We'd like to express our sincerest thanks and heartfelt gratitude for every single person and organization who has contributed to or supported our trip to Nicaragua this March:
Seven Springs Mountain Resort
Squirrel Hill Rite Aid & its customers
Market District Giant Eagle
Bay & Lake Pharmacies
Carnegie Mellon University Health Services
Girl Scouts, Troop 3355
Dr. John Schneider
Carnegie Institute of Technology
Carnegie Mellon University Tartans Abroad
Joint Funding Committee
Mellon College of Science
Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Carnegie Mellon University Crowdfunding Donors
Special shoutout to:
Rachel Coicou, R.N.
Dr. Jose Pacheco
Dr. Jason D'Antonio
All the Global Medical Brigades staff at Estelimar: Jairo Cortez, Carla, Darling, Mr. Pacheco, Dr. Ruth, Dr. Maria, Dr. Nelson
Today was the last day of the medical brigade and our entire trip. We went back to the community Santa Isabel with one goal in mind: to see as many patients and distribute as much needed medicine as we could.
In the morning, I was assigned to the pharmacy - my favorite station. Prescriptions flooded in like crazy. Everyone dashed around our pharmacy room, putting together bags filled with prescribed medicines. Our pharmacist, Dr. Pacheco, checked that we had the right medications before giving the patients their prescriptions. His tireless enthusiasm kept us all in high spirits.
In the afternoon, Aashir, Donna and I shadowed Dr. Ruth. She was amazing. Not only did she take the time to address each and every patient's concerns, she taught us how she reached each diagnosis. We were given the chance to listen to healthy and asthmatic lungs, to differentiate between upper and lower urinary tract infections, to examine the effect of viral infections on tonsils, and so much more.
We had been expecting to see roughly 400 people from several nearby communities over the course of three days, but we saw 350 people today alone. Everyone, from our GMB group to the GMB staff to the local doctors, worked extremely hard to make sure every last patient who traveled to the clinic was seen. Some students and doctors even worked through their lunch breaks!
In the end, we donated all the medicines and medical supplies left over to the local clinic. We actually had to rush back to the compound in order to pack and make it to the airport. By nighttime, we were already flying back to Houston, Texas. All of us wondered how we were to survive the next day of normal, college classes after this awesome and eye-opening experience.
Yesterday I had been frustrated because I wasn’t sure how much of a difference I was making and I wasn’t sure if what I was doing has left any sort of impression on the people that had come to visit us. But today was our last full day here and I wanted to keep an open mind.
Today I was assigned to shadow one of the dentists in the morning and then to work in the pharmacy in the afternoon. To be honest, this morning I had come into the clinic slightly afraid of mouth blood, but after today, I had grown out of my fear. While shadowing the doctor, I did not only get to seeing teeth cleaning, but I also got to see several teeth extractions on men, women, and children of all ages. It is honestly flabbergasting to see the conditions in which the people here live with and how the lack of medical attention has let to such great extremes. And although I was not able to establish any personal connections with the patients, I hope that our presence did impact them in some way.
Tonight was also our last reflections. As all of us gathered near the pool one last time to go over logistics and share stories, I could not believe that our trip was already coming to an end. But looking back, I think it is incredible to see how much we had all come and changed as individuals and how we actually did make a difference. Earlier in the day I was worried about whether or not I was actually making a difference in the medical portion of the brigade, but after hearing about the number of people that we had served and the stories of my peers, I realized that I did not have that much to worry about. Together as a team, we made a large scale difference by providing people who would otherwise not get medical attention with the doctors and medication that they needed. Although the difference we made at the clinic was very different than how we impacted people in La Naranja, all of our efforts were worth it.
After an exhausting 3 days of mixing concrete and lifting cinder blocks, we arrived in Santa Isabel for our first day of clinic. We began to unload over 30 suitcases of medication and medical equipment while hundreds of patients lined the clinic fence. Some of the community members have been waiting for hours on end for us to arrive, so we immediately being setting up each station. Lanya and I frantically ran around the small infirmary that only had 5 separate rooms. Where was the pharmacy going to be? Where were the doctors going to be? How were the dentists going to share tools if they aren’t in the same room? Was this room ok? No, it’s not big enough for all our medication!
