While most students from CUNY Queens College in Flushing, NY went on vacation during winter break, a few volunteered to help the underprivileged in Nicaragua. Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American and has a population of approximately 6 million people. Nicaragua is also the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and a developing nation that faces many economic and political challenges. 95% of the population speaks Spanish while native tribes on the eastern coast speak indigenous languages, such as Miskito, Gariuna, Sumo, and Rama, as well as English Creole.
The volunteers from Queens College which included Mamadon Sire Bah, Darya Rubenstein and student leader Yassmin Simmonds among others were part of a Global Brigades chapter. Global Brigades is an international non-profit organization focused on introducing sustainable methods of development in communities all over the world. This grass-roots movement has expanded to other countries such a Panama and Ghana.
The Global Brigades was chartered in September 2010 at Queens College and their vision was to bring awareness to global health issues. This mission combined both the Public Health and Medical Models to Nicaragua where volunteers worked with brigade coordinators, interpreters, and community members to run three days of medical clinics and three days of construction public health infrastructure. Before entering any community, there must first be a consensus amongst the people before bringing in development programs. Some communities were resistant to such programs.
The medical mission consisted of volunteer medical professionals and student volunteers that set up a small clinic in a community and took patient vitals, their temperature, pulse, breathing and blood pressure. The volunteers also assisted pharmacists with medications. Each patient received a physician consultation, public health talk, and prescribed medicines as well as had access to PAP smears, prostate exams and restorative dental care as necessary. In the dental area, the students showed children how to correctly brush their teeth and administered fluoride treatment and dispensed vitamins, free toothpaste and toothbrushes.
The Public Health Brigade included four days helping to build homes, installing eco-stoves, latrines and water storage units. Replacing wood-burning stoves with eco-stoves was important because it helped reduce pollution in the homes. Within the Public Health Brigade, students constructed one house, 16 latrines, and 6 ovens.
The first Global Brigades medical mission was held in Honduras in January 2012 and was led by Yassmin Simmonds, 21, a pre-med senior majoring in psychology at Queens College. She also led the nine-day mission to Nicaragua which began in San Gabriel, about 40 miles northwest of Managua, Nicaragua’s capital and ended in El Limon. For the first three days volunteers helped the local physicians and dentists examine residents for illness and educate them on proper hygiene and health issues. The hardest thing to witness says Simmonds was “Turning patients away with serious illnesses, such as cancer.”
All the students raised funds for their airfare, food, and housing and funds needed to purchase the medications (antibiotics, vitamins, topical meds, etc), supplies such as soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and combs. Mamadou Sire Bah, 20, pre-med junior majoring in anthropology at Queens College volunteered for the mission. What surprised him most were the living conditions of the families. “Most of the families live in homes with chickens surrounding them and were more susceptible to disease.” They had no access to water let alone proper hygiene and healthcare.
Another volunteer Darya Rubenstein, 22, a senior majoring in psychology at Queens College, was also surprised how families lived in such an underdeveloped country. Almost all the patients had internal parasites and other preventable diseases. Even with so little the Nicaraguans remained happy and positive. All three students were grateful they were able to experience greater awareness outside of the U.S. and would love to continue work in public health as a result.
To volunteer you can either join an existing Medical Brigades chapter on your campus or create your own chapter and recruit other volunteers. To learn more about Global Brigades visit www.globalbrigades.org