--Volunteers Worked in Clinics, Offered Health Education, and Improved Living Conditions--
FLUSHING, NY, March 21, 2013 – When Darya Rubenstein, 22, a senior majoring in psychology at Queens College, volunteered to be part of the QC “Global Brigade” to Nicaragua during this year’s winter break, she had no idea what a life-changing trip it would be.
“The experience opened my eyes to how people in poor parts of the world live,” says Darya, an Orthodox Jew and Flushing resident originally from Canada. “They have little food, old clothing, no health care…most are illiterate. Yet they are so positive, with a true understanding of life. ” The effect of the trip was so profound that she has decided to pursue a master’s degree in public health after graduation.
Global Brigades is the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization. Since 2004, Global Brigades has mobilized thousands of university students and professionals through programs that work to improve the quality of life for impoverished people in Ghana, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.
Queens College’s second Global Brigades mission – the first was in January 2012 to Honduras – was made up of 28 student volunteers, of whom 19 were from the college. All the students raised funds for their airfare, food, and housing and solicited donations from hospitals and businesses for medicine and supplies such as soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, and vitamins.
Led by Yassmin Simmonds, 21, a pre-med senior majoring in psychology at QC who also directed the Honduras brigade, the nine-day mission began in San Gabriel, about 40 miles northwest of Managua, Nicaragua’s capital. There the volunteers spent three days helping the local physicians and dentists examine residents for illness and educate them on proper hygiene and health issues.
“We were able to provide basic medical care to almost 1,000 patients in a local elementary school that was set up as a makeshift clinic,” says the Bronx resident.
The students rotated among the different medical areas in the clinic. After getting trained by the local doctors, they had the skills to take patients’ vital signs in Triage – checking their temperature, pulse, breathing and blood pressure. In the pharmacy, they sat in on doctors' consultations, observing them make diagnoses and prescribe proper medications, which they helped distribute. In the dental area, the students showed children how to correctly brush their teeth and administered fluoride treatment and vitamins. They also accompanied a doctor and a translator into the patients' homes to conduct surveys on their health, hygiene and lifestyle.
“It was humbling to see their living conditions,” says Mamadou Sire Bah, 20, a Jamaica resident and pre-med junior majoring in anthropology at QC. “Most of the families live in homes with livestock wandering around and don’t have access to basic necessities like toilets or clean water. But they were so welcoming and appreciative that I felt a genuine connection to them. I was more motivated than ever to become a doctor.”
This year a new public health segment was included in the mission. Students traveled about 100 miles southeast of San Gabriel to El Limon, where they spent four days helping to build houses, install eco-stoves, latrines, and water storage units.
The stoves replace traditional wood-burning ones that emit harmful smoke particles and soot, reducing indoor air pollution, explains Simmonds. Concrete floors in the houses cut down on dust contamination and transmission of disease by dirt-dwelling insects. Latrines allow for sanitary waste disposal, and water storage units provide sources of clean water. All of these low-cost improvements will help prevent respiratory diseases and other illnesses, she says.
The students whom Simmonds guided praised her for inspiring them to help make a lasting impact on the people of Nicaragua. As for Simmonds, her goal is to expand the brigade and make it self-sustaining at Queens College so that more students get involved in international health care. “While I plan to help lead another brigade next year, I want to be able to pass the torch and inspire other students to take an active role in leadership,” she says.
As it celebrates its 75th year, Queens College enjoys a national reputation for its liberal arts and sciences and pre-professional programs. With its graduate and undergraduate degrees, honors programs, and research and internship opportunities, the college helps its over 20,000 students realize their potential in countless ways, assisted by an accessible, award-winning faculty. Located on a beautiful, 77-acre campus in Flushing, the college is cited each year in the Princeton Review as one of the nation’s
100 “Best Value” colleges, thanks to its outstanding academics, generous financial aid packages, and relatively low costs. More info on Queens College at www.qc.cuny.edu