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Nicaragua Pre-Med & Public Health (Session 1)

Greetings Intro to Pre-Med and Public Health participants,

We are so excited to be inspired while traveling through Nicaragua with each of you! Our trip focus is to contribute to the efforts of improving public health infrastructure and programming through a combination of projects and educational outreach initiatives. You´ll get a chance to shadow healthcare professionals as a way to gain practical field experience and you will surely have some adventures too!

Be sure to bring your willingness to try new things: from making new friends to eating delicious gallo pinto (a traditional rice and beans dish) and more! We look forward to seeing you soon.

All the best,
Your trip leaders Michelle, Jorge, Ashley, and Grace

June 28, 2017

Our first day in Nicaragua was so full and exciting! This morning we woke up to the most beautiful view of Laguna de Apoyo, ate a delicious gallo pinto, and kick started the trip with orientation. We created our own group contract which grounded our group in norms and values in order to create a successful trip. This morning we also took a refreshing jump into the lake and swam around with our new found friends.

After many pictures jumping off the floating dock into the beautiful water, we dried off and headed into the village to learn about traditional pottery. We met a man named Darwin who taught us the skill of clay spinning which was passed down to him through his abuela and earlier generations. Some of us even got to spin clay ourselves, while all of us got to carve our own designs into beautifully pre-made vases. After finishing our pottery projects, we headed to Volcan Masaya. As we rode in the bus to the top of the volcano, we saw a gorgeous view of the main plateau and heard stories from our group leader, Jorge. He explained the story of the indigenous people who were living under the volcano the last time it erupted. As they tried to escape, their footprints were left in the hardened lava. Today, you can still see their footprints because they are preserved in a museum.

After a long day of learning, we closed the night at Asados with some yummy meat, veggies, beans, and rice!
– Chloe

June 29, 2017

After a restful nights sleep, we awoke to Laguna de Apoyo shrouded in a haze. We had all packed the night before, so we carried our luggage outside. We congregated for breakfast, where we had the option of the traditional Nica breakfast, or an omelette with toast. We then took in our surroundings one last time before getting on the bus for an hour long ride to Managua. We were able learn more about city life in Managua, as while as the current political situation in Nicaragua.

Once in Managua, we met with Yamileth Perez, a local health worker. She shared the experiences of locals working in Acahuelinca which is a neighborhood that surrounds one of the largest garbage dumps in the world. Yamileth shared her personal struggles as she had once survived off her findings in the dump.

Afterwards, we had lunch at a delicious vegetarian buffet, where we were served fresh-pressed juice. After that, we made our way to Villa el Carmen. We learned from Directora Karla Talavera about what it is like to work in a rural public health clinic. We were able to ask her all of our questions ranging from rationing goods to teen pregnancy to abortions. We made our way to Gran Pacifica, and we were able to settle into our houses for the night. It was an incredible day to reflect on the cultures and lifestyles of Nicaragua, as well as consider how fortunate we are with our lives back home. We are looking forward to seeing what adventures this trip will bring us.

– Sage

June 30, 2017

We woke up to a day full of excitement and were ready for our first day at the clinics. Because we had to be at the clinics at 8 am, we all had to wake up at 6:30. It wasn’t surprising that it was difficult for most of us but the tasty eggs, rice, fruit, and watermelon juice made our early morning a little bit more bearable. As we waited for our usual bus to arrive we could hear a loud rumble coming from somewhere in the distance. Curious to see what it was we headed towards it and at the end of the road there was a colorful and lively school bus waiting at the corner to take us to the clinics.

We were split into three groups where two of them went to smaller and more intimate clinics. The rest of us went to Centro de Salud Villa el Carmen, a larger clinic where we did rotations and got to see several different areas of the clinic. Just a few of the things we got to see was a man getting stitches, a woman getting a tooth pulled, and malaria testing. We all met up again for lunch where we had more meat, rice, beans, and vegetables. When we were finished with lunch we went back to the clinic and scrubbed the walls so that they were clean enough to be painted the next day. Scrubbing the walls was definitely a hot and tiring job, but we all worked together and got the job done quickly and efficiently. By the time we got back to Grand Pacifico, we were all so tired that almost everyone fell asleep right away.


