Would you know how to handle a snake bite in the middle of the Nicaraguan wilderness? How about a broken limb? A machete wound? While some have been trained in first aid (albeit about 20 years ago), most of the local health volunteers (brigadistas) in my community wouldn’t know what to do in those situations. While they have enthusiasm and a strong desire to improve their community and support Health Center activities in the rural communities, brigadistas are often poorly trained and lack resources. None of them have basic first aid kit materials or are confident to address emergency situations in their villages.
Enter Emergency Relief Services for Latin America (ERSLA). This non-governmental organization (NGO) runs out of the Nicaraguan city of Estelí and was founded by a former Nicaraguan Peace Corps volunteer named Rodney McDonald. I have known him for months and since they often work with firefighters and other emergency relief efforts, I brought up the idea of coordinating a basic first aid class in my community. This month, several volunteers from the U.S. came down to Nicaragua to work with ERSLA training firefighters and helping with administrative efforts. Turns out one of them, named Ryan, was a paramedic, spoke Spanish, and willing to do the training in my community!
We coordinated a half-day training and invited all the brigadistas in the community. Ryan and Rodney arrived bright and early, however like most Nicaraguan meetings – it started about an hour and a half late. Only female brigadistas showed up – I guess that’s what you get for holding a meeting during coffee and tobacco season. Most of the men were probably doing seasonal harvest work for the local cooperatives.
Ryan led an informal training session and his Spanish was great. The women were a little giggly in the presence of two American men and were quick to forgive his grammar errors. Since most brigadistas have little to no first aid material in their homes, Ryan taught simple first aid techniques using common items such as a t-shirt, a bottle of water, a baseball cap or wooden sticks. They role-played common scenarios making a sling out of a t-shirt, carrying someone who was wounded, and making a splint. In the case of neck or spinal injury, he showed the women how to make a neck brace using the bill of a baseball hat, wrapping it with cloth.
|Practicing sling tying|
|When there is no ambulance (or donkey) available!|
|Ryan was quite the clown with the ladies. Here he is pretending to have a neck injury|
|Me getting a sling wrapped|
|Stopping bleeding and elevating|
The Health Center Director and Head Nurse were also present at the training and I think even they learned a few techniques. When resources are scarce and there is no anti-bacterial wash, clean gauze or even band-aids out in the field, using what is available in the home or in the field is the brigadista’s only option. These brigadistas are paid nothing and volunteer their time and energy to improve the health of their communities. The brigadistas program began after the Nicaraguan Sandinista revolution and is one of the great grassroots networks that we can access and utilize as Peace Corps volunteers to implement community education programs.
The training was a success, and I hope to coordinate with Rodney to have follow-up sessions in the coming months. Thanks ERSLA and thanks to Ryan! Check out ERSLA’s web page at: www.ersla.org