. Their careers may depend on it.
But even greater than the technology, said Ladd, is the mentality of those implementing the technology. “I help students recognize that what most American’s view as ‘problems’ abroad are opportunities to build a relationship and lend our unique expertise.”
For more information on the IRR program check out: http://www.ucollege.edu/irr
Updates from Nicaragua
Throughout the semester, we will post updates from Joellyn Sheehy below as she sends them from Nicaragua.
Natural birth control (Feb. 15)
For the most part, I like children. I’m not the sort who’s always playing games or trying to ply the nearest baby from its mother’s arms, but kids are fun. You just smile at them and then you’re friends. You don’t have to worry about complicated grown-up ideas, like being sophisticated or appearing smart. I suspect one day I will probably want to have kids.
After this week, that day will probably be a very long ways away.
The previous Monday in our hospital rotations Rod [Stickle] and I decided to have a go in the labor and delivery room. There is nothing as educational as witnessing the miracle of life in action. After four hours waiting for a child to be born, our observations were over and we had to return to our classes: no miracles that day.
The miracle of life
This past Tuesday, realizing that our time in Puerto Cabezas was ticking away, I decided to join Ren [Lauren Kent, one of the instructors] in a night shift at obstetrics (OB) after dinner. It was ideal because we didn’t have class the next day until the afternoon, and this way I could be sure to see at least one birth because we would be there into the night.
Apprehensive of my decision, I set off in the taxi with Ren and the other students who would be hanging out in the ER. We got to the hospital around 7:00 p.m. and the two of us entered the OB ward where we saw an older woman pacing. She looked miserable.
After we checked out the list of recent births, we hung around and asked the nurse questions.
“Well this is awkward,” I thought. “I’m just chilling in a tiny room with a lady who has blood on her legs from her water breaking. That’s not weird...”
The worst part was the not knowing.
“Do I try to talk to her? I don't like people talking to me when I’m in pain, that’s a bad idea. Should I smile and send reassuring looks? That might seem patronizing and sympathy can be annoying when I’m in pain. Should we just ignore her and talk amongst ourselves? It seems rude to ignore her while we sit here waiting for her to have a baby...”
I settled, probably unwisely, for ignoring her and chatting with the nurse, throwing in a few sympathetic smiles for good measure and to surreptitiously assess her condition.
I’m pretty certain she didn’t care about my conduct, as she was a little busy writhing on the bed and vomiting into a bucket. The nurse adjusted her IV and periodically checked the cervix’s dilation. Having been at 8 cm when we first went in, the lady wallowed in her misery a little longer as we chatted until she was finally at the necessary 10 cm and they walked her into the delivery room. Feeling about as awkward as one can, I held the IV bag as she climbed onto a special pushing table with scary stirrups.
A 38-year old on her fourth child, the woman was pretty familiar with the routine and hardly spoke as she went through the motions. The nurse handled most of the preparations and was very nice and encouraging to me. The three of us gloved up, and the nurse coached the veteran mother in Miskito. She pushed with the contractions and rested in between until you could just distinguish a rounded, pale head matted with hair easing its way out. She pushed and struggled and the head inched until it finally popped out. The nurse felt around the neck and verified the umbilical cord wasn’t in the way, then motioned for me to get in there.
I stepped up and tried to support the head while gently pulling. I pulled a bit on the baby’s head but apparently wasn’t very good at it (for the record, our classes, from my recollection, have never taught us to pull the head). The baby was quite big, so the nurse got back in there and pulled the head. (And I mean pulled! You could see the neck elongate). Next the shoulders squeezed out. Then came the fluid.
Going over the process of childbirth in my mind, I always knew it would probably be a little weird and uncomfortable. Dealing with a human being coming out of someone’s lady parts is not quite the same as negotiating small talk about the weather, but I had never anticipated the fluid. When the shoulders popped out the baby just kind of slid into the nurse's hands and with it a tidal wave of water, mucus and blood splashed out onto the nurse and the floor. The nurse placed the baby on a towel on the mother’s stomach and Ren helped her dry the little girl, snip the cord, and then wisp it away for documentation. Feeling a little traumatized, I stood there like a stunned goat (I’m sure goats can be stunned) and tried to work out if I should be doing something useful or taking care of the fact that I had momma juice on my gloved hands and bare arms.
“I thought it was a big deal to come in contact with someone else's blood. Is it a big deal? Is there always so much fluid...?”
I just stood there and watched the doctor deliver the placenta and then spend 15 minutes scraping more blood and fluid out of the mother. Determined to perform some sort of action, I walked to Ren, my hands suspended in the air signifying the gloves’ soiled state, arms violating protocols about body substance isolation, and watched them give the baby shots and take her measurements.