July 1, 2017

Today we were awoken by the comforting and familiar scent of Bisquik pancakes at around 7:00 am. Although it interrupted our routinely Gallo Pinto breakfast, it was happily welcomed by all of us. At 8:00 am, we piled our day bags, gloves, and brooms into our school bus to travel to the clinic. All of the preparatory work from yesterday allowed us to finally get started on our service project. The desired task by the clinic’s director was that we re-paint the corridors of the clinic’s waiting rooms.

Together, we unboxed faint yellow and tangerine orange paints and got down to business. While the majority of the girls were hard at work applying paint on the walls, there were also observational rotations for the clinic’s emergency room. Unfortunately, when it was my turn to observe the ER, they didn’t have many patients to attend to and also lost electrical power. My partner, Chloe, and I were instead given the opportunity to go to the clinic’s maternity ward (Casa Materna). We met two women there; one that was 6 months pregnant and one that was 8 weeks pregnant. Chloe and I were able to ask them questions such as why they were in the ward and how they were being treated. In my opinion, the truly eye opening experience was seeing the room which the mothers were provided with when in need of long term medical assistance.

The one room consisted of eight single beds, one baby crib (covered by a bug net), and no air conditioning. The caretaker explained that this small maternal clinic, although accommodates a lot of the women’s needs, doesn’t have enough resources to actually birth children. She also shared that teenage pregnancy is not uncommon here in Villa el Carmen and Nicaragua in general. These drastic comparisons between the United States and Nicaragua solely from the medical field were very interesting and thought provoking. I feel as though these are the experiences that shape what it means to be a global citizen. They make me understand not only the girls that have come on the trip with me better, but also the daily lives of Nicaraguans (such as those pregnant women in the maternity ward) on a personal and human level.

– by Isabel T.

July 2, 2017

After a long day of painting we were rewarded with what I like to describe as a day of relaxation. We woke up at our latest which was 8:00 am. We changed into our bathing suits and prepared for our day at the beach. For breakfast we had gallo pinto with the side option of yogurt & granola and diced watermelon. Soon after, we were on our way to the beach. Here, as we waited for the lifeguards to check the waters, we stretched and enjoyed the view. The sand was somewhat grey but familiarly hot. It was a cloudy day but with still enough heat for some of us tan. We saw huge waves; so huge that in fact we were told to stay waist level deep. We gathered around 11:30 am to take a group photo and then to go back to the resort where we had lunch. We had breaded chicken with rice and beans. Right after we were granted the opportunity to phone home and connect with our families. Thereafter, we did laundry and just studied the history of Nicaragua. Before dinner we had a group discussion about the history and did 2 minute bios. We ate tacos with pico de gallo for dinner, then came a logistical meeting and then we packed for tomorrow for it was our last night at the resort.


July 3, 2017

Unfortunately, today was the last day of clinical rotations. My first rotation was to the emergency room and it was very eventful. We started off saying hello to the locals waiting for the attention of a very stressed doctor. Later we ventured forth to see the maternity ward to meet a wonderful young mom who just gave birth to a beautiful baby. After 40 minutes in the emergency room, we rotated to the fast paced pharmacy. There we got to meet two very talkative women who asked lots of questions and who wanted to truly know who we are. During the first 20 minutes, a young girl named Gabriella came in to see her father and to help us gather the medications for the patients. Later we found out that her birthday was today and that she was turning 10. The group of girls I was with sang happy birthday in Spanish and in English. We proceeded to celebrate with pan and a big glass of Coca Cola. They portioned the Coca Cola out with small zip-lock bags. You drank it by cutting off a small parts of a corner and drinking it by placing pressure on the juice so that the juice squirts out. After the celebration we went to the general doctor. There were many patients coming in and out who all seemed to have similar problems. Whether it was anemia due to the lack of nutrition, overweight due to not being mindful of the food eaten, or the multitude of pregnant women there for a regular check up. As the day went on we ate a traditional Nicaraguan lunch, and proceeded to the learn more about the Esperanza en Acción. This fair trade nonprofit organization that aims to empower artisans from Nicaragua and lift them out of property. There we bought baskets, bracelets and hand made goods where 100% of the proceeds go to the women and their families. Lastly we ate dinner in an El Salvadorian restaurant. And ended the very busy day with a well deserved rest.


