I travelled with BUCK-I-Serv to Nicaragua to work with a non-profit public health organization known as AMOS Health and Hope. Over the course of our three weeks abroad, we took part in a global health practicum course in which we did extensive studying of community based health interventions, international health care policies, the history of Nicaragua, and much more. After our first week in the AMOS compound, we were given the opportunity to practice what we had learned in the rural community of Tapasle. We collected data on water purity, surveyed the community on issues that may effect their health, as well as performed health screenings for the children and pregnant women of the community. This culminated in a presentation of our findings to the community leaders with a discussion of possible future interventions.
While performing STEP project, not only did I gain memories I will never forget, but my view of the world became forever changed. I was immersed in a culture and language I did not know and I was challenged to adapt to the new environment. One of the main reasons I decided to come on this trip was to experience for myself some of the stories that my grandfather had told me of his service trips to Central and South America. I was always greatly humbled hearing what conditions the communities he worked with lived in and the types of basic health care that were unattainable for so many families. I was so proud to have a grandfather who I knew had done so much good in the world and I wanted to be able to say I’d attempted to live up to his example. Although he had prepared me for what kind of poverty to expect to see upon arrival to Tapasle, I could only truly understand it seeing it first hand.
Nearly every house we visited were one or two room wood and sheet metal structures with dirt floors. Some of the houses received running water however our studies from the week showed that it was not potable. The standard of living was very different from what I’ve become accustomed to, however, it was one of the most vibrant and loving communities I have ever been in. The children of the community were always smiling and playing, and I was fortunate enough to be able to join them on a couple occasions. One of the most touching moments of experience for me was on our last day in Tapasle following our presentation to the community leaders, the children lead myself and a few of my group members to the top of nearest hill and began to teach us several of their games. One of these games involved clapping our hands in a circle singing a song similar to “down by the banks” with the last person, instead of being eliminated, needing to give a hug to person of their choice in the circle. Without knowing us at all, most of the children gave me and my group members hugs before anyone else. It was a display of unconditional welcome and affection that I will never forget. Compared to most American children, these kids had nothing, and yet they seemed happier than many children I’ve seen in the U.S with more toys than they could ever need.
Another very humbling moment came when we sat down with the community leaders one evening and did an activity put on by the AMOS staff. We were asked to draw pictures describing what we were thankful for, what we believed our strongest traits were, and what obstacles have made us who we are today. The activity was meant as an empowerment tool for the community members, and to help us all relate to each other. As I began to draw my pictures, I realized this activity was about more than that and I was forced to stop. I could not think of any obstacles I had faced that would compare to anything these people have been through. I realized how privileged my upbringing had been compared to the others around me. I was forced to think hard and I ultimately answered that my grandparents passing away was one of my biggest obstacles. The woman who went after me nearly immediately broke into tears. While I didn’t want to talk about my privilege growing up, she didn’t want to burden us with her misfortunes. Her parents had taken her out of school in the second grade and she had never learned to read or write. She was very insecure about her education and had always felt trapped by it, yet she had no opportunity to do anything about it. She had no money, no resources, responsibilities to her children, and no time to dedicate to herself. We all followed her in emotions and most of our group began to cry as well. I spoke with the volunteer coordinator, Desiree, that night about the experience and how guilty I felt about the lifestyle I’ve been allowed to live in a middle class U.S household. She helped me realize that even though most of us have been given opportunities most people here have not received, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them. Limiting our opportunities won’t change the way the world works, however appreciating them knowing how special your opportunities are will help you enjoy them so much more.
As much as I learned from my first hand experience in Tapasle, I learned even more from my BUCK-I-Serv team mates and the AMOS Staff. We spent every day together in close proximity learning about different topics of global health, policy, privilege, and stereotypes and by the end of our time together I realized how much those lessons changed all of us. Although I’d always hoped I remained without bias or judgement, I had never thought about it in as much depth as I did with that group. Everyone had come from very different backgrounds and with their own experiences that have shaped their views of the world. Listening to their stories and realizing together how our perceptions effected our reality made many of us very emotional during some of our discussions but in a way that made us all more open-minded and considerate in the end. I will always be thankful to the other members of my group and the staff of AMOS for opening up so much to us.
Through this project, I was given a new perspective on how I live my daily life. I have grown to appreciate everything more and I have changed the way I interpret others, particularly on their appearances. In addition this trip has given me a new perspective on global health as something I would definitely like to become more involved in later in my life, whether it would be with Doctors without Borders or any other organization. I value what I learned and experienced too much to not want to do it again later in my life.