Gaining perspective from an impoverished nation

While many students were relaxing on the beach over spring break, a University of Northern Iowa professor and her son were in a third world country helping those in need. In March, Michele Devlin, professor of health, physical education and leisure services, and Daniel Yehieli, a sophomore at UNI majoring in criminology and global studies with a minor in military science, traveled to Nicaragua for a week to participate in an international service project working with Nicaraguans.

Daniel Yehieli

Daneil Yehieli is a sophomore at UNI majoring in criminology and global studies. In addition to his recent medical trip to Nicaragua, Yehieli has participated in public health projects in India and Mexico. He'll travel to Morocco this summer to study Arabic for eight weeks.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the world, second only to Haiti. Although it maintains a great environment for producing and exporting coffee, the country suffers widespread poverty and constant political turmoil. Many Nicaraguans suffer medical problems, including malnourishment, parasitic infections, lung infections and dehydration.

"The biggest eye-opener is the shocking amount of individuals who require medical attention, especially in the remote villages that do not have access to any healthcare or education," remarked Yehieli. "We worked with many patients that were affected by easily preventable diseases."

Devlin and Yehieli, along with a team of other volunteers, worked to establish a clinic deep in the Nicaraguan jungles to serve villagers with no other access to any form of health care. The team served around 1,200 patients, providing medical, dental and pharmaceutical help. They conducted health education regarding proper hygiene, first aid, safety and dental care.

Although many of the problems faced by the people of Nicaragua are easily preventable, some are quite unimaginable. "We also worked with an emergency room physician to help suture multiple fingers on adults that had been nearly severed by machetes in the fields where these farmers worked," noted Devlin.

Traveling to a country like Nicaragua is a unique experience, through which one can encounter a completely different culture facing problems that make those of the U.S. seem trivial. "Every time I travel abroad, I come back humbled and wiser, and grateful for the learning opportunities that I received from the patients," said Devlin. "I love learning about their rich cultures and understanding their perspectives on life."

Communities in Nicaragua also face similar issues confronted by people in the U.S. "Many Nicaraguans face problems such as high unemployment, low literacy, poor access to needed healthcare, limited educational opportunities and poverty," reminded Yehieli.

Daniel Yehieli
Yehieli speaks to villagers at a Nicaraguan clinic.

The two have been to many other countries for public health projects, including places in Africa, Asia and South America. The volunteers for this project went with the Medical, Eye and Dental International Care Organization (MEDICO), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing services in remote areas of Central America. "I highly encourage anyone, whether they have medical training or not, to apply with MEDICO," said Yehieli. "It can truly make a difference in someone's life."

Citizens of third world countries like Nicaragua face a diverse set of problems that can often be inconceivable to someone living in a country like the U.S. Along with a team of volunteers, Devlin and Yehieli placed themselves directly into that environment, and came back with insight that can only be gained through this sort of eye-opening experience.