July 4, 2017

Today was an eventful day for us girls here in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. We woke at 8:30 AM after getting a much needed 11 hours of sleep. For our morning meal we had the option of either pancakes or the classic “Nica” breakfast with either coffee or tea. After brushing teeth, washing and filling water bottles, and sun screening up, the group set out around 9:30 AM. We walked only a short distance before arriving at an alternative medicine clinic. At this clinic, we were welcomed by two lovely employees, José and Natalie. We divided into two groups, one staying with Natalie and the other venturing off with José. With Natalie we learned all about alternative health techniques such as natural medicines, acupuncture, and yoga. This talk was incredibly interesting to many girls like me, who have not had much experience with natural medicine, coming from California. Next we took a turn with José, where we got a taste of what he does as a spiritual leader. He led us through an emotional meditation in which we welcomed our younger selves and childhood dreams into our present day selves. After saying our goodbyes, we traveled by foot to lunch and engaged in a delicious classic Nicaraguan meal with many options of rice, plantains, and salsas. With full stomachs, we traveled to “Mantagalpa Tours” where we met our guide, Marlin. Marlin took us on a detailed tour around the city in which we visited the city cathedral, an exquisite lookout point of the city, and a colorful graveyard. The rain came quicker than expected, and we were eventually rained out of our graveyard tour with soaked bodies. After saying goodbye to Marlin, we headed to our most “American” meal of the trip to celebrate our Independence Day back in the states: Italian cuisine. We feasted on gourmet pizzas and pastas with fresh juices, and concluded the night with a brisk walk home and our nightly logistical meeting. Though a busy and tiring day, we gained so much knowledge and insight into the lives and culture of Nicaraguans here in Matagalpa.


July 5, 2017

Today after a traditional Nicaraguan breakfast we walked down to the alternative health clinic which we also visited yesterday. We split back into our groups to learn about the history and practices of shiatsu massages as well as techniques of acupuncture. During a shiatsu massage certain points on your back correspond to emotions that you are feeling internally such as: anger, stress, guilt and more. We learned that acupuncture helps release toxins or emotions throughout your body. We all had the chance to try out these methods. After this visit to the clinic we made our way to lunch where we also ate yesterday. This restaurant serves common dishes of Nicaraguan cuisine like gayo pinto, different forms of chicken and beef, and juices. Then after a bit of down time we took a 30 minute ride to a clinic which utilizes medicinal plants as a way of healing. We learned how to make Ungüento Eucalipto, which is made of eucalyptus plant and helps with muscle tension. We took the “good” leaves, cut them up, and put them in a pot to boil with Vaseline. The whole group received individual cups to take home. After heading back to our hostel to drop off our things we strolled to dinner at a new restaurant that served curry, sandwiches, and teriyaki. We began to prepare for our trip to the mountains and home stays with skit demonstrations and talks from our leaders about what to expect. Back at the hostel we packed our things to get ready for our trip up north tomorrow morning. We ended the night with the choice of having a relaxing, deep tissue, or shiatsu massage from masseuses who work at the alternative clinic.


July 6, 2017

Today marked our final morning in Matagalpa! We packed up our bags and had our last breakfast at Martina’s Place. Then, we had a last minute shopping trip for snacks and any homestay necessities before our long drive to lunch in La Dalia. Similar to many restaurants we’ve been to, this place served traditional Nicaraguan foods: rice, tortillas, gallo pinto, a variety of meats, and cooked plantains. After lunch, we began our hour drive to our homestays in Peñas Blancas. As we drove up into the mountains, we admired the green forests and had a sing along. The surrounding environment is very different than what most of us are used to at home: cities, buildings, traffic, and lots of people.

