By Paulette Thabault, Director, School of Nursing

Seven Norwich nursing students and their professor, Jessica Woods, RN, DNP, spent a summer week in San Ramon, Nicaragua, where they joined a medical mission brigade, providing health education and health care services to impoverished villages in the second poorest country in the western hemisphere.

The trip by Shannin Miksek ‘17, Michelle Sykes ‘17, Christopher Theroux ‘17, Wren Arvanetaki  ‘17, Rory Tafuto  ‘17, Bonnie Pollard ‘18, Sommer Libbey ‘17, was sponsored and organized through Corner of Love (COL), an organization that provides health care in rural villages in Nicaragua as well as distribution of vitamins, anti-parasitic medications and shoes for children to be able to attend school. The villages served through this group are in the northern mountains and have very little access to health care or clean drinking water.

Over the past decade, COL has been working to improve the health of the community through mobile missions and improving access to clean drinking water through water projects projects such as piping clean water into schools and churches, installing water fountains and storage tanks, and repairing water lines.

The Norwich nursing students worked alongside nurses, physicians and other volunteers and with the aid of translators, provided for 780 patients, distributed 1,560 items of clothing, 515 pairs of shoes and provided 2,340 needed prescriptions. They also offered health education to villagers. Prof. Wood said she was “impressed at the teamwork that quickly developed amongst the team members (including her husband and two children), many who just met for the first time and joined together to provide care to so many people.”

Student Bonnie Pollard shares her journal for one day of the mission:

“Traveling to Nicaragua with a bunch of unknowns ahead of me was almost exciting. The first day we arrived at the Quinta Missionary where we stayed for the week equipped with the “luxuries” of home if you will. Describing her first mission day:

Cold shower. Humidity already set in. Two cups of wonderful coffee already on the veranda with a beautiful view.

Pancakes for breakfast.  All scrubbed up and ready to go. Team meeting and a loaded bus, happy people everywhere we go. Met the kitchen staff.  Grateful and happy for us.  I say thank you for feeding us.

People here honk at each other as they drive by in a vehicle, well not all vehicles, buses mostly.  Not many vehicles.  Motorcycles, bicycles and walking seems to be the way.  Only the affluent have cars.

Bus ride up to the mission; after we got through Matagalpa, the kids ride on top of the bus.  Imagine that?  The road to Sieres village is on the side of a mountain, road is one lane, horribly rocky and 30 minutes away from Quinta Missionary (our home base).  We arrive, a coffee bean farm.  The clinic is being held in a church.

A small glitch in the arrival to clinic: ROADBLOCK. The one-way in, one-way out road had a truck parked right in the middle. Much to my surprise, they were “making” a road. Cross-shaped paved blocks, created as we walked.  The entire village came out to welcome us and because we couldn’t drive right up to the clinic, the entire village – men, women and children alike – helped us haul our full suitcases of clothes, medical supplies and goods to the clinic.  The community here embraced us. It was amazing.

The day proved hot and humid.  We served over 85 people / families.  The flow was quick. The atmosphere was light and happy.  The only tears came from las ninas (girls) who were unhappy from discomfort or fever!   My job was to take vital signs. All day I stated “Voy a Tomar su temperatura, de bajamos la lengua,” or, “I’m going to take your temperature under your tongue.” Laughed at, smiled at and giggled at because of my horrible accent and attempt of the Spanish language.   I laughed at me. Light humor. Happy people.

At the end of the clinic day, Nelson presented the pastor with the money that the village people paid for their clinic passes as well as a match from the COL. Approximately 1500 Córdoba (or $60 dollars), will go towards their indoor plumbing in the church.   Amazing and so moving.

We broke clinic down as fast as we put it up. Again the villagers came to help us walk our clinic back to load the truck.

I can not even begin I explain the impact of THIS day on me. My heart is so full.  Going to school to “become something” has a different meaning.

The happiest people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything.”

Student Michelle Sykes echoed this sentiment. “I had an amazing experience in Nicaragua. I hope the NU nursing program continues offering such a life-changing opportunity in the years to come for all nursing students. I learned so much from this trip… I am truly grateful for having been given this opportunity,” she said.

While in Nicaragua, Norwich students also implemented a community project that focused on oral health. They educated villagers on oral care methods and distributed toothbrushes and toothpaste along with other personal hygiene items and clothing. Rory Tafuto summarized the experience this way:

“Everything about the trip was incredible, COL founders, Tanya and Nelson, and the entire Corner of Love team, were wonderful people to get to know and work with. I was able to gain community health experience and immerse myself in an entirely different way of life and culture of people. The smallest acts of kindness bring the Nica people to tears. We cannot change their poverty and lack of access to health care in a matter of five days, but we can give the villagers vitamins and other vital medications, and most importantly, give them hope – with the knowledge that people in this world care about them. I am so thankful that I had this opportunity and encourage anyone who desires to help those in need to take advantage of it in the future.”

The COL organization has recently established a permanent clinic in San Ramon that will allow for better follow-up care for the villagers as well as greatly needed ongoing services. Among the most common illnesses are parasite infections from contaminated drinking water, skin infections from poor sanitation, and respiratory illness that are aggravated by cooking over open fires.

When asked about her experience, Wren Arvanetaki said: “When I think about my experience in Nicaragua I can say that it truly touched me on a deeper level than I thought it would. I look forward to going back again in the future.”

Students participating on this trip earned one credit for the summer course and also satisfied part of the required clinical hours towards their public health clinical course that they will complete in the spring semester.

For more about Corner of Love visit:

Norwich University Perspectives Project: COVID-19

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