Academic Spotlight: Neuqua grad’s trip to Nicaragua life changing

Drew Bailey, 20, a junior at Carthage College, says a monthlong trip to Nicaragua changed his life.

“This trip really gives students a better perspective of how much we take for granted here in the United States,” said the 2011 Neuqua Valley High School graduate.

Bailey, who is in the pre-pharmacy program and member of the Kenosha, Wis., college’s baseball team, was part of the school’s monthlong study program and medical mission trip.

Carthage College Professor Patrick Pfaffle said the Nicaragua trip started in 2002 as a way to provide students interested in health care the opportunity to get some hands on experience working in rural medical clinics.

“At the same time, it also gives them exposure to a developing country with a culture significantly different from our own,” said Pfaffle, who traveled with the students to Nicaragua. “The trip has also expanded to not only provide those with an interest in medicine hands-on experience, but we are also now working on projects to provide clean drinking water and renewable energy to impoverished areas of Nicaragua.”

Throughout the month of January, students worked in local clinics on Ometepe Island, home to 42,000 people and considered the largest freshwater island in the world. They attend class each night during the trip.

“Over 2,000 patients are treated on each trip and approximately $30,000 worth of medicine is distributed,” Pfaffle said. “The students work side by side with both Nicaraguan physicians and U.S. physicians who accompany us on some trips. We try to get the students to interact with the people in the local community rather than simply be tourists.”

When not working in the medical clinics or on other projects, the students went hiking, kayaking, horseback riding and experienced the beauty of the island. A baseball player at Neuqua and at Carthage, Bailey invited the locals to play baseball each evening, playing on an old plantain field covered with large rocks and weeds.

“People were playing without shoes because they did not own a pair of shoes,” he said. “Many of the students brought down baseball equipment donations such as bats, gloves and cleats. They were so grateful for the gift. At first they thought we were just letting them borrow the equipment. When we told them they could have it, their faces lit up.”

Pfaffle said, while the students learn about medicine, they learn much more.

“In the end, I think that the students learn a lot about medicine, (and) about what it takes to have the kind of infrastructure that we have in the U.S. like roads, running water and electricity,” the professor said. “Most importantly, I think they all learn a lot about themselves; what they are capable of, and that they can make a difference in the world if they really try.”