Global Medical/Public Health Brigade Nicaragua

Ohio State Takes On Nicaragua

By Casie Jingle

For my STEP experience I did a service learning abroad project in Nicaragua. 35 people and I traveled to a small town, El Naranjo, to provide basic medical and dental care to the members of the community. We shadowed doctors, filled prescriptions, taught children to brush their teeth, and watched teeth extractions. For the second half of the week we built a bathroom, shower, and washing station for three local families.

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Having traveled to Panama with the same program previously, to complete an environmental project, I was expecting the experience to be similar. However, this project was different on many levels. The main cities were nothing like Panama City, which can be described as comparable to NYC. They were flat, with one story buildings and appeared impoverished right from the airport.

Through interacting with the community members I learned how little I know about the world. Even with four years of Spanish, I struggled to communicate with the patients and had trouble understanding their responses about medical history and allergies. If I were to return I would become fluent in conversational Spanish so I could have meaningful conversations to learn more about the citizens’ ways of life. However, I did pick up some key phrases that could be helpful in a future medical profession and some of my forgotten Spanish came flooding back.

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Many of the people worked on farms or made/built objects with their hands. Their labor to make a living on wages that most of us could not imagine living on, is something that we take for granted here. I got to be a part of this way of life when I hand mixed concrete, laid a floor and built walls for a bathroom and shower. The job 10 of us completed could have easily been completed faster by more experienced people but it gave us the opportunity to experience first hand the every day lives of many Nicaraguans. I saw the world in a different way and realize how lucky we are to have clean drinking water, access to health care when we need it, and even something as simple as a roof that doesn’t leak.

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Not only did I learn about the cultures of other countries but I opened up. The fastest way to make friends and break out of your bubble is to travel across the country with 35 strangers with similar life goals as you. Usually I will not be the one to start a conversation and keep to myself. But being in close quarters with the students and working together to translate what the patients are saying is the easiest way to get to know someone. From there we built the relationships. I learned that once I get over the initial nervousness of meeting someone new, being their friend isn’t difficult. Now I have 35 friends that are potential connections for the future, can introduce me to clubs on campus I never considered joining, and could provide study buddies for classes. I even met a doctor and a dentist, parents of two of the students on the trip, that could provide me with references, shadowing, or career advice.

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When I applied to the trip I was pre-med. Right before the trip I was considering pre-vet, making me wonder how this experience could be relevant, and by the time the trip was over I was seriously considering pre-PA (physician assistant), and still am. I learned there is a Physician Assistant Club on campus and that one of the girls on the trip is president. I also learned that others were having internal debates about taking a GAP year after graduation to gain more experience in preparation for grad school which gave me comfort because I was considering the same thing.

The trip was eye-opening. To be able to learn about the world while providing service to others was everything I aspire to do, combined into one. I am now inspired to continue learning Spanish so that next time I can communicate better. Because I was struggling to pick between Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, this trip reinforced that I do like helping people and working in the medical field. It solidified my decision to continue down the path I had always imagined myself on. Given the chance I will definitely participate in a Global Brigades trip again.

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Not only did this project fulfill my goals of serving others and gaining experience in the field I would like to go into but it is also helping me accomplish my goal of traveling the world, eating authentic food and learning about the culture. I would recommend this trip to anyone.

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Zanzibar, Tanzania – A Chizi Experience

Chizi kama ndizi. This popular slang phrase in Swahili meaning “crazy as bananas” describes my time spent in Tanzania better than any English words could. I had such a crazy trip due to the multitude of experiences consisting of developing friendships, exchanging cultures and observing beautiful landscapes.

In Tanzania, children learn in Swahili, which is the national language. After graduating from the US equivalent of middle school, however, the students must pass an English exam called Form IV in order to study at the high school level. The fail rate for Form IV is over 50% in mainland Tanzania, and even higher in Zanzibar, which is an island off of the east coast. I travelled to Zanzibar with GIVE volunteers in order to promote the learning of the English language by building a chartered school and tutoring the locals in English.

I wanted to explore a different city before going to Zanzibar, so I flew a day before the rest of the volunteer group to Dar Es Salaam, the biggest city in Tanzania. I rented a room from a local woman through Airbnb and decided I would explore the city by foot. My first big realization came that very first day, before the project even started. Walking around the city, I realized I knew less than the little Swahili I thought I knew from reading dictionaries and most people didn’t understand English. That morning, I roamed around a city with 1.3 million people, yet I felt completely alone. I felt alone because I did not speak a single word, overcome by the fear of what people would think of me when I couldn’t communicate with them.

