Diane Chandler gets some stitching practice in Costa Rica. A local doctor is with her at the table.
Diane Chandler brought back memories and experience from her health care volunteer service in Central America. She also left a little bit of Carbon County behind while she was there this summer: medicines and personal hygiene items donated by local doctors and firms.
"The people there are so poor. I had brought some little bars of soap and bottles of shampoo from motels. They were so grateful for something as small as a little bar of soap," she said.
Chandler, who is studying for her RN at USU Eastern, decided to spend her summer doing humanitarian medical work with International Service Learning in Costa Rica and Panama.
She learned about the opportunity at a booth at nursing conference. "They were doing work for the really poor and I said, 'That's for me.'"
The first stop for her and ten other pre-med and nursing students was an urban area in Costa Rica. One of her jobs was to do a census of conditions. That was when she saw the meaning of abject poverty.
The area where she worked was cramped. "The streets were narrow, just an arm span wide. And people built their houses out of anything they could find."
In some places, she saw as many as seven people living in a room. "It seemed normal to them," she commented.
Crowded conditions, leaky roofs and poor nutrition took a toll on health. Chandler said there is a high incidence of diabetes in Costa Rica, which she attributes at least in part to eating lots of fried food.
"They have nothing to use for baking," she explained.
In the urban area where she was working the people had some tap water, but it was common to see people also carrying water in buckets from local wells.
In fact, the volunteers had to carry buckets to their own lodging just to flush the toilet.
Dampness and poor diet also produced afflictions of parasites and fungal infections, she added.
All the volunteer students were asked to collect donations from their communities. So Chandler visited local doctors' offices and motels and got what she was looking for. "This community is great," she commented.
The regions where she worked were short on even basic medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
"While we were there, we all skipped some meals, took the money we would have spent and gave it to the communities," she noted.
Chandler noticed a cycle of poverty. Although there is public education, she estimated that the average in the poverty areas was around sixth grade.
On the other hand, those students who graduate from high school can go right into medical school. There are 22-year-old doctors there.
From Costa Rica, the crew drove along the main coastal highway into Panama.
Their service would be in the rural areas. That's where the highway turned into country roads.
"Let me say this: you wouldn't want to go fast on them. There's a lot of what you might call unannounced road damage," she chuckled.
Despite the hardships she saw, she'd go back and probably will.
"I totally would recommend it," she declared.