We distributed eyeglasses to nearly 1,100 people and completed 40-something surgeries in Chinandega, last week, as part of this year’s New Orleans Medical Mission Services trip to Nicaragua. The week before, another NOMMS team in Matagalpa saw over 1,450 patients in the eye clinic and 43 surgeries. Overall, a successul time in Nicaragua this year.

For me, the trip was particularly fulfilling, as I had the opportunity to serve as director of the eye clinic in Chinandega. This being only my 2nd mission with NOMMS, I was a bit nervous, especially since my Spanish is pretty rusty – I can’t conjugate worth a damn, so everything is happening right now, nothing has ever happened or will ever happen when I’m speaking Spanish! But my team in the eye clinic was great, including the fabulous Dr. Frank Romano, who really brought an extra dimension to the clinic with his insights into reading the prescription slips (papelitas) and identifying solutions to help people see better that weren’t easy to discern from the auto-refractor readings alone. Our operation was one of quality over quantity, seeing fewer patients than other trips, but I feel really confident and pleased with the work we did in spending more time with each patient to make sure we were getting the right fit for each of them. That’s what’s important, and combined with the fact that we didn’t turn anyone away – all the demand was met, everyone who came to the clinic got in and was seen – leaves me more than satisfied with the week’s efforts.

Of course, as a student of development, I continue to think about the sustainability factor – NOMMS is really doing good work and I believe in the organization, but I will be promoting activities with them more focused on capacity-building in the countries we’re visiting and based more in education for the local doctors and nurses we’re working with. As with any humanitarian effort, we should be trying to work ourselves out of a job. Modifying the focus of the missions to include a larger component of training and capacity building, in my opinion, should be the future focus of the organization so I will bring these ideas to the board and see what we can do to make that a priority.

In the meantime, our partners in Nicaragua are fantastic. Hospital España and Hospital Mauricio Abdala were gracious and helpful hosts, and the Coen Foundation took great care of us, helping to get all of the arrangements settled in advance and providing us with a lovely reception the final day of the trip. Our volunteers were fantastic, the folks in the eye clinic (Eric, Maureen, Suzanne, Lois, & Mary) were troopers, working 11-hour days and with endless patience. I am looking forward to my next experience on a NOMMS mission, hoping to get further into the logistics side of the operation.

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