By Tiny Romenesko
DFW’s very first service trip was an amazing success.
Our mission was centered in León, Nicaragua where we worked with PINCC (Prevention International – No Cervical Cancer), a program that Dining for Women funded in February 2011. Our 9 DFW volunteers were poised to fill in wherever needed for our 5 days at León’s free regional hospital.
We met up in Managua on May 24, 2012, arriving from all corners of the U.S. A. The first weekend of the trip, we were tourists, learning about Nicaragua and each other, before the weeklong service component. We toured Managua, visited a sewing cooperative that DFW sponsored in 2006 through Jubilee House – a conscious community that supports a clinic and numerous agricultural projects, and then headed for Granada.
Day Two began with a kayak excursion in Lake Nicaragua. After exploring the isletas, we headed to the island of Zapongo for lunch and ended the day with a horsedrawn carriage tour of the sites in Granada.
Sunday we headed for León and met with the PINCC volunteer group which included 2 doctors, 2 nurse practitioners, and an interpreter, plus the amazing Carol – the sole employee from PINCC, and a veteran nurse and midwife who has done incredible work in Latin America and beyond.
As we entered the hospital, Carol warned us that this would be an eye- opening experience. She was right. The chairs were two deep in the sweltering hospital when we arrived. The conditions were rough. Pigeons in the corridors and rat poison on the floor. By 11:00, we had interviewed 30 patients and were well into seeing them in the 4 treatment rooms, each one led by one of the four medical professionals on our trip. PINCC’s mission was to teach the Nicaraguan staff how to perform cervical screenings (they don’t routinely do PAPs because of the necessary follow-up and cost), remove pre-cancerous lesions, and ideally graduate them to teaching their own staffs in outlying rural clinics how to do all of this on their own.
Each DFW volunteer had numerous roles, from computer entry, to stocking rooms and inventorying the suitcases that held supplies, to interpreting, educating, and handholding. “This work is pure service”, said Carol. “No glamour. Just damn hard work.” She was right – and it was an amazing experience.
Many of our patients were tenacious Nicaraguan women who had left their pueblo on a bus at 3:00 a.m., and sat in a sweltering hallway for hours before the medical staff even arrived. My last patient on Tuesday was seen at 3:00 p.m. She had to catch the 4:30 bus back to her pueblo and probably hadn’t had eaten anything all day except for the couple of cookies I encouraged her to eat along with the glass of water that washed down her ibuprófeno. Many volunteers shared parts of their lunch with women that had been waiting for hours. There was no protocol except to follow your heart. Some volunteers had even brought toys and crayons for waiting children.
When we got back to the hotel, we were all exhausted, but felt good about the work we had done for DFW and PINCC, and for the connections with these very brave Nicaraguan women.
We brought our donations in on Thursday – which filled one entire side of the corridor. Some of our volunteers had only brought a carry-on for their personal needs and a suitcase FULL of donations from their local chapter. Each of the Nicaraguan medical staff filled a bag with medical goodies that would make a big difference on a daily basis back in their rural clinics. It was a rare treat for all of them and much appreciated.
The beach at the Pacific Ocean, just outside of Leon, was a welcome diversion – cool and refreshing, and we had the opportunity twice to go swimming there. Our last day in Leon we experienced an amazing tour of the city. With eloquence and grace, Jullio, our guide, shared his experiences under the Somoza dictatorship. He had been incarcerated at the age of 14 – and many of his friends, and a stepbrother, had died in the revolution. He was very careful to communicate that his issues with American policy were not a reflection of his feelings for the American people, and again thanked us, emphatically, for listening to his story and giving of our time and our hearts to help his country.
That night, after returning to Managua, we again shared dinner – it felt more like 10 months than 10 days since we had first met. In true fashion, our DFW leader Patricia encouraged each of us to share an insight from the trip. Gratitude and Generosity were the common themes expressed around the sangria-filled table. We discussed how misunderstood HPV (the virus that causes cervical cancer) is in our country, how each donation counts, and how rewarding it had been to travel with the intention of service as opposed to pleasure. We all agreed that the unique itinerary of the DFW trip had been perfect. It was important to get to know each other beforehand to gel as a group and create an atmosphere of comfort and trust with each other before the intensity of the service work, and equally important to have this down time at the end. Amidst hugs and tears and promises to keep in touch, we finally said our good-byes.
On behalf of our group, I would like to thank DFW and PINCC for making this mission possible. I look forward to participating in another service trip – in the very near future.Read the trip diaries