Luckily, hunger stroke. I felt so much anxiety because I was hungry and didn’t know where to eat, but eventually my stomach prompted me to walk into a restaurant. Nobody greeted me and I did not dare ask for directions, so I walked all the way to the kitchen and mistakenly ordered directly from an assistant chef. After not understanding each other, she called a server, who actually guided me to a table, where I ordered a random item on the menu. I ate my meal, opening my mouth solely to eat, still afraid to speak. To pay, I walked to a register, where a woman greeted me “Mambo!” I thought mambo meant hi, so I responded “Mambo!” Laughter followed, as the woman told me I was saying it wrong. ‘Mambo’ meant “how are you?” and should be followed by ‘poa’ which means ‘cool’ or ‘fine’.  I felt embarrassed, but the woman proceeded to teach me some basic greetings and food items in Swahili.

I was surprised, not so much that she didn’t laugh at me, but at the fact that I thought she would. If I wanted to learn Swahili and truly immerse myself in their culture, I had to act more vulnerably and allow, heck, even encourage myself to make mistakes. With this new attitude, I met the rest of the volunteers that night and we headed for Zanzibar the following morning.

I would love to describe my experience in a chronological way and shed light on the different realizations I had every day, but I am writing a reflection and not a novel, thus such an approach would not be viable. Instead, I will highlight one key experience and realization that I had during my trip.

Since the rain season had not ended, storms became commonplace, as did flooding of the community. One day, the water from the flooded roads threatened to enter some people’s homes. As the threat became more eminent, all the neighbors closed their shops and stopped working in order to help dig a canal that would drive the water from the roads into the ocean. As I spent more time in the island, I could see how tight of a community they were through events such as this one. The people never walked alone, never fought and never really stopped smiling. The children played and explored. The teenagers learned, spent time outside and helped their parents with work. The adults labored, lead the village and watched after the kids.

With an average yearly salary of less than $500, these people seemed not to have too many worries. Sometimes they did not eat more than one meal a day, but it was enough not to fall ill and they were used to that lifestyle. Their houses were not luxurious and not even always fully weather proof, but they were full of love.

I became close with thAfrika 1e local students, especially with one named Khamis, or Katelephone, which is the name he used to give tourists as a joke. In the midst of a great conversation, I asked him to tell me the one thing that he valued most in life. Almost without thought, the 24 year old responded, “my mommy.” To press even further, I posed another question. There was a smaller deserted island 20 minutes away from Zanzibar called Pemba, so I gave Katelephone the fictional option to live in Pemba, alone, for 3 years and receive the equivalent of 10 million dollars, or to simply carry on with his life. With the simple,  irrefutable argument that he would miss his mom and his family too much if he left, he said he would choose to keep his life unchanged and keep living happy.

That conversation was the single most memorable exchange from my trip. When we see the people of Zanzibar through a typical western eye, we see them in poverty and in need of many resources. But do they really need more than what they have if they are already happy? Off course they need education, infrastructure and resources for agriculture and tourism in order to subsist, but they don’t need all the material objects that most westerners have and couldn’t imagine living without.

I find it fascinating that, according to conventional wisdom, US habitants have a better quality of life, but my experiences in Tanzania may have changed my views regarding that idea. Looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one of the most famous metrics to determine motivation and self-actualization, there are four steps to climb before achieving self-actualization. Although barely, the people of Zanzibar have just enough necessities to survive and meet their physiological needs. As accurately depicted by Katelephone, they live in a safe village, where everyone watches out for their neighbor’s safety. The people of the community freely interact throughout the day while performing various activities ranging from work to religion. They have big get-togethers where they play futbol or listen to music and dance. Almost all of them know they have an established social place within the community and know they have a valuable role in the community, and thus fulfilling the third and fourth steps of social and esteem needs.Afrika 3

After completing the first four steps, the locals of Zanzibar live happy and motivated by self-actualization. On the other hand, many of the people I know in the US and the western world have been spoiled to the level where they never have enough of the material objects they desire. They live in constant yearning for the newest technology or brand new toy. They rarely feel safe or trust the people around them. They spend countless hours on social media, falsely boosting their ego with “likes” and seldom making meaningful relationships. Finally, they live wondering what benefit they bring to society, not really knowing where they fit in. So, how is this a better quality of life? From this perspective, it seems that the poor Katelephone actually lives a rich life, while westerners struggle to find their purpose, motivated by the wrong ideals.