“Ok, I'm going to go wash the blood off my arms,” I told her after a few minutes, and she smiled as I dazedly removed the gloves and headed for the sink in the reception area. Trudging back into the delivery room, I arrived just in time to finish dressing the chubby little girl (which was no simple feat), and carry the mother’s IV pack out to the recovery bed, where her family came in to meet her. The father had been waiting earlier, but now her mother and an older daughter greeted the new addition.
“Ok, that was interesting,” I thought, “I would be happy to leave now.” We took a break to visit the other members of our group who were interacting with a visiting surgical team, and then came back to find a young girl accompanied by her mother. The girl was not happy at all and didn’t practice the stoic calm of our previous mother. This birth was her first, and she cried out loudly in pain with every contraction. When we arrived her cervix was already fully dilated, but the baby’s position was too high, so we sat and waited with the nurse and doctor. The baby's heart rate was not very high, so they carefully monitored it as the mother tried to hush her daughter through each contraction.
The painful scene continued for probably 20 minutes as we waited for the baby to drop into place. Eventually, they gave her the oxytocin and led her into the labor room to start pushing. At only 15-years old, the girl was small and her body was not very flexible for the birth. Another doctor joined the little group around her as they coached her through each contraction and lubricated the baby’s passageway. In fact, a small hoard of people came in and out of the room at various times, apparently not serving any real purpose except to hang out and offer more encouragement to push during each contraction. Several were doctors, a few nurses, but unable to understand what they were saying, I assumed they turned up in case of further complications.
After another 20 minutes of labor, I felt sympathetically drained with the girl. Having tried every other way possible, the doctor finally numbed up the girl’s undercarriage for an episiotomy: an incision to widen the exit hatch.
Incision made, the gap was a bit wider and after a few more contractions a baby boy popped out on a tidal wave of fluid. Less shell shocked by the proceedings, I helped a little more this time with giving the baby a shot and preparing him for life while the doctors cleaned the mother up. Ren convinced me to carry him out to the reception area afterwards. Despite his small size, I didn’t break him. He was even a little cute, but not enough to offset the recent memory that he had just spent the past 45 minutes actively exiting a human being.
“Ok, that was good,” I thought. “I think I’m done. Learned a lot and all of that. Let’s get some sleep.”
There was already a very pregnant lady waiting in the room. The nurse looked at me and told me I would do more to assist this next one. “Hmm...” was really all my brain thought, considering that it was then past 11 p.m. We conferred briefly with our group in the ER, who were preparing to wrap up, then returned to OB.
“We'll just hang out here until they come by and then go back with them,” suggested Ren. It sounded like a good plan. I agreed. They never came.
Being the third birth in one night, I was getting used to the drill. This girl mainly stood up and paced a little, only lying down to check the progression. We waited a little while for her and then, as with the others, moved into the delivery room. She was in great health and complied easily with all of the procedures. The nurse told me the woman was just about ready, and then directed me in checking how far along (don’t think about it too much, just know that I had gloves). This process was a little bit easier than the last and moved much more rapidly. I asked which child number this was and how old she was. Third child and she’s 23.
“What? That's my age!” I thought, recollecting my birthday the previous week and panicking that someone should have such responsibility at my age. Unlike the previous birth, this wasn’t just a teen pregnancy. Having her third child with her partner waiting outside, this woman was a completely serene and seemingly full-blown adult.
Again I tried to catch the head and pull the rest of the baby out, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull enough and so the nurse took over again. I was content to just deliver the placenta (which is likely the inspiration for many an alien movie). I helped Ren with the baby processing and carried the little boy out to his family.
“That was nice, now let’s go back,” I thought as I washed my hands and walked back to the room, before finding another expectant mother. “What? Please, no, I’m sure she can wait...” As it happened, she couldn't.
We hung out in the room for ten minutes because she looked so close. She was an older mother and paced a little bit instead of just sitting on bed. She said something to the new nurse that came in and then winced as she lay down to be checked.
I went to retrieve my gloves and by the time I returned, the doctor was already holding up another baby boy. We helped clean up a little and document the child and then finally grabbed a taxi and headed back to Verbo to get some sleep. The gate was locked, so I climbed over and headed to the house where I very gratefully cleaned myself off.
So childbirth is interesting and all of that, but this whole “miracle of life” does get a little messy.
Kids, cooking, and chaos
The next morning we didn’t have classes, so we went to Verbo’s feeding center. Built about a year ago, volunteers prepare donated food for as many as 600 children at lunch every day. It was crazy.
