Home in Houston, safe and healthy after an unforgettable nine days in Nicaragua, I am thrilled to write about my experiences leading 32 other inspiring Rice students through Global Brigades to this beautiful country for a medical and public health hybrid brigade. First, I want to give a shout-out to my team of power women: Neena, Olivia H., Olivia A., Michelle, Charlene, and Monica. Without you, we couldn’t have made this trip happen! Another shout-out to the GB staff, especially the trip coordinator Julio and our chapter advisor Danielle, for their hard work and patience leading up to and during the trip.
My experience this year was a lot different from last year’s brigade to Honduras. Having taken on a greater leadership role, I felt a heightened sense of responsibility to make sure everyone was safe, healthy, and having fun. Although it was gratifying to shadow physicians in clinic and assist in taking vitals at the triage station, watching the other students experience the brigade for their first (or second) time touched me even more. In this way, I am humbled to have served as a catalyst to the growth of my peers, who quickly became my good friends.
My leadership skills were tested time and time again throughout the brigade. How was everyone to trust GB’s legitimacy and my own as a student leader when we were told to stay overnight in Managua instead of driving to the compound in Esteli as had been originally planned? When we assigned many students to a gynecology rotation, what were we to do when very few patients (meaning fewer than three) needed a consultation or pap smear? Our return flights were cancelled without forewarning, and not enough tickets were booked for a replacement. How could we get everyone back to the states in one piece? These were only a few of the challenges my team of officers and I faced during the trip. Ultimately, the key to managing unprecedented situations is maintaining poise and confidence. Pessimism and fear spread fast among groups of people. It is critical to reassure everyone of our end goals and to remain approachable to answer all questions.
Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but I am touched with the level of gratitude of its people. Members of San Gabriel, the community where we stationed the medical clinic, held an interactive cultural show for our group involving traditional dances, sack races, musical chairs, and more. Participating in these activities as well as listening to the stories of individual patients led me to ponder the concept of “care.” Healthcare is essentially a service delivered to those in need of diagnosis, treatment, or prevention by practitioners or designated providers. However, “care” is a holistic process with many more stakeholders, including students. I am often asked what I can do myself as a college student in a developing country. While I can’t prescribe medications, diagnose patients, or even perform any of the basic procedures that many students my age can as EMTs, I can provide a perspective and a voice. Through exchanges of language, culture, ideas, sports, physical labor (during the public health projects) and more on this brigade, I have furthered my understanding of many of the facets that combine in synergy to realize quality care. It is through understanding these components of care and providing a voice to those who lack certain components that we can work together to remedy health disparities throughout the world.