Group Service Trips: Change Can Start in Just 8 Days!
Can business students bring real change to a community in just 8 days?
A recent Group Service Trip of students from Andrews University sought to do just that. The goal was clear: to bring awareness of an oncology clinic in Masaya, Nicaragua to women in the community--and, in so doing, encourage early screening of treatable cervical cancer.
Conducted through Andrews’s chapter of ENACTUS (Entrepreneurial Action to Create Sustainable Change), the student group traveled to Masaya, Nicaragua. There, they teamed with our longtime partner, MASINFA and CIPO (Centro Investigacion Prevención Oncológico), a medical clinic focused on investigating oncological problems as a means of preventing and curtailing the spread of cervical cancer.
Group leader, William Down, sees Andrews’ first GST as having paved the way for a successful five-year mission to bring economic and healthcare change to Masaya. “Phase one of our project was to conduct a needs assessment of the clinic—in short, to find out what the clinic staff needed, rather than pushing our point of view on them from a project management perspective. Our collective ‘Eureka!’ moment came early on when we saw that there was more than just an ‘American way’ of going about this and achieving our goals.
“From the very first day, we recognized the need to improve the awareness of clinic’s services in the community. Despite great need in the community, the doctors and nurses often saw only two women a day because of a lack of educational marketing in the community. The ENACTUS team is developing new ways to bring in more patients to the clinic,” he says.
To fully understand how the CIPO outreach coordinators worked, the Andrews GST shadowed them in the field. They quickly encountered two barriers: illiteracy among many community members, which made the use of printed materials ineffective, and cultural barriers that made information sharing and receptivity difficult.
Nicaragua has one of the highest cervical cancer rates in the Western Hemisphere. Outreach to the community and education programs are scant, for cultural and budgetary reasons. As a means of encouraging early and frequent screenings, the Andrews GST members produced a compelling video testimonial from a woman who said the clinic had actually saved her life and shared this as part of their community outreach work.
William says, “Many women didn’t know about clinic or services, so creating a presence for the clinic was a vital part of our work. Because of the short duration of our trip, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore the countryside; our free time in the evening was spent analyzing data—though we usually did so in one of the great cafes in Masaya.”
William believes that his group made definite strides in its very first year. Chief among these was creating awareness: “We discovered that many women that we surveyed did not know what CIPO was, nor did they know about the services that the CIPO clinic had to offer, and I feel confident that we brought the clinic to their attention through our activities,” he says.
Among the recommendations the Andrews GST made was the use of social media in promoting the clinic’s services. They launched CIPO’s first Facebook page. Free Wi-Fi exists in city parks and social media is common, so creating a Facebook page proved an excellent means of creating awareness of the clinic’s programs.
Because the Andrews University group included many business students, they were able to help CIPO initiate new, streamlined accounting procedures. Since the group’s departure, the clinic’s staff have been able to better plan and spend their monthly budgets---and deliver better services to community members as a result.
William says, “This was by far one of the most memorable experiences that I have had throughout my entire life. FSD shed a new light on international project development, and we are forever grateful for our in-country experience. I felt safe (in Nicaragua) and safety is something that my team values. I was blessed to see how many lives my team was able to positively impact in such a short period of time, and my hope is that we continue to impact even more lives in the future. I believe that this project has the potential to become even larger than what we originally thought it would be.”