Once we arrived in Peñas Blancas, we were welcomed with smiles, laughter, and open arms. We introduced ourselves to all the homestay moms and they did the same. Two young girls performed a few dances for us and even taught us some of their dance moves. It was interesting to watch and participate knowing that many of the women here are not allowed to dance because it is prohibited for Evangelical Christians. After the dances, Ashley introduced us to our individual homestay families. Many of our homestay dads helped us carry our luggage by hand, on their motorcycles, and a few of us even got a ride in a truck. Most of the houses are a 15 minute walk from Ashley’s house, but a few are a bit further. Once everyone got to their homestay houses, we played soccer and jump rope with the kids, talked with our families, and then had dinner around 6. This homestay experience is new for most of us and the next few days will be quite the adventure. It’s very different from home because some of us have to walk through bushes and trees to get to the bathrooms which are like outhouses. Also, they have outdoor bucket showers. Despite these differences, we are all very excited for a new cultural experience and exchange in Peñas Blancas.

-Julia L.

July 7, 2017

We woke up surrounded by a new, unfamiliar environment but somehow felt right at home. Greeted in the morning by our host families, we sat together to share our first breakfast together to start the day. We enjoyed conversation in Spanish and took our skills to a new level. We then were ready to start our journey supporting the dental brigade here in Peñas Blancas. We walked through the scenic, mountainous area surrounded by nature, wildlife and fast moving streams. After about 15 minutes we arrived at the main shelter to find all of the dental equipment set up on a table along with one dental chair and two plastic chairs for patients to sit in. We met with the three dentists who explained to us their purpose to provide dental care for the residents of Peñas Blancas and some neighboring communities. We learned and observed about all sorts of extractions, fillings, cleanings, and other procedures. We helped the dentists clean their tools and keep their stations sanitary, and also we held cups of water for patients to spit into and held the light to help improve visibility. Then we returned home for lunches with our families and then reconvened for our afternoon workshops. Half of us enjoyed a hike to learn about medicinal plants and the rest of us made bread. In the bread workshop we rolled dough made from corn and created different shapes. We also learned the different kinds of flavors you can add like sugar, cinnamon and different spices. After rolling more dough we put our creations in to the bread making oven and waited for our final product. When it was finished and the hikers returned we all enjoyed the bread together. The bread was made from corn and tasted delicious. Then we returned back to our families before dinner. All of the kids and us joined together to play a game of hide and seek within the border of our houses and we all shared smiles and fun. At dinner with our families we talked about our plans for the future and our families back home that we all love and miss. As the sun went down we stayed inside our own houses and began to wind down by playing cards and drinking tea all together. We played uno first and my home stay brother and I ended up being the last two in the game for an hour! We could not reach a winner! But eventually we did and then it was time for bed. We were exhausted after a long day so we fell right asleep.
– by Krissy

July 8, 2017

Today we woke up at about 7:30 to the loud crow of a rooster. To begin the day we had a homemade Nicaraguan breakfast with our homestay families. My family had an over easy egg with gallo pinto and avocado. We proceeded to hike to the worksite, while four other group members went to the dental brigade. At the worksite we continued to dig the trenches where we will eventually lay pipes for water. Using pick axes and shovels we broke up the first layer of dirt and rock to expose the softer mud and clay underneath. The cool, cloudy weather and wind was perfect for the day’s work. By working together we quickly made a lot of progress. At about 11:40 we finished up the trench, cleaned the tools, and headed back to our homestay families for lunch. Meanwhile at the dental brigade, the group members helped the dentists set up for the incoming patients. Today they got to see extractions, fillings, and cleanings, acting somewhat as dental hygienists for the dentists. After helping the dentists to clean up their worksite, those group members also went back to their homestay families for lunch. My homestay family had chicken, rice, potatoes, and a tomato and onion salsa as we listened to the rain pour onto the tin roof of our house. After lunch we considered today’s options for afternoon activities: a tour of the coffee fields or making bracelets at Ashley’s house with some of the local women. For those making bracelets, the hike down to Ashley’s house was scenic as usual and some of the group members got to see a snake! Upon arrival at Ashley’s house we were introduced to the women and began the bracelet making process. About three hours later those who went on the coffee tour reunited with us at Ashley’s house and we had our daily group meeting. Now, we’re heading back to our homestay houses for dinner, family activities, and sleep.

