Men’s soccer player Aidan Bean has become accustomed to enjoying some amenities as a University of Dayton athlete, but that’s something he’ll never take for granted after spending time in a country where hearty meals and hot water are considered luxuries.
He was among 60 UD students who took part in a medical mission trip in Las Mangas, Nicaragua, from Jan. 5-13, 2017 with Global Brigades, an international non-profit that teams with colleges to send undergrads planning careers in the healthcare field — as doctors, dentists and physician assistants — to third-world countries.
The Dayton contingent, which included four doctors, treated about 1,000 patients and also helped to route clean water to a pair of villages and build sanitary stations and concrete floors in houses.
“It definitely impacted me to see in real life how these people live,” said Bean, a pre-med major and a third-year sophomore reserve on the soccer team. “It really makes you thankful for what you have here.
“In our complex, we didn’t have running hot water. Every morning, we had to take a cold shower that really took your breath away when you’d stand under it. Just simple things — concrete floors, a shower, someplace to wash your hands — they seem so natural to us but are lacking there.”
Global Brigades provides housing for the participants and contacts in the villages, but the initiative requires a significant commitment from students. In addition to completing a semester-long course to prepare them for what they’ll face, they also had to pay a $950 program fee in addition to footing the bill for airfare.
That’s not all. The UD party had to raise $15,000 for medications and supplies, and the students were split into groups of 10 and charged with raising $1,000 per team toward that effort. They set up a coffee stand in the science center, ran cornhole and soccer tournaments and staged a pancake dinner to help meet the goal.
The trips, though, are life-changing. Women’s soccer player Sarah Byrne came back so fulfilled from helping out in Nicaragua a few years ago that she went back two more times.
“I think it’s almost selfish in a way,” said the senior biology major and two-year starter on the soccer team. “The first time I was thinking, ‘I’ll go and give it a shot. At the very least, I’ll be able to help a few patients.’ But I found it so rewarding and felt a desire to continue to be able to help them.
“Going back a second and third time, it just compounds the experience. You can help more people, and you feel more comfortable. You can assert yourself in different ways. I’m more comfortable with taking blood pressure, so I can get through them faster, and more patients can be seen in a day.”
The need was apparent right away. Flyer football player Lucas Edwards, who is fluent in Spanish, had many conversations with the locals over what they had to endure.
“I remember talking to one of the parents at a house, and he showed me and the doctor the water they had to use in her community,” said the sophomore pre-med major.
“It was in a Coke bottle. She shook it up, and if you hadn’t told me it was water, I would have guessed it was Coke. It was so dark and dirty. She was just talking about how it puts so much strain on the community that they have to travel so far just to get the basic necessities.”
The students took vital signs on patients and developed an electronic medical history for future brigades. They even helped with dental work that was somewhat primitive, given the conditions.
“We had a dental station for people who wanted that — cleaning, filling and tooth extractions,” Bean said. “For extractions, we put basically a numbing shot in their check and would get a pair of pliers and just rip it out. It was brutal. People here, we get knocked out for that kind of stuff usually or put in a daze. These people are wide awake, totally feeling everything.”
Relationship-building was part of the mission, too. Bean doesn’t speak Spanish but still knew how to get through to the kids.
“The universal language is just having fun,” he said. “I couldn’t understand what they were saying, and they couldn’t understand what we were saying, but we were still able to run around and have a good time.”
Dayton has a long history of medical missions and has been partnering with Global Brigades since 2011.
“What’s really cool to see about the students is that sometimes they go down with the sense that they’re going to give a lot, but they always come back having received so much,” said UD Director or Pre-Medical Programs Kathleen Scheltens who has gone on every Global Brigades trip.
“I think they come back with a sense of gratitude, but also a real sense that materialism doesn’t lead to happiness. They meet people down there living on $2 a day that are very joyful people. They have a real deep faith and have really meaningful lives. I think it’s vital for students to get that insight.”
They didn’t miss that lesson. As busy as the days were, they set aside time at night to pray and reflect on what they experienced.
“It was really nice to sit back and think about all the things we did and all the things we could still do — to kind of remind ourselves of the presence of God in our lives and how we were given this opportunity by Him to come down and help these people,” Edwards said. “It made us really feel like we were doing God’s work.”