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Nicaragua: Intro to Pre-Med & Public Health (Session 1) 2016


¡Buenos días PMD1 participants!

We have just finished our action packed Staff Training meetings, where we organized the final details of our trip. We added some exciting activities to our itinerary and are ready to get on the road and share these experiences with you all. If you haven’t heard from them already, look forward to a phone call from Viktor or Jackie in the next few days where you can talk over some of the details of our trip. Victor and Jackie will be at the airport in Miami on travel day, and Ashley will meet the crew in Nicaragua, where she has been busy getting our adventures prepped. This year we are excited to continue our community service work in Los Muñoz and Peñas Blancas. We are all looking forward to seeing you all in just a few days. In the meantime, happy packing!

-Ashley, Jackie, and Victor

June 30, 2016

Our group arrived Managua and headed back to our hotel on the peaceful shore of the beautiful Laguna de Apoyo. Pulling in after dark, we could hear the waves lapping against the sand, but we weren’t sure what to expect in the morning. Exhausted after a long day of travel, we ate dinner and then headed to bed where we fell asleep to the tropical chorus of frogs and  cicadas. Thursday morning, we were greeted with a typical Nicaraguan breakfast of gallo pinto (rice and beans mixed together), cheese, plantains, and eggs. In the daylight, we realized just how majestic this crater lake really is. It’s huge and provides endless opportunities for swimming and kayaking straight from the docks of our hotel. (We will be able to take advantage of that on our last day in the country when we return here for a night.)

After breakfast, we came together for a brief orientation. We played some games to get to know each other, talked about our goals, and created a group contract to guide our time here. We also discussed the ways to keep ourselves and each other safe and healthy while we are here.

After orientation and a delicious lunch, we headed out on an afternoon tour. We were able to stand on the rim of a steaming, active volcano and watch the lava bubbling in its core. We explored the Masaya market and bought some souvenirs. We took a trip to the rim of the lagoon to enjoy the view from the top (gorgeous, and we even got a serenade of the famous song “nicaragua, nicraguita”). Our last stop of the day was a school where they teach traditional ceramics. It was a really cool process.

Our return to the hotel brought dinner and dance lessons (we were naturals!)

So far we are off to a fun start!

Abrazos a la distancia!

July 1, 2016

This morning we had two options for breakfast; the traditional savory Nicaraguan rice, beans, and cheese, and a typical American breakfast with bacon and bread. Shortly after we departed the resort, driving for an hour, absorbing the Nicaraguan landscape, until we met a woman, who told us her heart-wrenching story about her past struggles–working hard for less than 10 Cordobas a day (about 30 cents) in the tobacco fields and the “famous” landfill, La Chureca, but also of her triumphs becoming a leader both medically, and otherwise, of her community. We were also invited to her house, a hot and humid but care – filled environment, which doubled as a medical area.

We had lunch at a vegetarian Hindu restaurant, with dishes bursting with a combination of savory and sweet flavors. A highlight of the restaurant for many of us was the drink selection, which offered unique opportunities to try, among other things, dragon fruit. In the afternoon, we visited another woman, who was also a key community member and volunteer, doing therapeutic work which combined ballet and other types of dance with therapy strategies and messages for those with intellectual disabilities for little monetary incentive. We also visited a community center named Podcasts for Peace, an inspiring organization also started by volunteers. The love we received from the children surprised us. To finish the afternoon, we were welcomed into the small, rural community of Los Muñoz by people gathered at the school, a colorful building built on a muddy foundation.

In the evening, we arrived at our next living destination–a lodge (Reserva Quelantaro) in one of the driest areas of Nicaragua, where we had a fairly traditional Nicaraguan dinner–with the typical cheese and rice with beans, and a flavorful selection of fruit.

July 2, 2016

Today was beach day! We got up early at Reserva Quelantaro to a traditional Nicaraguan breakfast. We packed our swimsuits and clothes for volunteer work and made our way to the beach! Los Cardonas beach is located on the southwest coast of Nicaragua, so we drove for about an hour from the lodge to see the mighty Pacific Ocean for the first time this trip. We got our safety chat from the lifeguards on duty, learning to look out for possible risks and sting rays in the ocean. After this talk, we jumped in the ocean, enjoyed the beach, played soccer, and enjoyed our time in the sun! We then enjoyed lunch in the cabana. Enjoying cold soda pop and fresh juice with our amazing lunch. We then drove back to Reserva Quelantaro, stopping at the Los Muñoz school for our service project. The project we are working on is creating a cement multi-purpose play field at the school. The field will be a place where the kids of Los Muñoz can play soccer and basketball. We carried gravel and rocks to prep the cement that will be laid tomorrow. Tomorrow we are off to our first clinic rotation, and then we’ll continue our work on the field.