As patients began to flood into the clinic, more and more issues came about. There were no chairs for triage, no space for the charla, and the dentists were working in different rooms -- absolute chaos. Each E-board member was directing a different portion of the clinic where we were all panicking. I attempted to organize the dental charla.
During our first round of the dental charla, several children shoved their neon colored toothbrushes in my face as I attempted to stay calm and squeeze toothpaste as fast as I could. In the middle of being overwhelmed by the simple task of squeezing a tube of pink, candy flavored toothpaste, a pair of wrinkled arms tightly wrapped themselves around me. I gasped and clutched the toothpaste. To my right, there was a lady glued to my side about half a head smaller than I with gray hair in a brown clip with rhinestones. I had nearly covered her in sweet smelling pink goo. As I tried to collect my thoughts, she continued to bear-hug me and simultaneously rock me back and forth. She whispered, “Muchas gracias, Muchas gracias, Muchas gracias.”
By the time we arrived at Enrique’s house, the roofs and the door were already set onto the hygiene station. Some of the pipes were in place and the sink was set. I could no believe far we’ve come in just two and a half days. It was amazing.
With the time left that we had on this last day, we were abled to add two cement patios to the house, one in the front and one on the side. Since we now had a much better idea of how to make and set cement, by noon, we were done. The water was running in the hygiene station. All of the rooms of the house, the shower, the sink, the bathroom, the septic tank, and even the concrete CMU GMB 2015 plaque were completed. All that was left to be done was for the cement floors to dry under the sun. In just two and a half days, we made a difference and that difference was right in front of us. Every sore in my arm and every bit of sunburn was worth what was right in front of us.
At completion, all of us gathered together for one last time in front of Enrique’s house. With his two younger sons and two daughters beside him, Enrique told us his story again. Since his wife’s passing five years ago, Enrique has been left alone to play both the father and the mother for his children. So, he is extremely thankful and grateful to God that we were able to come along. As Enrique spoke, I could see the emotions, the pain and the gratitude, in the eyes of each and every person’s face. And seeing that, I was grateful. I was so glad that we came to visit this family that stayed so strong despite having been through so much. I felt fulfilled because we made a connection with these people in just three days by helping them and working towards a common goal with them. And now, we had reached that goal, and what we had created would stand for at least the next twenty years.
Before he started his speech today, Enrique cried. I am sure that every one of us cried a little on the inside too today. Although we will probably never ever see the family or the masons we worked alongside for the rest of our lives, Enrique’s family has impacted us in such a way that we will never forget. As we walked away from the site and towards the buses, I felt honored to have helped and worked with this family.
The days are hot. The sun is beating down. The work isn’t the easiest. The second day hits the hardest, where the physical wear from the first day similarly wears down on your eagerness for what you’re doing. Despite all this, you would not notice anything on the faces of everyone on the brigade. There was no complaining, whining, or anything else but enthusiasm. The attitude the group came in to the country with, we were determined to leave with also. This second day also brought the house visit to a member of the public health community, an experience the clearly showed the small, but powerful differences that can be made on a trip like this.
On the first day, an elderly man who lived across from Don Mateo’s house came up to the group. He had mentioned that he was prescribed a blood pressure medication by a doctor from neighboring Jinotega, but had lost the instructions on his required dosage per day. Rachel, a registered nurse, knew that this medication was dependent on his specific BP, and the prescription could be really varied depending on the person.
So the next day we brought BP cuffs and made a visit. The man’s daughter, who takes care of her father in her home with her own two daughters and husband, greeted us at the door. Her watery eyes exposed the worry she had for her father’s well being. The father recounted his story of traveling miles to a consultation at the closest hospital, where he was prescribed a host of drugs for his serious heart issues.
When Rachel took a look at the bag that held all of his prescriptions, she was shocked at the disarray the medication was in. It was hard to tell which medicine was daily, and what was over the counter. This shock quickly turned to care. From there Rachel took over, taking the man’s blood pressure to figure out that dosage, but additionally organized his other medicine. It was remarkable to see the distinct difference in how much easier it will be from him now to know what medication to take, and when to take it.
