Notes From Nicaragua
A mentor’s perspective
By Cheryl Scott, DVM
In Nicaragua, we embarked on a ‘One Health’ mission like no other I am aware of. Armed with a team of 7 ‘one health practitioners’, knowledge about medicine, tons of curiosity and questions, and above all, good will, we still had no detailed notion of the ‘things’ we would discover. And in the end, there were so many of those ‘things’.
From a mentor’s point of view, I left UCDavis with 3 main goals for this endeavor: 1-safety at all times, 2-always mindful of cultural awareness and sensitivity, and 3-a job to accomplish. I can now honestly say that all of these were realized. Turns out, this team was amazingly synergistic, task oriented, and cohesive. We all strived to communicate, share, discuss, listen, reach consensus, be true and stay positive. The skills and personality types in this group inter-digitated well. The group thought process tended to be with a critical-thinking focus, blended with evidence and altruism, but grounded in realism. While it is unrealistic to expect that 7 people will ultimately agree perfectly all the time, we got pretty close.
So for safety, there were never really any major concerns. Cultural awareness is more difficult to really prepare for. Though we all read journal articles, listened to speakers and attended seminars in relevant cultural ‘norms’ and ethics prior to leaving, I expected we would all learn lessons along the way. There were many moments of silent dismay and sorrow at the conditions that humans and animals exist in, yet the tendency was to initially confront these unsettling feelings privately and thoughtfully, but eventually we worked our way through these challenging moments together. We also had a job to do, so once we ‘settled’ into the community of Sabana Grande, we hit the ground running. We were fortunate to have leadership from village leader, Susan Kinne, who ‘introduced’ us to the community and guided us through the maze of bonding, gaining trust, and partnering with village citizens. We felt embraced and welcomed and because of that, we accomplished our main goal of surveying the community about all-things related to the health of human-animal-ecosystem interconnectedness. We got to spend time with local ‘veterinarians’ and their assistants making ‘house-calls’, with brigadistas and promoters of the human and animal medical systems, and even spend time at the local human clinic. We walked everywhere, ate, slept, lived in small local homes, and immersed ourselves in the village culture. We learned so much about these amazing people and their lives with their animals and surroundings.
Some of these lessons and stories will follow. But for now, I will end by saying that this experience is one that we will all take with us for a long time. We learned about disease, priorities, poverty, and human-nature. We witnessed humility, integrity, strength, and quality-of-life. And we returned with ideas, motivation, and energy to go forward with our One Health Mission: to be at the heart of the effort to create one healthy village at a time.