I recently traveled with a Global Health Outreach team to Nicaragua. GHO is a ministry of Christian Medical and Dental Associations, for whom I am creating visual content to highlight and promote their international outreach. In June I traveled with another team to document their work in the Dominican Republic - you can see that blog here.
One of the first things I noticed about Nicaragua is how incredibly green and lush the landscape is. Palm trees abound and there were so many interesting flowers and plants. Our first day ended with a service at a local church in Pacaya, and one team member discovered a view of beautiful vista right behind the church property. Nicaragua has many volcanoes and lagoons (more on that further down).
[ For you photogs / gear nerds, on this trip I took my two Nikon d750 bodies and three lenses: Sigma 24mm f/1.4, Nikon 85mm f/1.8, and Nikon PC-E 45mm f/2.8. I used the 85mm a good bit in the clinic, because it allowed me to hang back and not be too intrusive. But I used 24mm for most of my landscape and "sightseeing" photos, as well as some in the clinic. I only used the 45mm tilt-shift a little for photography, but it did come in handy for shooting video interviews. I edited photos each day, so I was completely done with editing before I arrived back in the states. I like to process my images as I go, because it is much more manageable to tackle a few hundred photos each day versus 3,000 all at once. ]
I enjoyed the simple beauty of the daily life we experienced during our week. Our accommodations were drastically different than what we are accustomed to in the United States, but I truly appreciated the simplicity and beauty of my surroundings. Every morning we left our hotel in Masaya at 6:30 and traveled to the clinic. We ate our meals at a mango farmer's home that was a short walk from the clinic site. I loved the mornings; the temperatures were pleasant and the light was soft, illuminating everything with a transcendent glow. The musically-inclined team members (both Americans and Nicaraguans) filled the atmosphere with music during our breaks and mealtimes. The pace of this trip was productive, yet easy-going and peaceful. I enjoyed the slower pace, as it was quite a contrast to my normally busy life back home.
The clinic was held in an complex that was once a school, but is no longer in use. There was a steady stream of visitors during the week, with a total count of 1,145 people receiving basic medical care, medicine, dental work and eyeglasses. Six local pastors in the community came together to encourage their congregations to visit the clinic throughout the week. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Central America, so many families have difficulty accessing affordable healthcare. Our clinic was stationed in a small community called Pacaya, about a 20 minute bus ride from Masaya.
A fun side project I started during the trip was a serious of portraits of each member of our team.I love the challenge of spontaneous portraits, trying to make my subjects laugh and relax, in an attempt to capture their truest self. I also asked them some fun questions to include with each image, which I posted on my Instagram page. This project helped me get to know the team better and fueled my creativity in a different way, complementing the photojournalistic work I was doing the majority of the time.
My favorite thing about GHO is their emphasis on whole-person care. Team members not only provide physical care and medicine, but they are intentional about caring for their patients emotional and spiritual needs as well. During the week I saw the providers and medical students loving on their patience through prayer, smiles and listening ears (and plenty of candy and stickers for the kiddos).
The unsung hero of the trip was definitely the pharmacy team. Always the last to finish their tasks for the day, the team worked tirelessly fulfilling prescriptions for the patients that visited the clinic. First-year students alternated throughout the week, assisting a couple of pharmacy students who ran the show.
Most of the patient encounters are fairly routine, but every so often there would be a patient with more urgent needs. One little girl was playing on some rusty old playground equipment that was on the clinic grounds, when she fell and suffered a bad cut on her back. One of the national Nicaraguan doctors, who was partnering with our team in the clinic, took charge of stitching her wound, and the medical students cheered her up with stickers and candy when the procedure was over.
Ongoing throughout the week was a program for the children who lived in the community or whose parents were visiting the clinic. Team members took turns throughout the week leading the program: telling Bible stories, singing songs, playing games, and coloring. The kids in Nicaragua were so sweet and pleasant, and captured the hearts of the team.
Adjacent to the clinic compound was a home and property with a beautiful garden. Whenever I passed through the main clinic room, I would often pause by the open windows to gaze out at the utopian-like scene. Sometimes the family would be out in the garden. One day, a few of the kids were playing in the yard and we waved at each other - next thing I knew, one little girl had run off and picked a beautiful bouquet of vibrant flowers and brought it to me at the clinic window. I was so touched by her kindness and generosity towards me, a stranger looking out of the window. This kind of hospitably and love was universal in all of the Nicaraguans we interacted with throughout the week, leaving me with the warmest impression.
The sun set a bit earlier in Nicaragua, so I usually got to catch golden hour towards the end of the clinic day. I had some fun playing around with sunflares and warm light - and these images truly represent my experience in Nicaragua as a whole. Beautiful, warm, and glory-filled.
At the end of the week, the team wrapped up the clinic and headed off for a restful night in Granada. We made a stop at Apoyo Lagoon, a beautiful blue lagoon with an incredible overlook.
Granada, Nicaragua is a vibrant city on the shoes of Lake Nicaragua. The city has a heavy Spanish influence and seemed to be a popular place for European tourists.
After arriving in Granada, we had a few hours to kill before our team dinner. So myself and a few others headed out to explore the city. We found our way to the beautiful Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral, where we had a great view of the city from the bell tower. I may or may not have climbed out the window onto the roof to get a better shot of the mountains... :)
We also took a carriage ride, which proved to be a great way to experience the sights and sounds of such a colorful city. Our carriage tour stopped at some notable churches, homes and historic structures.
Finally, on our last day in Nicaragua, the whole team visited Masaya Volcano, a national park featuring an active volcano. I was not prepared for how awe-inspiring it would be to peer down into the exposed heart of the earth. Glowing lava bubbled and crested in waves deep inside the volcano crater. The surrounding landscape was a bit sparse, featuring volcanic soil, and gases emitted from the lava created a constant cloud above the volcano. Although this volcano has not had a major eruption in over a thousand years, it is still considered to be dangerous to the surrounding communities, and its activity is monitored closely. I was truly amazed by this experience and will never forget the wonder of looking at the living heartbeat of this planet we call home.
Nicaragua is a beautiful and wonderful place. I came away inspired by both the natural beauty of the landscape and the kindness of the its people. I am thankful for the opportunity to visit and work alongside the GHO team.