July 3, 2016

This morning, we woke up and went to the bathroom, our standard routine. Breakfast was at 7 am, including a delicious variety of omelette, toast, tortillas, fresh fruit, and freshly squeezed juice! We were all wearing our scrubs, which made my dreams of Pre-Med feel more vivid. We made our way to our destination- the Centro de Salud de Villa del Carmen. At the centro, Director Dr. Liria Divian welcomed us and explained how the center wasn’t majorly equipped and didn’t involve traumatic cases. Indeed, she explained how medical treatments were different in Nicaragua. Each community involved a centro clinic that only treated “basic” cases, and the major diseases, infections, and/or traumas were sent to the larger hospitals in Managua. The centro is equipped with only one ambulance and a truck in case of emergencies. The emergency room is open 24 hours, while the rest of the hospital was closed since it was Sunday. Dr. Divian gave us a tour of the clinic and showed us what kind of doctors were available. It made me realize how lucky we are in the a United States to have numerous amount of Doctors who are available to take care of us anytime. However, it doesn’t shade away the fact of how loving and proud these doctors and nurses are to do their work. Right after the clinic, we headed to the Reserva Quelantaro, changed from scrubs to work clothes and enjoyed our lunch – chicken, rice and beans with iced tea lemonade, followed by a little break before heading to our service project.
At the school, we made cement for our project. We were separated by groups- half of us sifted the sand and the rest of the group mixed the sifted sand with dirt and water, with the finishing product- cement. We later on had the chance to play soccer with the children from the community. When the game ended, we headed back to the Reserva. We took a fresh shower, ate dinner, and had the chance to call home, yay! When calls were made, we had already invited the community to come on over to watch a documentary about the traditional school buses in Nicaragua. We ended the beautiful night with group bonding and some rest.

July 4, 2016

Today we had an early morning and drove to the clinic for rotations. We then had lunch and changed into our work clothes before heading back to the school to finish our project mixing cement for the sports court. During this time, we had the opportunity to walk to a snack shop and purchase the snacks of our choosing. We were all blown away by how cheap and delicious these snacks were because they were mainly snacks we hadn’t heard of before. After we completed our work, we got ready for the ending ceremony and enjoyed spaghetti. At the ending ceremony, the group got to preform the cha cha slide for the kids and members of the community and participated in traditional Nicaraguan party games which consisted of musical chairs and pin the tail on the donkey. Before the ending ceremony ended, we had time to dance and play with the kids who were enjoying playing with the glow sticks. Everybody had a wonderful time.

July 5, 2016

We had an extra early breakfast today and went straight to the clinics for day 2 of rotations. At the outpost, we got to see some very interesting cases and did some more hands-on learning. Those at the main clinic got to observe lots of interesting lab work and dental procedures. After finishing up at the clinics and saying goodbye to the doctors and nurses, we went back to the lodge for a final meal in Los Muñoz.

We drove to the school for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the multi-purpose sports court, which was very fun. We loved seeing how much the kids enjoyed the new court. We then settled into the bus for the four hour ride to Matagalpa. When we arrived, we very pleasantly surprised by the cool weather and luxurious eco-lodge. Everyone loved a great dinner of burritos or veggie burgers, and was happy to finally be in Matagalpa. In the evening we reflected on our time at the clinic and spent an hour or two relaxing and talking.

July 6, 2016

We all woke up well-rested and happy to be in a cooler climate. After enjoying a wonderful breakfast of pancakes and fresh fruit, we left for a tour of Matagalpa. We picked up our tour guide, Marlo, and learned all about the history of the city and country. We visited the main cathedral, walked through a plaza, and visited a coffee museum. After the tour, we went back to the eco-lodge and had a great lunch of pasta or chicken and french fries. Next, an alternative medicine specialist visited the lodge and spoke to us about the history and many benefits of eastern medicine.  He demonstrated several different techniques, including acupuncture, shiatsu, chiropractic medicine, and several other alternative approaches.

We then headed to the cathedral and plaza and competed in a scavenger hunt. To win, we had to ask locals a variety of questions about Nicaragua and the city of Matagalpa. After that (Hannah, Emily, Joanny, and Matthew won!), we made a quick stop to buy rain boots for our next destination, then went to a delicious Italian restaurant. We ended the night with some more group bonding and races for a hot shower.

