Written by Brandon Spratt, Doctor of Nursing Practice Candidate at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing
As my first true experience outside of the US, Comunidad Connect’s opportunity to volunteer in southern Nicaragua was an escapade I’ll never forget. Then a second-degree student in nursing at Emory University, Comunidad Connect reached out to the School of Nursing to offer students a one-week trip to Nicaragua to invest in opportunities of service within the healthcare systems that aim to increase civic engagement in certain areas. Following my several years of in-country cross-cultural service during my first undergraduate degree, I was ready for such an experience on different soil.
My arrival to Rivas, a southern city of ~40,000 not far from the border to Costa Rica, started with a tour of a local hospital that let me see first-hand the striking difference between the healthcare system here and the one I was used to back in the States. Obviously a lower-resource facility, I was struck at the resilience and versatility that was demanded of the healthcare staff as the nurses were often tasked to 25 patients per nurse. In asking one of the nurses how one could possibly keep up with this demand, she simply smiled and said, “you have to be an octopus to do our job!”.
Our next stop took us to Tola, a smaller community near Rivas that housed a health post for local members to receive basic curative services. It was here that we learned about Nicaragua’s MOSAF healthcare model that capitalizes on community health workers to have an intimate knowledge of the health history of each household in their community to gain insight of the current trends of disease and predict related risk factors. I was impressed at the level of detail that each worker was required to memorize for each household and found this model to be quite intriguing.
While these experiences were quite fascinating and interesting, the most impactful memory I had came from a small, rural community called El Tambo, not far from Tola. It was in this place that I really understood what poverty really is. It is not some tangible idea that can be gleaned from watching videos or reading books, but rather a felt sensation that one only understands when one is in its midst. Dirt floors, tin roofs, and a barren yard were all that many of these villagers owned and while paralyzing at first, I began to see the internal beauty and richness that these people had to offer.
At their request, we gave several presentations about how to understand and address some of the chronic health problems many of their members face. Following this, the villagers did something I will never forget: a great feast. Although our baseline luxuries in America would easily surmount this offering as mediocre in the States, it was obvious that this was no ordinary gala. Out oftheir poverty and of what little they had, their presentation was immaculate. Toiling for days, their cooked chicken, gallo pinto, and juice was displayed before us in banquet-like fashion. Yes, indeed, the food was delicious, but that was not the overarching message that was clear that day. Instead, what was seared into my mind is a life-long lesson that that I will never forget: when poverty-stricken communities come together collectively and harmoniously, it breeds a spirit of generosity.
El Tambo’s generosity is a lesson I will take with me wherever I go and for that I am grateful to have learned such a valuable nugget of truth in the larger arc of life. I hope that others may be able to encounter similar experiences in their lives. I’d like to thank Comunidad Connect for making this possible and hope that they continue the great work they are doing in those communities.