We arrived well before serving time and helped cut vegetables and prep food in the kitchen, which housed the largest cooking pots I have ever seen (Hansel and Gretel could have sat very comfortably in any of several). As it drew closer to lunchtime, the kids started arriving. Because we had finished our work, we went to play with them a bit.
At first there were just a few and we watched as they interacted with each other. Then we started swinging them around in circles or lifting them up in the air. Then several students started cutting kids’ hair (don’t worry, the director asked them to). Then we got mobbed.
It’s not that the kids weren’t sweet and cute, there were just so many of them, and they soon lost all inhibitions from jumping and climbing on the foreigners present. Think Lord of the Flies, except the children are attacking you because they’re happy and like you, and just want your attention and strength at the same time. After several games of Duck Duck Goose and being toppled on the grass, Rod got the idea to stand with his back against a cement pillar so no kids could jump him from behind.
I was a little apprehensive to make skin contact with any kids considering the lecture on ectoparasites I had presented the day before, but that was soon decided for me. Paranoid as I was through the whole experience, it became clear that treatment would probably be far easier in this case than prevention, as curbing their enthusiasm was nigh on impossible.
After serving lunch to around 350 people, we ate and came back to Verbo exhausted. We had class that afternoon and then punched through three more class periods the next day to finish up all of our lectures and quizzes from Travel and Tropical Medicine.
The next day, Friday, was Dillon’s birthday and was spent entirely at a clinic two hours from Puerto Cabezas. We got up early and then set up our first village clinic in a school. Dillon and I worked the pediatric section and saw mothers and children the whole day, mainly with stomach pain and colds. Curiously, I thought the kids’ station was kind of fun and not at all as depressing as I had anticipated.
As long as they’re not being born or jumping on me in droves, kids are okay.
What does the rooster say? (Feb. 5)
The answer: nobody cares. He should just say it less because he’s getting annoying. I always assumed roosters crowed at dawn and then, having fulfilled their main purpose in life, keep quiet the rest of the day—just like on children’s television programs.
What a lie! Yes, they crow in the morning when you ought to wake up, but only by sheer coincidence as they pretty much crow at any other time of the day they feel like. Morning, noon, midnight—it’s all the same to the cockerel, who is inconsiderate to everyone else.
Living with critters
It’s common to see chickens and roosters milling around houses, and pigs farther out of town. We hold classes at Aaron, Ren, Ericka, and Dillon’s house (the married couples’ abode), and animals are frequently scurrying about. A group of chicks usually peck their way through the garden during class (especially after it rains), and dogs mingle with the cow on the other side of the fence.
But aside from the plethora of geckos scurrying across the walls after dark, the most abundant creatures to plague us are mosquitoes.
I imagine I must have Dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever, onchoceriasis, and every other bug-borne parasite by now from the sheer number of bites on my legs. (Don’t worry, mom, we don't actually get yellow fever here and onchoceriasis is from another fly by fast-moving rivers. I was highlighting my point through dramatic effect.) We all take malaria pills and are moving towards more aggressive insect-repellent application regimes as the nightly attacks worsen. But the blood-sucking villains love me.
This past week in Travel and Tropical Medicine class we talked about some of the more exciting communicable diseases a person can catch from various vermin. Who knew there were so many parasites waiting to eat you?
In general biology class two years ago, we studied intestinal worms and other such parasites and I got a little freaked out. Convinced that I harbored at least one of these wretched creatures in my gut (the internet told me I probably did), I bought a litre of apple cider vinegar and drank a diluted cup periodically (the internet told me this would help).
My roommate was very understanding in this difficult period, though she did write a song about this unusual vinegar chugging habit. But eventually I got bored and decided the parasites and I could just learn to work things out, or maybe they left because of the vinegar. Either way, fresh classes about parasites brought back a flood of memories carried on a pungent wave of apple cider vinegar.
I didn’t bring any vinegar with me, but I am still surprisingly calm in this war zone that is life. Far from the urgent panic of the previous year, now I just keep an eye out for all signs and symptoms alluding in any respect to foreign organisms inhabiting my person. So far I’m fine, but they could still be dormant.
On Wednesday, we participated in our first official clinic held at the local prison. We worked from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., seeing more than 75 patients. Working in pairs, six of us were set up in little consultation cubicles and the other two worked at the pharmacy. I found myself paired with fellow student Adam Neep, a former medic in the U.S. Navy. I was relieved to lean a little on his experience and knowledge base.
Facilitated by a translator, we recorded the names and ages of the patients and tried to pinpoint their primary complaints. This sometimes proved difficult, because many had multiple health issues. Armed with reference books, we attempted to diagnose the problem and—after discussion with the doctor—could recommend a course of treatment.
