Natural Doctors International: A note on Hope

Ten days. 25 students, two doctors. 106 patients. One organization. Infinite love.

Natural Doctors International (NDI) is an organization that brings free healthcare to Nicaraguan citizens on the island of Ometepe. Running entirely on donations- from program fees from volunteers, to supplements, medicines, and supplies from larger companies, to you the public- NDI has been fulfilling healthcare needs since 2005.

Nineteen of my fellow classmates and I embarked on this journey back in September 2013, fundraising, contacting supplement companies, practicing with our medical equipment, and continuing to build a strong presence for NDI amongst the BINM community. We were overwhelmed with support, receiving almost $19,000 worth of donations and filled with gratitude with overwhelming attendance at our big event, Global Love, an art showcase, silent auction and musical performances by some of our brigade members.
We united as a group for our common goal, putting in countless hours, realizing that every bit of work would make someone’s life better.

July 12, we met with and joined our fellow brigade members from both CCNM and Bastyr University California and one ‘civilian’. Carrying heavy supplement bags and taking every mode of transportation, trains, buses, planes, we all came together as Brigade 43 on a ferry from Rivas to the island of Ometepe. The fantastic volcanos Concepcion and Maderas came into view, and the excitement grew.

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We were ushered into the beautiful and welcoming community of Los Angeles where we met our host families. Our homestays were a life changing experience. Eating, living, and communicating (or at least attempting) with our host families was a privilege few travellers get. The next week was spent at the clinic and evening classes on various topics on Global Health and Policy.
A typical day included:

  • 8:00 am – 12 noon Clinic shift
  • Break for lunch with our host families
  • 1:00 PM- 5:00 PM Clinic shift
  • Break for dinner
  • 7:00 PM- 9:00 PM Evening classes

The long days were fuelled with power bars, trail mix, electrolytes and copious amounts of water next to the delicious meals our host families prepared for us. We also got a morning or afternoon off, taking time to enjoy the island from Ojo de Agua, to Playa Santa Domingo.

With an entire year of medical information crammed in our heads, we weren’t too sure what actually stuck. Would we remember what that muscle did, what vitamin was important in that pathway, what remedy was better with cold, or which plant was beneficial for that condition? Sitting at a round-table discussion with a patient in front of us, we were able to brainstorm and rattle off ideas that came to mind. We were surprised by how much we learned, how much we know. Receiving trust and confidence from the doctors in our knowledge and abilities was incredibly rewarding. It grew my confidence and for many, reaffirmed the decision in choosing naturopathic medicine.
Many of us had our ‘firsts': B-12 injections, inserting acupuncture needles, doing a physical exam, or witnessing a pap exam. And it wasn’t just the classroom anymore- this was a real patient, a real issue. We saw everything from muscles pains to those struck by grief, dealing with families torn through alcoholism. It was incredible to realize that Naturopathic medicine could and did make them feel better. We could offer physical medicine, botanical medicine, nutraceuticals and counselling to only name a few. One of my biggest realizations was the power of therapeutic touch. The art and connection that comes from confidently and genuinely touching the patient (both physically and figuratively), listening and being present. The patient could sense the compassion, and for the first time felt heard. We made a difference with our brigade, and because of an organization like NDI, this aide will continue indefinitely.

An essential part of this experience was our nightly processing. For many, this was the first time in a third world country seeing poverty, hunger, the first time seeing real illness, realizing our privilege and gaining new perspective on our own lives and the impact we have on the world. “High-low” was a favourite where we shared both our highest and lowest moment of our day. Our highs definitely out-weighed the lows, from learning and speaking Spanish with our host families, mastering the art of “bucket-bathing”, to having one’s face hurt from smiling too much (a low which turned out to be a high).

On our last day, we completed a writing exercise where we wrote without stopping…

“A picture was sent of trivia for that particular issue, first answering questions of what is the capital of Afghanistan and which year was Coca-Cola created? Not being able to answer some of the questions, I got to the last one…
What was the only thing left in Pandora’s box after she opened it?’ I smiled knowing the answer and then relating it to this whole experience- Nicaragua, naturopathic medicine, and the patients I have seen- HOPEIn midst of this poverty, illness, grief, pain, manipulation, there is hope. Hope that pain will subside, grief will lift, and light and truth will fill manipulation’s void.

This came full circle back to the beginning of this process, the cover image of Global Love of my photography I was grateful to provide.”

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I have hope. Hope for health, happiness, and freedom for all beings. Hope that change will catch on.
After all, healthcare is a human right.

In health,