Mission in Nicaragua

Nights in Nicaragua were dark. It wasn't just because electricity was on short supply, although that was true. Nights were serious, reflective, and quiet...because days were bright, hot, and characterized by exhausting work in the clinic. During our 10-day program at NDI's integrative medical clinic in Nicaragua, we volunteers maxed and relaxed as we bounced along at the whim of the country, its people, and its water shortage.

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"Are you coming back next year?" is a question that I heard my own voice and those of others asking from Day 1. Because of the earthquakes, the water shortage, the power loss, and the run-of-the-mill "getting to know you" period with the new doctor, many of the responding voices said, "No." By day 10, there was a noticeable shift towards "YES." How did Nicaragua dig into our hearts and pull us towards the Yes end of the spectrum in just a few days?

2014-05-13_nic4Fellow NUHS AOM students Irene Walters, Yvonne Gonzales, and Melissa Espinoza, and our invaluable ND student, Kaley Burns, committed to helping a very poor and very remote community on the island of Ometepe during our trimester break. What we discovered there was how deserving and appreciative the people of Los Angeles, Moyo, Altagracia, and many other nearby towns are of the natural medicine clinic that serves their needs.

Some days went by quickly, as dozens of people were called up from their backyard waiting room chairs, where they had sat patiently for several hours, only to be rewarded with a tincture, a needling session, and a massage as applicable for each condition. Other days seemed to drag on forever as we sat waiting between patients in the stifling 99 degree heat in a 3-room clinic. Either way, we made it back to our homestay families each evening for a hot meal and a cold shower.

Nicaragua leaves me with so many take-aways that each year I've been hard pressed to name the most important thing I learn on this trip. The value of integrative medicine? The versatility of botanicals? The severe need and appreciation of the people on Ometepe? The feeling of being so sure that I am on the right path? Um, all of the above!

The nightly discussions at the Rancho after long workdays, hot dinners, and cold showers provided the missing information that I've been seeking for years. Why are these people unable to receive adequate care in their own country on their own accord? Why do Americans feel a need to travel to Central America and assist? Learning about the history of Nicaragua and its relations with the U.S. is not just enlightening for the volunteers, but it also helps us understand the role that America and other first-world nations have played in pushing Nicaragua to its current state of affairs today. Why do we go there to help? Well, because we were part of the problem in the first place.

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Nights in Nicaragua were dark for a reason. Yes, as everyone pointed out on Facebook, we had access to the Internet...for about 20 minutes per day, at one location, if it even worked at all. The nightly Internet access was a small part of our experience, dwarfed by the gravity of our work during the day. Nightly classes and discussions in the Rancho--our open-air meeting place in town--allowed each weary volunteer to start processing what we did that day in a meaningful way. With each huge, scary gust of end-of-the-dry-season wind, we grabbed at our flying papers and felt the country penetrate further and further into our hearts and minds.

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Will I go back to the NDI clinic on Ometepe island? Yep. I want to see how many of those malnourished children used the toothbrushes that I handed them. I want to see how many of the little kids with a parasite felt better and started eating again. I want to see the woman whose blood sugar was over 400 report that the Berberine was helping manage her diabetes better than the Metformin was(n't). I was relieved that we didn't see any brink-of-death premature babies this year, but there were still many, many people who needed our help. I'll be back. And I hope that next year YOU come with me!