Many nuances could come from these thoughts – some that I could refute by talking about my thoughts in greater detail, and some that I am still struggling to resolve myself. But, stepping back and looking at a bigger picture, I am not trying to say a group of people is better than the other, or that a certain place would provide a greater quality of living, because I don’t think a physical place can provide that for you. Looking and Katelephone and the other locals, they were happy because of what they valued in their lives and the tight bonds they had with their community. When I see many of my peers, friends, and even myself, I see that we worry about irrelevant things and that we value many things that don’t really contribute to our happiness.

I lived in bliss during my time in Tanzania because I felt no anxiety, because I didn’t care for any material objects and because the locals shared their joy with me. As I continue with my life, I want to make sure that I bring a piece of that bliss with me. I want to remember to value the right things. I want to take the time to sto, think about my life and be grateful. This experience was so crazy kama ndizi because what I learned from the villagers in Zanzibar fundamentally changed the way I want to live my life. I don’t want to live without a purpose, and I believe that my purpose is to live happy and spread that happiness. The challenge moving forward is to ensure that every day, I live without fear and that every activity that I engage in connects in some way to my purpose.

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Trip to Nicaragua

This STEP Signature Project is done with FIMRC and aims to provide health care for the community of Rivas, Nicaragua. My main project is to go to schools and teach the students and parents regarding basic health literacy such as how to do CPR, and treating burns and cuts. Along with this, other projects I have done include, shadowing and helping the pediatrician and OB/GYN, spending time with children with Down symptom, and inputting diagnoses into the FIMRC database, among other things as well.

Prior to coming to Nicaragua, I have always thought that I don’t need that many things in life, yet leaving behind the amenities of the US made me realize just how wrong I was. Living with a host family allowed me to experience first-hand the daily life struggles of the community members. The constant blasting of AC, the lack of mosquitoes and reptiles, the daily hot showers were what I had always taken for granted back in the US. Yet, even before I came here, I knew I was going to struggle with those things, but actually experiencing the struggle was something else. Still, there were things I did not expect.

I did not expect to develop such intimate relationships with the people here. In this community, everyone is friendly, everyone is family. I did not expect to enjoy running crazily while playing tag with my host brothers and sisters. Knowing so little Spanish upon my arrival, I did not expect to enjoy conversing with everyone and hearing their resonating laughter at my failed attempts. I did not expect, most of all, that I will miss everyone here. I knew that I would build relationships here, yet I had thought that a month’s time was too short for building any strong foundations. I was wrong.

In Nicaragua, time runs much slower. Instead of rushing from one task to another, most of the time here is spent “placticar-ing” or just sitting around and talking with each other. This point not only runs through my time with my family, but during my internship as well. Everything is “chill”, and nothing ever rushed. Also, since internet is so limited here, it forces people to talk with each other rather than constantly looking at our phones.

I return back to my host family at around 4:30. At this time, the entire family lounges around outside on either hammocks or chairs. Without any internet and distractions, I would often talk with my family (despite not knowing much Spanish) regarding their day and plans they are looking forward to. In my family, we would always make dinner together. Because the food here is rather simplistic such as rice and beans, I have been able to help as we shared in the precious tradition of the making and eating of food. All this down time to talk and connect with my family helped me develop stronger relationships with the people in my community.

As for my internship, we see each other every day from Monday-Friday between the times of 8am and 4pm. During this time, we all have the same goal: to just be hands and help as many people as we can. Every other weekend, we would go on trips to other places. All this time spent together has really allowed all of us to bond. Along with that, communication with the other interns is so much easier and through helping each other we are able to understand and say what we want with our combined knowledge of Spanish. All these experiences and time spent with the other interns to work toward the same goal brought us together.

This trip has helped me in all fields of my life: academic, personal, and professional. It has helped me solidify my passion for attending medical school through shadowing the pediatrician and the OB/GYN. I have realized that I really enjoy helping people, I really enjoy science, and I really enjoy developing relationships. What better way than medicine? My personal life of developing connections with everyone here, interns and host family, are life long and something that I will bring back to my life in the US. Both my academic and personal goals help me to reach my professional goal. I now have more connections with people in the medical field and am able to confirm future plans as to what I want to do with my life.

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