The whole process was a little frustrating at first because I felt so incompetent, but everything got easier as the day wore on. Urinary tract infections were very common, and I think most of the women we saw were diabetic with high blood pressure. Many of the men had joint problems and nerve damage from sleeping on the cold floor, and we gave out a lot of multivitamins just to boost immune systems.
There were some pretty sad cases, but it was inspiring to see Dr. Caldera’s commitment to providing quality healthcare. And the experience will be useful as we prepare to for the traveling clinics in the coming months.
One clinic down, only about another 23 to go. I'll try to work hard and learn a lot from them all, but one thing is certain: I’m going to get very good at taking blood pressures.
Meanwhile, back in the jungle (Feb. 1)
We’ve hit the two-week mark in Nicaragua, including one full week of classes at Verbo in Puerto Cabezas. The sun continues to shine, the beans and rice continues to flow and I could get very used to not always aggressively applying moisturizer (I still do sporadically, but largely as a nod to my former life as a dried prune in arid Nebraska).
The culinary adventures of a vegetarian in Puerto Cabezas have not proven very exciting, but the cooks do a great job and I get plenty. The national dish for the country is Gallo Pinto, which (contrary to what the name may imply) is rice with beans. It’s actually pretty tasty and I haven’t grown tired of having it at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, in part because it is nicely interspersed with rice and beans—a completely different dish.
We also have potatoes or yucca; salad; fried bread; and a white, hard, salty cheese. We can walk across the road and get doughnuts for 15 cordobas (about 60 cents) a piece.
The exchange rate is very favorable to the U.S. dollar—about 25 cordobas to the dollar. Food can be pretty inexpensive (doughnuts at least), but many things cost a lot in the city, such as gasoline and electricity. It appears that people in the city fall more into what I consider a middle class, but the rural areas tend to be pretty poor.
This week we began formal classes and trips to the hospital. I’ve had a bit of a cold, so wasn’t aggressively active in a medical capacity, but at least three students worked in the obstetrics room and helped deliver babies.
In an attempt to spread fewer germs, I assumed a more observatory role in the emergency room, where I took several temperatures and saw some shots and stitching. A man came in with an open gash on his upper left cheekbone. He told us he’d been slashed with a machete the night before and had gone to the police before coming in to the hospital. The wound had already stopped bleeding, so the doctor washed the wound, numbed up the site, and then cleaned it before putting in stitches. It found it interesting to follow along, having received several stitches myself a few weeks ago.
I am enjoying our classes, but they require lots of reading. We’ll finish up Global Health class this week and then be left with the rest of Travel and Tropical Medicine class. Dr. Caldera has already taught us a bit about physical examinations and we’re striving to learn medications.
It is sobering to think that we’ll actually all this knowledge in our clinics this week and after spring break. While grades generally tend to motivate me to do well in classes, being responsible for a life up the stakes a little. The doctor is very professional and does not put us in positions to cause harm to others, but we had have to learn fast.
Always ready for anything
On Sabbath, a whole group of us went to the main Miskito Adventist church. We arrived just as Sabbath School was starting so we listened to them sing in Miskito and joined in a little bit. As the children filed out for Sabbath School, Dr. Caldera was asked to lead the lesson. I’m quickly learning that it’s probably good to 1) always study your lesson, and 2) have several meaningful anecdotes on standby and the rough outline of a sermon just in case. IRR majors talk about being prepared for anything—and apparently that includes preaching.
After the hour-long lesson study, some church leaders approached Aaron, our leader, and asked him what kind of translation he wanted for his sermon. Note, they just assumed he was giving the sermon. Aaron did a great job, and demonstrated what it meant to be always ready.
Hopes and dreams
I still haven’t had many opportunities to interact with the children in the orphanage very much, so it was fun to watch a movie with some of the kids. The two girls I sat with gave me hugs afterwards. The most beautiful thing about this orphanage is that the children seem happy, but they’re mischievous and free to dream.
Last week I met two girls who were both planning on becoming doctors. At ages 15 and 17, they believed these dreams were legitimate and no one was telling them they couldn’t do it. One of the most tragic aspects of poverty is that it crushes hope and the belief that the future can get better. Dreams stem from hope, and that hope will foster success where no kind of aid ever could.
Buenas noches, mundo. Joellyn Sheehy
P.S. For those interested, the is a Facebook page called Expedicion Nicaragua 2014 that has pictures and posts from the other members of the group.