July 7, 2016

Today we woke up at around 7:00 to a grey and rainy morning. We headed to breakfast for some yummy oatmeal, omelettes and fruit! Our morning activity was touring and participating in an alternative medicine health center. We split into four groups and learned about acupuncture, therapeutic massages and floral therapy! Most people didn’t have a lot of experience in alternative medicine so everyone learned something new. To say the least, it was a very relaxing and stress relieving experience.

After learning about alternative medicine we headed to Café La Barista for a delicious lunch of sandwiches and smoothies. We then spent the afternoon touring two private clinics in Matagalpa. The first clinic was more like a hospital you might see in the US – big and sanitary! This was a change of scenery from the small rural health outposts we had worked in earlier on the trip. The second clinic was similar to Planned Parenthood, a smaller clinic focused on sex and health education. We ended the night with a great meal of steak or quesadillas back at the lodge and a group discussion about the homes we will be staying in for the next five days!!

July 8, 2016

Hello, all, and good evening from Peñas Blancas. Today, after a delicious breakfast and and a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up some necessities, our group departed the beautiful city of Matagalpa and took a bus ride to our homestay community. Peñas Blancas is a rural community nestled in coffee territory, with rolling hills and majestic mountains encircling it from all sides. It is home to a spectacular waterfall, two charming footbridges, and lots of friendly people.

The biggest shift for our group today was the change from full group hotel accommodations to homestays. While we are in this community, each pair of students will sleep, eat, and interact with the members of the town. It is a chance to grow our language skills, taste some amazing food, and fully immerse ourselves in the culture. Intimidating? Yes. But undeniably valuable, too. We are all busy settling into this new routine, so buenas noches to all of our “real” family members at home.

July 9, 2016

We began our service projects today. We are split into three groups for the morning. One group joins the volunteer dental brigade at the community center (university students who donated their time to provide dental services to the community.) Another group is completing a water tank restoration project to assure community members have access to clean, potable water. The last group is doing a tubing project to bring clean running water to a home that hasn’t had it.

The hike to the tubing project was super long and muddy became it rained very hard last night. I’m glad we got boots because we sank into the mud numerous times. The man getting the water for his home had spent weeks digging a trench for the piping, and they were so happy for this project.

After lunch, our group headed to a cooking class. We made soup with peppers, tomato, potato, onions and fried dough balls. It was so delicious after preparing it ourselves. After, we celebrated a group member’s birthday with a cake and balloons. We had some free time in the afternoon, so some of us played cards with our host family. Overall, today was super fun.

July 10th, 2016

Today was full of new experiences.  As opposed to the gentle awakening of birds chirping, there were rooster crows instead.   It was easy to forget about the rude awakening when there was such a great view from the front porches of our Nicaraguan host families. We have great views of the coffee farms, white bluffs, and waterfalls. You almost have to pinch yourself every once and a while because it’s so beautiful. Our group was served the usual breakfast of gallo pinto and chicken by our host families, which was delicious, and then we all walked to meet up as a group. (The average time for a walk is 20 minutes.) The long, muddy walk isn’t too bad, though, especially when the group finds a good topic to have a conversation about. Today it was, “what is your passion.”

After meeting up with the group, some of us went to the dental clinic while some of us went “chipping.” The chipping group is slowly working away at the cement on a water tank with axes, with the plan to add more concrete afterwards. (Sort of ironic but for a very good cause.)  After chipping it was time to go back for a delicious lunch and some time to interact with our host families.

In the afternoon, most of our group learned how to make paper beads for bracelets. The women helping us were so quick and good at it that they made three beads for every one of ours! There was also an opportunity to learn about coffee farming. However, the highlight  of the day was definitely the time spent talking with all of the host families. They are genuinely such great people, and their hospitality is immeasurable.

July 11, 2016

We all started the day enjoying breakfast with our homestay families. Then we met up as a group at 8am. Some people helped provide portable water for one family, others worked on the water tank chipping away cement, and the rest assisted the dentists in the clinic. After we spent the morning working, we all joined our host families for a relaxing long lunch. After lunch we met at Ashley’s house and split into 2 groups. One made sweet bread with a local lady from the community, while the other group participated in a woodworking class. In that class they made wooden shapes with colorful strings woven through the middle. Once both groups had finished we had a “jam out session” with the local band. First they showed us some of their music and then we were able to join in, if we wanted to. When that ended we headed back home and enjoyed the rest of the night with our families. After dinner we played card games, laughed, and got to know each other even more. Then it was time for a goodnights’ rest so we could start our busy day tomorrow.

