Dr. Don Stechschulte has traveled to Nicaragua on the Bucknell Brigade 22 times since Hurricane Mitch displaced thousands of families along Lake Managua in 1998.
Bucknell’s Student Health Services director has helped build two clinics in the resettlement town Nueva Vida and treated thousands of patients with ailments ranging from cuts and burns to diabetes and lung disease.
And he has learned to expect the unexpected as the focus of relief work changes from meeting basic needs to facing real urban issues such as violence, crime and gangs.
On his most recent trip in January, Stechschulte was reminded of the inherent dangers of working in a third-world country and of the impact the Brigade has had. As he sat on a school bus at the Managua dump, holding a baby for the tour guide who was showing the rest of the group around, a worker approached the bus window wearing a mask and carrying a pick.
"I didn't know what was going to happen," Stechschulte said. "But as the man came closer, he said, 'I know you. You're the doctor from Nueva Vida. Two years ago, you treated the burn on my foot.' He took his shoe off and showed me a healed burn. I thought, 'Well, I'll be darned.'"
Scenes of desperation – such as the dump, where thousands of families live and work among heaps of burning trash – are counterbalanced by successes, such as the clinics and an emerging spinning cooperative.
"The fruits of our labor are definitely there, especially when you see the pictures from the first brigade and then look at what's there now," Stechschulte said. "It's greater than day and night. … It's fair to say this has been one of the most significant experiences I've had in my lifetime."
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