A long road to paradise (Jan. 24)
Buenos dias, amigos. It is day six in Nicaragua and we are living it up in Puerto Cabezas. After a 28-hour road trip along some rather bumpy roads (rumour has it we traveled about 300 miles, averaging less than 10 miles an hour), everyone was happy to finally arrive. We traveled pretty much nonstop and the ruggedness of the roads made it challenging to sleep, but people got pretty creative and you’d be surprised how comfy the floor of a moving vehicle can be. Perhaps some of the resting positions were not the safest choices possible, but we weren’t exactly speeding along. I was highly impressed by the skill of the drivers at navigating around potholes (as well as animals and people) and they didn’t complain about the distance or length of the trip even once (I cannot say the same for our group...).
Yesterday morning around 9:00 a.m. we arrived at El Verbo, an orphanage in Puerto Cabezas where we’ll base our operations for the next month. The compound feels like such a safe haven: our accommodations are comfortable (being the only single girl on the trip I have to have my own room), they feed us richly and there is internet in our abodes (a little to the chagrin of the program leader). Another group from Alabama has been here for almost a week doing construction and other jobs. Our groups all eat meals together and so usually end up chatting a bit. So far we have not interacted much with the children or people that live here. El Verbo is certainly a terrific organization run by Nicaraguans, but it still makes me feel funny eating western food and grouped with all the other western people speaking English. Actually it’s just a little boring. I want to practice Spanish more.
We’ve taken today and the end of yesterday pretty relaxed since everyone was tired from the long trip. Today we had a look around the city, painted a little on the nearby school, and will go back after lunch. I plan to go to the Adventist church tomorrow (hopefully it's in Spanish) and then Verbo’s church on Sunday. I've heard that the latter is a bit charismatic and it sounds like fun.
It’s still hard to believe that I’m here after waiting three and a half years in anticipation (well, I was studying as well, which passes the time). The flights were quick from Omaha to Atlanta to Managua, where we were met by Dr. Caldera (who will supervise our medical clinics), his wife, and two of his sons. Some of the medications we brought were confiscated in the airport until we could get proper paperwork, so the doctor and course leader, Aaron Kent, stayed to sort it all out. The word is today that the papers are done, but they still have to hand them in to the airport and make the trip themselves across the country, so we’ll see when they arrive.
The first item on our agenda Monday morning was to visit Habitat for Humanity in Managua. I had just finished reading one of our textbooks, Toxic Charity, which discussed how much of the way we approach “charity” and “development” is more harmful than good and causes people to become dependent on continued giving. The author advocated long-term commitments to a communities to find out real needs and capitalize on inhabitants’ capacities.
As we talked with Salim, our guide with Habitat for Humanity, he echoed everything I had just read. They’re very conscious about who they help, how they help and the long-term implications of their actions. He took us on a tour of a poorer area where they’d helped build some homes. One woman showed us around the home Habitat for Humanity had helped her built. She had since gone on to triple its size. While still a modest house, her pride and Salim’s pride for her definitely (and the very fact that she was empowered to continue the work for herself) proved to me the efficacy of their work.
Tuesday we stopped by the U.S. embassy and were briefed by many of their different departments. Lauren Kent, one of our course leaders, has a friend in the military, so he connected us with numerous key players including someone from USAID. We had a great time, but it all made for a long day as we went to a baseball game that evening with the volunteer fire department. None of us were very sure of what we were getting into before we signed up, but it turned out to be the final championship for the country (which is very keen on its "beisbol").
We worked on their emergency services team. The atmosphere was electric. I give Nicaragua an A++ for enthusiasm, as well as ability to make noise. Loads of people brought their own drums and played them before, during and after the game. I was stationed with Ericka and Dillon Whittaker, a volunteer named Enrique, and a few others down by the dugout of the home team.
The game lasted about three hours, and our early arrival (around 3:00 p.m. for a 6 p.m. game) made for a long night. Since we were there for medical support, we sat right on the edge of the field for most of the game. One of the players pulled a muscle, so Ericka (a paramedic) went to assist with him.
Dillon had just finished telling me what a long time it had been since he took EMT class when one of the firefighters indicated for one of us to come. A woman had bruised a finger, and an off-duty doctor told me nothing was broken, so I stabilized the finger as best I could.
We waited a little while after the game (in case there were fights since the home team lost), then took our only other patient to the hospital and headed back to the hotel very late. The following day we mobilized at 3:30 a.m. and left Managua at 5 a.m.
So far it has all been a very positive experience and I’m having fun. Rudy, Dr. Caldera’s youngest son, joined us on our trip and so I learn Spanish words and cultural tidbits from him, which makes for an extra good time.
Classes start on Monday, and we'll be learning about global health. I'm glad we're staying here at Verbo. It’s a happy place.