July 12, 2016

This morning we woke up around 6:30 and ate breakfast with our host family around 7. By 8:30 we had spilt up into groups and started working on service projects. Half of us helped out with the dental brigade while the other group helped make repairs to the local water tank. After a morning of hard work, we headed back to our host families for lunch. Then we had some down time well spent with our host families. It’s always a pleasure playing and talking with my host brothers and parents.

By 2:30 we started our afternoon activities. We had the choice of making a Nicaraguan candy for our goodbye party or taking a medicinal plant hike. Although it was raining outside, I put on my rain jacket and went on the hike. It was absolutely beautiful and the views were breathtaking. We learned about many different plants with medicinal uses. I didn’t know how plants could help heal our bodies. We returned from the hike and rejoined the group at 5.

Today was our final night with our host family so the group and all our host families gathered in the cooperative for some final goodbyes. After saying a few words about our family and experience we ate a traditional Nicaraguan dish called Nagatamales. Then we watched traditional dances performed by the girls of Peñas Blancas. After the goodbye party, we headed back home to spend our final night with our families. The power had gone out so we gathered around the kitchen table with flashlights laughing and smiling about our language skills. After a long day and tiring day, we said goodnight and went to sleep.

July 13, 2016

Today we woke up and said our sad goodbyes to our host families. Most of the community came to the cooperative to see us off, as we got on the bus and embarked on a six  hour drive back to Laguna de Apoyo. The drive was a nice way to relax after an eventful five days of intense immersion. We enjoyed the beautiful view outside our windows of the Nicaraguan countryside and stopped in at a restaurant for a sweet tortilla snack with savory cheese called a cuajada. After 3 more hours on the road all of us were excited to cool off in the lagoon. Some people kayaked while others swam. The water was refreshing and we enjoyed the scenic beauty. It was a perfect way to spend our second to last night.

After a delicious dinner (rice and beans have become a constant throughout all our destinations!) we reflected on the homestay as a group, sharing experiences and relating to one another. We said goodnight and headed to sleep. There was not much activity today, but it was important to look back on and appreciate the previous week, and spend time with the group while doing so.

July 14, 2016

At 5 am this morning, we woke up to watch the sunrise over the lagoon. It was so gorgeous! Then at 9.30 we were on the bus on our way to zip-lining. Zip-lining was so incredibly fun! Everyone stepped out of their comfort zones and did fun tricks such as going upside down and bouncing. Some of us even saw monkeys!  Afterwards we went to a cafe for lunch, the food was amazing and the smoothies were even better! Then we went to the market for last minute shopping. Back at the lagoon we took one last dip in the inviting waters. Some of us swam and some even kayaked! Then we had our last dinner together, which was sad, yet we all managed to keep laughing. Finally we gathered on the dock for reflecting on our trip and our final bonding moments. I believe I speak for everyone when I say it was bittersweet, although we are all sad about departing it was great to reflect on all our great adventures and the things we learned.

July 15, 2016

There was a curfew to be in bed at 10:30pm to get enough sleep for the 7am flight back to Miami, which required a 3:00am wake-up time to be at the airport at 5am. However, not many of us got enough sleep after some played card games on the porch til late to spend last moments with new friends made on this trip. 3am quickly came and some of us still needed to finish packing due to the unfortunate occurrence of our hotel not being able to dry our wet laundry on time, so some of us packed wet and humid clothes waiting for a surprise smell 12 hours later when we would open our luggage at home.

At the airport in Managua some goodbyes came sooner than others as some students caught earlier flights while others continued on a different Global Works trip in other countries. Almost 3 hours later though we were back where we started in Miami airport but we were no longer strangers with each other in the group. Having had our cellphones returned to us we started to catch up with our digital lives and events in the US while moving through the airport but we also started to add each other via Instagram, FB, and friendster to stay in touch before we caught our connecting flights back to our home states.

Through parting tears and some confusion of trying to find different airlines for the students, we said our goodbyes but knew we would keep in touch. Our Nicaraguan pre-med trip might have been a short 2 week program but the impact it has had on our lives along with new friends made will last for much longer. What we have learned and experienced in Nicaragua will hopefully influence us not only in our academic work but our personal daily lives.

Til next time, keep global werkin it.