Last March during my site visit, I was thrown into a truck that traversed rivers and mountains until we ended up in several rural communities that I haven’t seen since. It was an exciting and confusing time. I spent the day trying to get my bearings: where were we, who were we working with, what could I do to help, and for the love of god why did I decide to wear my beautiful H&M black and white skirt with heals when I would be spending the day hiking up steep muddy hills to deliver vaccines to far out communities?
Though I have adjusted my wardrobe since last year, one fact remains unchanged: March is the country-wide vaccination campaign. Here’s a look at what a typical day is like during the campaign:
Monday, March 12
I headed down to the hospital around 7:30am. We all gathered in the conference room as Dory dictated who would be going to which communities.
At 8:00am, we climbed into the ambulance. The first stop was my house. Apparently puppies aren’t allowed on vaccination campaigns.
My team arrived in a little community called El Cielo (sky, heaven). On our way up, I had to grip my seat with both hands while simultaneously squeezing the vaccine cooler with my legs to steady it while the ambulance trekked ever skyward over rocky terrain and rivers. We passed by jovenes and viejitos alike along the side of the road who had to make their way to their respective communities by foot. This picture is of Janet, one of the nurses I worked with, who is posing in front of the primary school in El Cielo where we held the campaign.
Eva, the Brigadista from El Cielo, is posing with the free backpacks that they’re giving to all the school children. They also all get notebooks and pencils.
Some kids hanging out before the campaign. Okay, okay, you got me–class was in session when we arrived, and we had to take over their classroom for the vaccination campaign. These are some of the kids getting ready to go.
Janet administering a vaccine. We vaccinated every child in El Cielo.
Since I can’t inject vaccines, I helped out by giving vitamin A drops, anti-parasite pills, and the polio vaccine.
This is the capsule that contains vitamin A drops. Simply cut off the top and squeeze it into the child’s mouth. Vitamin A cures night blindness. I was so excited to distribute vitamin A because a vitamin A campaign in Southeast Asia was one of the first large-scale public health success stories that I learned about in school. The idea that something so inexpensive can cure a disease so debilitating is empowering. What other public health breakthroughs will we see in the future?
After a full day of vaccinations, we were still missing some kids from El Cielo and another nearby community. So around 3pm, we ventured out to find them.
The views were outstanding.
And we found all of them–in one house! We hung out there for a while giving vaccines, anti-parasite pills, and vitamins. In turn, the family gave us coffee and chicharrón (fried big skin).
And on the way back, we raided a lone orange tree. We hoarded as many oranges as we could into our backpacks. That tree didn’t stand a chance.
By 5pm we had made it back to the school and were waiting for the ambulance. This little guy hung out with us all day, took a bunch of pictures for me, and lastly, drew a picture:
It’s a drawing of his community. It was so good that I put it on my wall.
At around 6pm, the ambulance left us at a town about a half hour away from site because the driver had to go towards Matagalpa to pick up another team. So together, my team and I hitched a ride and made it back to town.
Mani was very happy to see me.
And so ends a typical day during the vaccination campaign. It’s a busy time, but there’s something liberating about climbing into a rickety old vehicle and venturing out into new communities in the mountains. Some of these places are so inaccessible that MINSA only goes out to them during this time of year. As such, these vaccination campaigns are vital to the health of Nicaraguan children–without it, many wouldn’t get vaccinated at all. This is why I love public health.