Sunday, April 10, 2016

From Tica to Nica by Haylie Butler

This week we crossed the Nicaraguan border and spent a challenging, eye-opening, and wonderful six days working with Fundación VIDA ( in the city of Masaya. As volunteers of VIDA, we had a number of tasks to fulfill during our short stay. Over the course of just three days, we managed to assess and address the current health needs of a small community located just fifteen minutes from the center of Masaya, Los Manguitos. This was a dream come true for us pre-med and public health junkies as we got to work alongside dedicated and empathetic physicians, administer medical surveys, and perform meaningful community outreach.
            While I cannot explain the gravity of this experience nor put into words how I felt upon learning that potable water only exits the pipes twice a week in Los Manguitos, I will attempt to share a bit of what our OTS group was able to leave behind. Having identified the top health concerns as diabetes, hypertension, presence of contaminated drinking water, and respiratory issues due to smoke inhalation, we put into action three projects on our final day. We educated community members about water treatment, provided a recipe that included healthy and local foods grown in and around the community, and taught kids about recycling at the neighborhood grade school.
My classmate Brenna Hynes collecting trash and recyclables with schoolchildren in Los Manguitos, Masaya, Nicaragua. (Photo credit: Brenna Hynes)
  I focused my efforts mainly on the recycling campaign. When I discovered that families were burning their trash (including plastic, aluminum, and glass) right outside their homes because of a lack of funds to pay for trash pickup, I knew the issue had to be addressed. For two hours, we talked with children grades K-5, picked up trash and recyclables around the schoolyard, and showed them how to separate the items into separate barrels. It is our hope that the children will continue to bring their recyclables to school, their families will show support, and the schoolteachers will be able to exchange the recyclables for money every month in Masaya. With this money, they could help the school and eventually pay for trash pickup in the community to lower the risk of smoke inhalation.

            That being said, we are not naïve. We know that, compared to what they so desperately need, what we were able to provide in these three days was minimal—especially considering the amount of knowledge, experience, and joy we attained from spending quality time with the children and people of this beautiful community. I can only hope that, in the future, I will be able to return to Nicaragua, reconnect with Fundación VIDA, and see the progress they have made in Los Manguitos.
Some of my OTS Tropical Diseases classmates looking over the Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua.

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