A group of UNC Charlotte students took part in a spring break to write home about this year, but not for the reasons you might expect. The 30 students from degree programs across campus eschewed familiar vacation destinations to travel to Nicaragua on a volunteer medical mission trip.
The group, hailing from pre-health, pre-business, international studies and English as a second language programs, joined collegians from across the country volunteering through Global Brigades. The organization empowers volunteers and under-resourced communities to resolve global health and economic disparities and collaboratively work towards an equal world.
Amanda Dexter, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, served as faculty advisor.
“This was the first opportunity for many of the students to get hands-on fieldwork in the area of international medicine with patients in underserved communities,” she said. “For myself, and I hope for the group, the trip was a very uplifting experience in professional development and personal growth.”
Over a week spent in country, the group set up and staffed temporary clinics that provided locals with free medical treatment. Students worked with translators to record patient vitals, taught public health education and shadowed Nicaraguan doctors and dentists as they consulted with patients, among other activities. Students also helped install a portion of a large-scale water system.
Nicaragua is one of the most economically challenged countries in Central America; many Nicaraguans struggle to meet basic needs such as education, healthcare and clean water. These resources are often even scarcer in the rural communities.
“I remember one man in particular who had an infection on his left leg,” said student Rachel Jones, who helped organize and lead the trip. “He had surgery, but the infection came back. He walked miles to receive treatment from us, and I was impressed by his vigor but also saddened by this lack of immediate healthcare.”
Pre-health student Henry Weaver had long sought to apply his studies internationally.
“Near the end of our trip I was exhausted but extremely happy and proud of the work that we had done, he said. “This trip confirmed that I am choosing a career path that I will love.”
For Jones, the emotional impact of the experience has remained after returning home.
“I came back to my apartment after the trip and immediately sobbed. I didn't think I deserved the clothes, devices, or utilities that come so easily here. I wanted to give it all to those people I encountered. This was probably the hardest lesson I learned—that you're always going to want to do more but sometimes what you've done is enough for now.”
The trip was similarly significant for Dexter, the faculty advisor.
“It helped students grow into young professionals, but more importantly, I had the opportunity to watch very different, unique individuals come together as a team. I watched 30 students who may never have crossed paths unite and form a lasting bond.”
by: Wills Citty