Photo Credit: Kori Hudson, Hudson Photography

Over Spring Break, I had the privilege of spending seven days in Northern Nicaragua, volunteering in rural communities in need of medical and dental services.

Twenty-seven UARK students and I, belonging to the Global Medical/Dental Brigade campus organization, spent time traveling to rural communities in Nicaragua working with local, U.S. and foreign health professionals to provide pro-bono consultations, dental procedures, and medications to patients.

We provided many of the same services you would expect to find at a walk-in clinic in the United States. Many of the community members do not have any other opportunities for medical care during the year.

In the United States, if we have tooth pain, we can be seen and treated within a day or two, but for many people living in the rural communities of Nicaragua, this is not the case. They see a dentist that comes from a medical brigade like the one we were on. Many wait three to six months or more to be evaluated and treated.

Global Brigades is the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization offering many programs to countries in need. Their goal is to empower student volunteers to facilitate sustainable solutions in under-resourced communities, while fostering local cultures in the areas visited. Global Brigades aim to improve global equality and individual quality of life by igniting the largest student-led health movement on the planet.

During our trip to Nicaragua, we had the opportunity to serve 1,093 patients in three days – making this a record setting trip for Global Brigades. Normally, brigades only see between 600 and 800 patients in three days. Our ability to care for this large number of patients was driven by our focus on touching as many lives as possible. At the end of each day, we reflected on the day’s events, discussing our strengths and weakness in an effort to improve the efficiency of the clinic services provided.

In the medical and dental clinics, we provided screening, consultation, gynecological services, medications, and medical and dental care. We also provided adult and children charlas (Spanish for chat). These charlas or medical chats are an essential part of the Global Brigades’ holistic medical model, not only providing medical treatment to patients but also providing information for self-care and prevention. We provided fluoride treatments for children and taught them the proper teeth brushing techniques. In the adult charla, we taught the importance of drinking clean water, good hygiene, and proper contraceptive use.

As student volunteers, We had the opportunity to shadow nurses and physicians, and gained valuable experience for our future career endeavors. We also assisted in administering medical and dental care to community members. We also learned how to utilize the electronic medical records system.

Accessing clean water is an ongoing issue for people in this area. On our fifth day we assisted with the Global Brigades Water Project. This involved digging a trench to lay pipe that would eventually carry potable water to a community.

Water Brigades works to unite students and under-served communities to develop and implement clean water projects through community assessment, water quality monitoring, water treatment, infrastructural development, community leader training, and hygiene, sanitation and water education.

In the rural communities where Water Brigades works, families often have little or no access to sufficient quality or quantity of water. The health of the entire community is affected without sufficient clean water since water is fundamental for everyday activities including drinking, cooking, cleaning, and maintaining personal and household hygiene. The goal of Water Brigades is to connect students with communities to implement sustainable, community-based solutions to address these dire water needs.

While every moment of my time in Nicaragua was impactful, the day we spent on the Water Project touched me the most. The project we participated in will provide a community with clean water for years to come.

It’s very humbling to provide assistance to people in need through organizations like Global Brigades. Here in the United States, we take so many things for granted. It was an honor to have had the opportunity to pay it forward to those who are less fortunate.

Justin Miles

Justin Miles

Junior Biology major, Communications minor

Justin Miles is a junior biology major with a focus in premed. He is currently the president of the Global Medical/Dental Brigade on campus. He is a participant of LeaderShape, a member of the Nontraditional Premed student organization, and a member of Gateway to Hope. Miles plans to further his medical education after graduation from the University of Arkansas.