The work ranged from health care to digging trenches for the 84-member Marquette University Global Brigades which traveled to Nicaragua to provide health care, dentistry and assistance with public health and water projects for a nine day service mission.
“When you’re over there (Nicaragua) it’s like going back in time, you realize how much we have here and how much we take for granted,” said Amy Lovell. “By just connecting at such a human level with others, you see God in the faces of the people you meet. We’re all created in the image of God and to be able to serve someone who’s in need of just basic things that we take for granted every day, like easy access to health care. These people walk hours to see a doctor or dentist and to get medication.”
The names Lovell and Wojciechowski are synonomous with Marquette University, but this time it’s the families of the Marquette president and men’s basketball coach who are making the headlines on campus.
Nurse practitioner Lindsay Wojciechowski, wife of the Marquette men’s basketball coach Steve Wojciechowski, former pharmacist Amy Lovell, wife of president Michael Lovell, and Marissa Lovell, the couple’s eldest daughter, a senior at Marquette, were part of the recent experience.
Global Brigades began at Marquette University in 2003, when volunteers traveled to Honduras to provide medical, dental and public health care. Since then, more than 800 university clubs worldwide have created their own affiliation. Marquette has also served in Panama through its Environmental Brigade.
Marquette began its first service trip to Nicaragua in 2013, and its most recent trip of 68 students and 16 health care professionals and advisors, marked the highest number of people to volunteer. This allowed the group to split into two teams: Marquette Blue and Marquette Gold.
The brigade left for Nicaragua on Jan. 7 and immediately went into action before it could begin to provide support to the local communities. The first day consisted of “med packing,” organizing medical and dental supplies into backpacks and luggage so they could easily transport the provisions to the local communities.
“The one advantage I had was the experience with the medications and being able to speak English to the students because in the past if the students had a question they would have to try to ask the Nicaraguan pharmacist who spoke Spanish, which would slow down the production,” said Amy Lovell. “Having that knowledge and knowing the way a pharmacy runs helped the whole process. It was a unique experience for me because it was so different, we’re working out of suitcases with medication packed in baggies.”
Each team spent three days on a medical and dental brigade. Marquette Blue provided care in the community of Casa Blanca and served 880 patients, while Marquette Gold worked for two days in Puertas Azules and one day in El Cebollal where they saw 597 patients. All three communities were new sites for this year’s medical and dental brigade.
“One of the great things about nurse practitioners is we pride ourselves on being great educators and that was a neat opportunity to sit down with patients who otherwise might not necessarily have the chance to get the proper education about their health issues,” said Wojciechowski. “To have an unrushed situation, which is also sitting down and really making a difference in their understanding of what is going on or suggesting changes they can make to better themselves.”
The groups combined their efforts for a public health project for two days and worked alongside seven families in the community of Los Encuentros de San Gabriel to pave cement floors, install external eco-stoves and build sanitation stations and septic tanks for their homes. For some of the volunteers who previously served in Nicaragua, it was an emotional reunion with the local citizens.
“It was amazing that the children still remembered some of our names,” said Marissa Lovell, who was on her third trip to Nicaragua and wants to pursue a career in social welfare. “We weren’t expecting the people to remember us, but it shows us how important our help is to them.”
The group became a water brigade on the final day of the trip, working with the locals by digging and backfilling 500 meters of trenches for a water pipeline to serve more than 200 families and 900 people in five communities.
By the end of the day, the team completed the construction of a holding tank that would serve the communities of Sabana de en Medio, Cuatro Esquinas, San Gabriel, Mesa del Ocote and Las Joyas, which had previously been without immediate access to running water.
“You’re digging with a pickaxe and a shovel and you think of all the technology we have here that helps people to do these projects quickly. It’s like this reality of going back in time,” said Amy Lovell. “It’s pretty incredible to go and see the students working hard and really wanting to make a difference in the lives of the people over there. It’s cool to witness the students working with the servant’s heart.”
By the end of the trip, the brigadiers felt they had received as much as they gave.
“The people in Nicaragua are so grateful and warm and giving, even though they don’t have a lot, so I think that profoundly touches the brigadiers,” said Amy Lovell. “The Jesuit values of St. Ignatius, like being the difference, was really driven to be the hands and feet of Jesus and seeing God in all things, taking care of the whole person. We not only worked physically to help give them basic needs but also showed them love and kindness and appreciation for what they gave us, too.”
From Amy’s experience she also witnessed a new perspective as a mother.
“The roles were reversed, Marissa was leading me rather than me leading her,” she said. “This was something that she stepped out of her comfort zone to do three years ago and it was encouraging for me to join her. It was neat as a mom to experience.”
Both Amy and Lindsay would like to participate in future brigades but noted it is difficult to be away from their families. Marissa is a senior, but plans to remain a student at the university for an extra semester and is hopeful she will return to Nicaragua next year.
“I was really impressed by the student body of Marquette coming together, I think Marquette is a place where service to others is really a part of the fabric of the university and it was fun to be a part of that,” said Wojciechowski. “The Jesuit mission of service to others is regularly practiced not only throughout the campus but also abroad.”