Last summer, Sierra Neuharth spent July in Nicaragua with the Summer International Health Fellowship Program. This one-month program allows students interested in nursing, health care, medicine, and public health to gain experience in working in the developing world and step outside of their comfort zone by fully integrating into the community by living with a local family.
Through my summer spent in Nicaragua, I had the chance to be a part of amazing initiatives, programs, and incredible health care opportunities. I worked alongside skilled physicians, surgeons, nurses, and other pre-health students. I had the opportunity to be part of providing primary care and vaccinations, not only to hundreds of children but also support and guidance for their families. I worked not only with FIMRC’s pediatric clinic, but also alongside the Nicaraguan government health post next door. This Fellowship provided knowledge and experience of the ins and outs of providing health care to a developing country as well as insight into the Nicaraguan health care system and local medical practices and traditions.
A typical day in Nicaragua:
Most days my host mom (if I was lucky), or her five-year-old daughter (if I was unlucky) would wake me up around six in the morning. Normally, I would have found this to be an ungodly time to get out of bed, but in Nicaragua the rest of the family had already been up for hours and you would be wasting precious sun light to stay in bed any later. Esneyda, my host mom, almost always had coffee ready for me and a plate of fresh fruit to enjoy while the kids got ready for school. Some days I would ride with them to see them off, others days I would stay home and help Esneyda around the house. By seven thirty I was on my bike and off to the clinic. I passed through three villages before arriving at the clinic and would pick up other FIMRC Fellows and volunteers on the way.
Upon arriving at the clinic my day would either go one of two ways. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the pediatrician would come and the day would be spent taking vitals, checking patients in, performing developmental exams when needed, and assisting the physician. On Mondays and Wednesdays I would spend the day with Reyneri, the community health educator in charge of the pre-natal program at FIMRC, performing house visits, preparing charlas, and making special trips to visit the adolescent mothers for my personal project. Fridays were usually spent taking the two-hour bus ride to Rivas and working at the hospital helping in the operating room or in the emergency room depending on where we were most needed.
Each day ended around four-thirty or five with the other Fellows and volunteers and I riding our bikes down to the beach. It was about 20 minutes out of the way, but each time it was worth the dusty ride. Usually we would stay for only a half hour because each of our host family’s were preparing dinner at home, but nothing felt better than stepping into the cool ocean air and letting the waves pummel over our sweaty bodies. We would ride back in our wet clothes letting the wind dry us off. On days I went to the beach Esneyda would already be in the kitchen when I arrived home preparing dinner. Her two kids would be jumping all over me begging to play a game or help them with homework. On days I did not go to the beach I would come straight home, and Esneyda and I would sit outside and chat about the town’s gossip while the younger kids napped on our laps, and the older ones played soccer around our chairs.
The most incredible part of my trip to Nicaragua was getting to know this family. They shared their home, their food, the few possessions they had, their love and their time with me, a complete stranger. They showed no judgment, no condemnation for the differences in the way we lived, but simply loved me with all their hearts. They appreciated me for who I was, and for the relationships we created. They taught me so much about the culture and ways of life, there is no way I could have had any success working with the community without this family backing me up. They told everyone in the community I was their daughter and because of that everyone treated me with respect and as part of the community not as a foreigner. I will forever be indebted to them for giving me their hearts and treating me with the utmost of hospitality. My time spent in Nicaragua was unlike any other fellowship, job, educational program, or even vacation I have ever participated in. FIMRC allows its Fellows to truly experience Nicaragua, its culture, its people, and be a part of restoring its health.
For more information about the Summer International Health Fellowship program, visit www.fimrc.org/sihf or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up today!