Monday, April 1, 2013

Lessons learned from a humanitarian trip.

For the past nine years, I have traveled to Nicaragua as part of a team of Rotarians to build clinics, schools, libraries, pharmacies, and to provide many supplies such as computers, clothes, etc. I just came back from my spring break trip there and am still suffering from PNS, or “Post-Nicaragua-Syndrome.” It is hard to refocus on work in our non-tropical temperatures, and get re-accustomed to the silence in my office. When driving, there are no tricycle taxis with merchants going to the local market, or horse-powered buggies selling firewood, or mini-taxis the size of a smart car.

When I start my trip I always have those grandiose ideas about getting computers down there so they can use electronic health records or use smart phones to transfer vitals from remote clinics. However, rightfully so, they always start laughing at me when I suggest these technologies as the Internet is very expensive and slow, electricity is unreliable and prone to unpredictable surges that “fry” the power supply of computers. There is no A/C so overheating can be a real problem as this country is close to the equator.

Despite all these problems and issues, it is remarkable (or maybe not) that this country still seems to operate and function. It causes me to ask, do you really need a smart phone or is a simple pre-paid phone OK as well. Should I call someone or can I just text him or her?  Do I really need an iPad or tablet to look at my emails or would an old fashioned PC with a keyboard suffice? And what about the cultural impact of having A/C? Now, everyone is always outside in the evening, talking with their neighbors, and the kids are playing on the streets. Imagine everyone being inside to cool off, the streets would be deserted. And imagine more people having cars; remember a teacher makes $300 a month; no way the “middle class” can afford cars right now, no more walking to the market?

Sometimes it does not hurt to re-calibrate ourselves and realize how good we have it, or maybe not… We could do a lot more with much less, save some resources and money, or, share some of what we have with the less fortunate. At least once a year, during my trips to do work in developing countries, I am reminded of that. I encourage everyone to take that opportunity as well. We could make a difference one school, one clinic, one teacher, one student, one doctor at a time.