This past Spring Break, most college students could be found on the beaches of South Padre Island or the streets of downtown Austin. Throughout the week, social media sites filled up with photos and videos of their escapades as they embraced their week free from responsibilities.
However, one group of students made quite the exception. From March 4th to March 12th, nineteen TAMIU students dedicated their break to providing simple yet potentially life-saving healthcare and sanitation services to families in Nicaragua.
These students are members of Global Medical Brigades, an international student organization whose vision is “to improve quality of life, by igniting the largest student-led social responsibility movement on the planet.”
Global Medical Brigades allows students from all areas of study to volunteer alongside licensed medical professionals in underserved communities across the world. Some services provided include physicals, immunizations, and dental check-ups. Children served in these communities are also taught proper hygiene skills through interactive workshops, known as “charlas”.
Various members of Global Medical Brigades at TAMIU shared their reasons for choosing to participate in this mission.
“I decided to participate because I thought that it would open my eyes to a world outside of the United States, [and] to witness the daily struggles that people go through on a daily basis,” said Caroline Pagette, a junior majoring in communication.
Another student, Ana Martinez, echoed Pagette’s statements.
“I wanted to be part of of a great life changing experience. I have always been one to enjoy giving back to the community but this time I wanted to share my service with another country that is in need.”
Vanessa Nuñez, a senior biology major, said she had been interested in community service for a long time, but struggled with finding an organization in which she felt comfortable.
Upon hearing about GMB’s previous trip to Panama in 2015 from a friend, she decided to look into participating.
“I got well informed and fell in love with the idea of being able to be a part of something big that helps not only our local community but extends itself to communities in Central America,” said Nuñez, who added, “I pushed myself to do everything I could to go to Nicaragua this year in order to be a more global citizen while representing my university.”
Rebekah Kawas, president of the TAMIU chapter, further explained the combined efforts of the team.
“Our brigade was split into three different ones: a medical brigade, a public health brigade, and a water brigade…Along with shadowing the doctors, our members were responsible for communicating with the patient, taking blood pressure, height, and weight of each patient, and transforming one room into the pharmacy in order to set up medications and divide them as needed per patient prescription,” said Kawas.
According to Kawas, the team was eventually able to serve approximately 1,200 families over a three-day period.
Those involved with the public health and water brigades were responsible for constructing sanitary facilities for families, and a trench that would provide clean water for area residents. Kawas described the conditions many local residents lived in.
“Previously these families would ‘shower’ using dirty water in painter buckets and defecate out in the open,” she revealed.
Volunteers then assisted in building two showers, two bathrooms, and two septic tanks for two families. Despite the grueling work involved, there was more than met the eye when it came to their tasks.
“Every day was fun, interactive, and never once felt like ‘work.’ We were blessed to have a Global Brigades Staff in Nicaragua that was supportive and helped empower each of us to do a better job,” stated Kawas.
Martinez reaffirmed Kawas’ statements.
“From the moment we would wake up to the moment we went to bed, we were already dancing and singing and having such a positive attitude even if we were tired, sick, or sore,” said Martinez.
Other members shared their own previous expectations before arriving in Nicaragua, and the subsequent lessons they learned while abroad.
“I had an idea as to what we were going be exposed to, but once you’re there it’s a whole different story. You think you’re mentally prepared for it until you’re seeing it for yourself in person. It definitely gives you a new perspective on the world. I know it made me realize how good we have it here, and how we can make such an impact by choosing to do selfless acts,” said Leslie Romero, a sophomore Biology major.
Irais Neira, a senior Biology major, shared her own eye-opening experience while working on the water trench. The daily journey to the digging site consisted of a two mile walk up a mountain. During one of these hikes, the group came across an elderly woman in need of medical attention.
“On the way up, an elderly lady was walking down on a broken foot looking for help. The team and I stopped to help her, wrapping up her foot in gauze and antibacterial ointment. Our GMB truck drove up to take her back down to a clinic. Her foot had been broken for weeks and yet she was still walking on it to try and help herself,” said Neira, who continued, “But this woman had already walked past three other university groups and no one stopped to help her. She was calm but was very obviously in pain.”
Similarly, smaller moments still had a profound impact. The welcoming nature of locals and their children left lasting impressions on the volunteers.
“…These kids looked up to me like if I was some kind of superhero. I can still picture every single one of them smiling, and it makes me realize that I was born to share the talents I possess with others to better humankind,” said Martinez.