Guest post by Nick Sewell, academic coordinator in the Washington State University College of Education Office of Graduate Studies.
This summer, I found myself in a South American mountainside village, washing the dusty feet of peasants. It’s a story that began nine years ago when, after listening to a woman at our Pullman church share about her overseas medical trip, my eight-year-old daughter Danielle said she wanted to go Ecuador and help people someday.
Danielle and I realized that dream together in June.
Pullman nurse practitioner Nancy Gregory has gone to Ecuador seven times in the last nine years for a short-term medical mission she calls Ecuador Medical. Each time she takes a team down, the scope of the mission grows. Now she works with local political leaders and ministries to determine which villages will receive care. Her trips have won the attention and support of the Ecuadorian military, which for the last several years has assisted in transporting supplies and setting up the clinic at each location. This year, we set up a medical clinic and pharmacy, washed feet and fitted patients with new shoes and socks, participated in ministry to children, and offered prayer for the needy.
There were about 30 of us on the trip: two doctors, two nurse practitioners, four nurses, a lab technician, three pharmacists, and a whole team of amazing people. We set up the clinic in four locations and saw more than 900 patients in the medical clinic and pharmacy.
Lessons in medicine and social strata
Given her interest in the medical profession and plans to pursue study to become a doctor, Danielle decided to do the trip this year for her senior project in high school. Not only was she able to shadow and assist medical care professionals on three different days, she also learned such things as how to take blood pressure, clean out ears, and use a stethoscope.
Several of the villages we went to were very poor. We brought bread with us to one village after realizing that many of the children come to school without breakfast and have nothing to eat until they arrive home in the afternoon. Though we were able to get the children to smile when we played with them, we seldom saw adult villagers smile. Perhaps that was because of the hard lives they lead, their hard labor in the fields, and their meager living conditions.
The Quechua are indigenous people, and the lowest class of society. They have struggled to receive services, and there are still many isolated areas in need of medical care, education, training and spiritual support. Two years ago a retired U.S.Army colonel came as part of the team. He led the socks and shoes ministry. The Ecuadorian soldiers watched as he knelt down and washed the feet of children, men and women. That act broke through cultural barriers. The soldiers, including the commanding officer, became part of the team, washing feet and fitting shoes. Since then, the soldiers have become an integral part of the mission team.
“Long-term changes come slowly,” Nancy told us. “Our work continues to open doors for the Ecuadorians to continue helping their own people.”
Planning Sept. 5 presentation
The highland region we went to in Ecuador was beautiful and the Quechua people seemed grateful that we came and served them. Just seeing the smiles on the children’s faces when we gave them a pair of shoes was worth it all! This was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. The experience was eye-opening. My definition of “needs” was redefined. Food is a need, a newer smart phone is not.
This was my first humanitarian trip, but it won’t be my last.
With airfare, food, housing, and the $1,000 worth of medical supplies that Danielle and I were responsible for providing, the trip cost us about $5,000. Fortunately, a number of the College of Education staff and faculty helped sponsor us, and that helped a ton.
I was humbled and honored to represent the friends who graciously gave. Our lives were enriched and we hope to have had a meaningful impact on the lives of those we visited. I plan to do a presentation at noon, Sept. 5, in Cleveland Hall Room 160A at WSU for anyone who wants to learn more about what we did and see photos of our visit to Ecuador.