This trip to the elderly man’s house showed a different side to the entire brigade we rarely get to see. It was a bittersweet experience in that we believe we helped figure out a family’s long term plan of action for their sick but proud patriarch, but we can’t help wonder how many others could use help like this. Even through all that, including the tears of a daughter whose love for her father’s health was overwhelming and stressful, we could tell a difference had been made. On the second day of the public health brigades, we truly experienced the entire holistic side of our efforts.
Today was the first day of our public health brigade. We left bright and early in the morning for El Naranjo, which is a very small town about an hour and a half away from Esteli. Once we arrived, we divided ourselves into two separate groups so that one group worked on one family's house and another group worked on another. The house I worked at belonged to the Mateo family.
The house consisted of a kitchen with a wood burning stove that filled the entire house with smoke whenever something was cooking. Our job was to install cement floors in two of the rooms that had dirt floors to begin with. Our other task was to build a latrine, shower, and washing station in their yard. We began the project by making cement, which was a tiring but intriguing process. First, we had to fill buckets with dirt and rocks and add them to a pile. Then we used shovels to stir in cement mix and water. Once enough cement was made, people began adding the cement to the floors inside the house. In the room, the perimeters were first lined so that the cement was level. Then it was filled in, flattened, and smoothed. A lot of the floor was finished before lunch.
At lunch we went to the other family's yard and ate food packed by Global Medical Brigades. After lunch, we continued working on our respective projects. Late in the afternoon, we loaded the buses again and went back to the compound where we enjoyed dinner and spending time with each other.
Even though we arrived late into the night, the Global Brigades staff had us up early eating breakfast and briefing us on our activities for the first day. One of the biggest jobs we had to do upon arrival in country was to count, sort, and prepare the medicine for our medical brigade. Over the past 6 months, we collected medicine via medicine drives at Rite Aid, where we stood outside and asked people if they would kindly donate to our cause. Additionally, we reached out to local doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and hospitals for their support as well. We did a lot of medicine counting and sorting prior to coming to the country, but we weren’t allowed to open the bottles and boxes to sort into the doses that we give to people in country due to customs and immigration restrictions. We split our group into small teams, and everyone efficiently worked together to count the medicine to prepare for the medical brigade. From prenatal vitamins to toothpaste, we brought over $95,000 worth of medicine with us!
Arriving in Managua, Nicaragua
We left for Nicaragua on Saturday, March 7th and made it to the airport for our 5pm flight. We had a three hour flight to Houston, and then an additional 2.5 hours to Managua, Nicaragua, where we arrived late at night (around 12:30am). After clearing through customs, our group finally met up with our Global Brigades staff members and coordinators. After loading everyone's suitcases onto the trucks, along with the 30 check-in suitcases filled with medicine, we began our 2.5 hour drive from Managua to our compound located in Esteli, a smaller town in the central part of Nicaragua. We reached our compound around 5am, tired but excited for the next day.
Although our flight was scheduled for Saturday, Friday marked the official beginning of our trip. We dedicated this entire day to organizing and packing all the medication and medical supplies we had been fundraising for since October. It took several car trips to transport everything from one of our member’s house to the large empty classroom we had chosen. It soon became absolutely packed with boxes, suitcases, and medicine bottles lying everywhere.
It was awesome being able to see how much we had fundraised this year. It surprised a lot of people, who had never seen the entire inventory and who had only gone to their weekly Rite Aid Donation shifts but never organized each week’s worth of collected medicines with me and my Co-Chair, Ash.
We sorted all the medication and medical supplies by drug and dosage before counting every single pill or oral dose that was in the room. To transport everything to Nicaragua, we had each of our members bring a large, check-in suitcase. We loaded the medicines into the suitcases, carefully making sure to widely distribute the medicine in case one suitcase became lost on the trip.
We originally booked the room for six hours, believing that we could easily finish within that timeframe. In the end, it took a whopping twelve hours to fully finish organizing, counting and packing all the medicine and medical supplies.