Over winter break, 37 students traveled to two different cities in Nicaragua as a part of the Global Medical Brigades of Albion College. Global Medical Brigades is the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization. Of the 37 students, there were a number of Albion College athletes, including softball player Monica Brugnoni, a junior from Saint Clair Shores, women’s tennis player Lauren Rasmussen, a junior from Ann Arbor and men’s lacrosse player Jordan Hempfling, a senior from Midland, Mich.
The squad of Albion students traveled to two different Nicaraguan cities. Jinotega was the center for helping bring in clean water, and Matagalpa was the center of public health for the trip.
On the first day of the nine day trip, the students sorted the medicine by putting them in certain dosages, which was a collective team effort. The next three days involved setting up a clinic in their assigned towns and transporting the medicine to those clinics. According to Brugnoni, they had one American doctor with them and four Nicaraguan doctors.
This was Brugnoni’s second year on the trip, and she said the experience this year was much more fun because of the number of people they had. She was also the recruitment chair for this year’s trip.
“With the higher number of people, we were able to make a bigger impact. This year it was 20 times better, and I’ll always have a little place in me for Nicaragua,” said a smiling Brugnoni.
The students worked with the doctors in rotations, which included working in the pharmacy, data informatics, dental and informing the youth. According to Brugnoni, they saw about 880 patients in the first three days, and because they had 11 more people on the trip this year, things ran much more smoothly.
After the medical days in the clinic, the group went to work on public health. They worked on four houses this year. The students built big retreats with showers and toilets, as well as laundry stations and septic tanks. Cement floors were also added to their houses.
The last day involved bringing in clean water to the city. The Brits dug trenches for a few hours, then they went into the city. For these public health days, the Brits were able to rock their team apparel. Hempfling said he wore Albion clothes almost everyday which helped promote Albion outside of the country, as well as bring a piece of home with him to Nicaragua.
“For the clinical days, we mostly wore scrub pants and tops, but many of us brought team shirts that we wore with them,” Rasmussen said. “On public health days, we were able to dress more freely, so many of us wore team shirts or greek apparel.”
Trips like these can be nerve-wracking to someone who’s going for the first time or even the second or third time. Brugnoni was nervous when she went last year, but she knew the ropes this year and took everything with a grain of salt.
“The easiest part was having fun because the people are so thankful and they have a smile on their faces all the time because they know you’re helping them. The hardest part is probably the labor, but it goes by so fast that you don’t complain about it because you’re helping so many people,” Brugnoni said.
For many of the people on the trip, it was an experience of a lifetime. Brugnoni knows that she could have done something similar here in the United States, but she wanted to explore healthcare outside of the country. More importantly, she wanted to help people in other countries.
Hempfling was one of the few people who has gone on the trip for three years in a row. He went on the trip to Honduras two years ago and to Nicaragua twice in the past two years. Hempfling said that he will miss both countries, but the people in each country and the people who accompanied him on the trip were amazing.
“I’ll miss both countries and take every opportunity to go back,” Hempfling said. “As a part of the SAAC executive board, I loved seeing the larger number of athletes come on the trip this year.”
Being the recruitment chair for the trip this year, Brugnoni had her hands full with questions and concerns from other students. Most of the students who went on the trip were pre-med, but she also added that she encourages education majors to look into the trip because of the interaction with the young Nicaraguan children.
“The little kids are so much fun,” Brugnoni said with a reminiscing tone. “I try to encourage them because you can communicate with the kids without even speaking the same language.”
One commonality between the all of the students who went on the trip was the humbling feeling it gave them. Brugnoni said it makes her realize how privileged we all are, and when it seems that you’re getting stressed over trivial details, it’s good to remember the people you met. “We have a lot here in the United States, and we don’t even realize it,” Brugnoni added.
“This trip is so humbling because they really don’t have the access to medical doctors or dentists, and it’s rare that they even get to go to the hospitals,” Rasmussen said.
Brugnoni added that she plans on going next year and making an even bigger impact for her senior year. For more information on the Global Medical Brigades at Albion College, visit http://www.empowered.org/Medical-Brigades-at-Albion-College.