July 9, 2017

On this beautiful July day, we woke up to the fresh air of the rain forest around 6:45. We went down for breakfast and were greeted by our welcoming host family; on the table were eggs, rice, beans, avocado, and coffee. After a delicious and nutritious breakfast we waited for our other friends to walk down the hill so we could head off to our destination–the dental brigade. The four of us went to assist the dentists while the other group members continued to build the composting toilet. After admiring the scenic nature view of the rainforest, we finally arrive at the community center where an abundance of patients were waiting. The dentists told us to put gloves and masks on and get ready to work. Throughout the day, we were divided into different groups and observed dental cleanings, cavity fillings, and tooth extractions. The tooth extractions were especially interesting because of the satisfaction I observed as the dentist pulled out the tooth; sometimes it took an elongated period of time to fully extract the tooth, but the experienced dentists eventually were successful. In total we saw about 20 patients in the matter of 3 hours. In the afternoon, we enjoyed a productive day with the choice either wood working or cooking nacatamales. After this experience, we eventually hiked home to our warm and embracing families! Meeting new people in this inviting community really is making this trip a lasting memory.


July 10, 2017

This morning we woke up at around 7:00 to the delicious smell of our homestay mothers fabulous cooking. Our nutritious traditional Nicaraguan breakfast of gallo pinto and eggs was full of all the necessary healthy ingredients to give us energy and start a wonderful day! While four of us went to the dental brigade the rest of us put the finishing touches on the composting toilet for a neighborhood homestay family. Covered in sweat and mud, we left satisfied in knowing our work would make the lives of the people here so much easier. Meanwhile, in the dental brigade, we witnessed and helped with exciting tooth extractions and fillings. We also performed usual tooth cleanings. Although these are not as satisfying as tooth extractions, they are vital to the general tooth health of the people of Peñas Blancas. Later on in the day we had two choices of activities. Half of us went on a beautiful scenic hike to the base of a spectacular waterfall. We trekked across rivers and through roots and boulders but the draining steep climb was worth it in the end as we arrived right in front of the ginormous, magnificent waterfall and our sweat was washed away by the misty spray of the water crashing on the dangerous looking rocks. The other half of us helped with an English class with the women of the village. In the english class we got to interview the moms and learn who they are as a person as well as their likes and dislikes. It was a humbling situation where the moms and us were vulnerable and used the situation to grow in a relationship with each other. Afterwards we had a goodbye ceremony and dance at the cooperative to celebrate and commemorate our time in Peñas Blancas.


July 11, 2017

We had an early morning awakening for our last short morning with our home stay families. After breakfast, we all walked down to Ashley’s house to load our bags on the bus. That was our last muddy, wet walk with our useful rain boots. We said sad goodbyes to our family and friends whom we had spent quality time with the past five days. We took pictures together and exchanged gifts and warm hugs. They asked us when we would come back and visit. :’) All of us loaded onto the bus and prepared for the tedious six hour ride back south to Laguna de Apoyo. We made a few stops at gas stations for water, snacks, bathrooms, and to stretch our legs. The first few hours on the bus were spent sleeping, resting, or doing quiet activities. The last few hours, the sugary foods kicked in and we were talking and listening/singing to throwback songs. When we finally arrived to our destination, we unloaded the bus and walked down to our rooms. We had rooms of four people and we were able to choose our roommates for the final 2 nights. Shortly after, we walked down to lunch and ate either a chicken, pork, or vegetable plate with rice and plantains. The juice was a mango blend which was super sweet and tasty. We ate, talked, and admired the view we had additionally seen the first two days of our trip. As we gathered in a circle, we debriefed and shared a few things we learned about our service work over the past two weeks. We all agreed that the smallest actions can have the biggest changes. The work we accomplished is effective on the community even though we cannot always see how helpful it is in the short time that we are here. After sharing, we put on our bathing suits and went for a swim in the lake overlooking the mountains. There were some other tourists (who spoke english!) around the Laguna swimming and eating. We attempted to get a tan, however the clouds were mostly covering the bright sun. Our time outside was interrupted by a quick swarm of rain, however some brave girls and Jorge still stayed in the water. We finally took nice showers in a sanitary bathroom (which was incredible because we had cold bucket showers for the past 5 days) and then hung out outside and in our rooms before dinner at 7. We ate dinner together and then wrote letters to ourselves which will be sent to us a year from now. We wrote about our goals, aspirations, and experience here in Nicaragua.