From Indy, to Ecuador, to Med School

From Indy, to Ecuador, to Med School
January 2, 2013 Callie Daniels-Howell

by Zach Wright

The last few months that I’ve spent working as a long term volunteer in Ecuador for Timmy Global Health have been unlike anything I have ever experienced. There have been parts of my time in Ecuador that have exceeded my expectations, but there have been other aspects that have been more challenging than I originally anticipated. When I made the decision to serve as a long-term volunteer for Timmy, my goals were to gain first hand exposure to healthcare practices in the developing world and to improve my Spanish language skills through real life experiences in South America. I am currently achieving both of these goals, and continue to grow in my understanding of what influences global healthcare practices.

As a former Butler University Timmy chapter member, I came here with the impression that I understood how Timmy functioned as an organization. I was aware, even before I stepped foot in the country, that Timmy Global Health has extensive programming in Ecuador. Yet, over the past few months, I’ve been shocked to experience the vastness of Timmy’s programs first hand. Initially it was somewhat overwhelming to get a handle on all the activities in which Timmy is involved. Timmy has two sites in Ecuador—Quito and Tena. Though both sites operate fairly similarly, have the same overall mission, and share similar goals, they also have their own unique challenges and require unique solutions.

A lot of these challenges are based on the patient populations that we serve in both areas, as well as the different community partners that we work with. In these first few months as a volunteer, I found myself struggling to make sense of how our decision-making process works. But I’ve come to realize that, although I had a grasp on Timmy’s overall mission and goals, many of the day-to-day decisions we make coincide with the objectives of our community partners. So in order to understand the decision-making process, you have to understand our community partners on multiple levels as well as the political environment that’s deeply intertwined in the overall history of the province. As I’ve come to learn these things, my comfort level has steadily increased. I know that I still have much to learn, but I am fortunate to be surrounded by individuals who understand the situation, the history, and how Timmy Global Health fits into the mix. All of this is helping me to develop my understanding of how health care is provided to those in need, and is essential to understanding the aspects that takes place behind the scenes, in addition to the visible work of Timmy’s medical teams.

Since late September I have been a part of three medical teams—one in Quito, one in the Napo Province, and Timmy’s first surgical team, which set up clinic in Archidona. My personal roles have changed with each of these teams. As I have become more familiar with the organization and more capable with my communication skills, I have been given more responsibilities. My duties have ranged from working in the pharmacy filling prescriptions and taking patient histories, to translating for physicians. Through my work with these 3 diverse teams, I have also experienced the differences in patient populations and have been exposed to the challenges that each of Timmy’s adopted communities face. There are also the obvious logistical differences that exist in the different sites. For instance, one of our communities in the Napo province requires us to arrive in canoes because the community is an island in the Amazon River Basin.

As far as my experiences outside of the clinics and official Timmy work, I have had a lot of time to focus on improving my Spanish skills and enjoying Ecuador. I have gotten to experience trips to the “Mitad del Mundo,” or the middle of world, to see the Equatorial Line. We were given a brief explanation about the significance of the Equator and the country of Ecuador. Although there are other countries that fall on the same latitudinal line, Ecuador is significant because of the Andes Mountains. Because of the mountains, in Ecuador there are reference points that allow for astronomical studies that cannot be done anywhere else in the world. Based on where the sun rises and sets, compared to the reference points on the mountains, it is possible to determine where in the solstice we are at a given time. Another one of my most memorable experiences took place in Tena, where we floated down the river behind our house in tubes. The kids in the neighborhood joined us for this, “viaje en boyas.” Honestly I was expecting a “lazy river” experience, but what I got was more like a mini white water rafting trip on top of intertubes. It was pretty intense and I actually got banged up a little when I fell off on the rocks. It is safe to say I have battle scars already! I also have experienced cleaning and preparing fish for the first time. Other “first” experiences include a few run-ins with a bat that keeps trying to hangout in the house… I am not a big fan of birds, and rodents are even worse, so when you mix the two…bats may be one of my least favorite creatures. Nevertheless, I am adapting and surviving, and that is what this whole experience is about.

All of these situations—volunteering in clinic, meeting with leaders from Timmy’s partner organizations, floating down the river, and even chasing bats out of the house—have helped me to push and improve my Spanish language skills. My number one priority in deciding to serve as a long term volunteer for nine months was to become fluent in Spanish. I have to admit; I have experienced challenges—personally, athletically, and academically. Learning Spanish through immersion is in my opinion the most frustrating thing I have ever experienced. I have seldom felt so helpless as I did a couple times during dinner conversations. I would be able to somewhat follow the conversation but had extreme difficulty in actively participating in the discussion. Despite the frustration, it has also been extremely motivating. I am listening to music in Spanish, watching movies in Spanish, reading books in Spanish (very slowly), and trying to take advantage of every opportunity to speak with people throughout the days. Through these activities I have seen great improvement in my language skills throughout the last few months.

I am home in Indiana for the holidays as I write this post…and I’m also preparing to have a medical school interview. As I get ready to return to Ecuador for the next six months, I’m full of excitement. I can’t wait to get back down there and continue working with our community partners, meeting new patients, and learning more Spanish. It is such an amazing time to be associated with Timmy Global Health. The success of Timmy’s first surgical team, Timmy and Microsoft’s successful implementation of TimmyCare (our new electronic medical records system for remote areas of the jungle), and the recent results of the American Giving Awards means there is a lot of growth and work to be done in Ecuador in the next six months. However, another part of me wants to start medical school tomorrow! I am anxious to start my education in order to be more capable of making a difference in the communities I serve.

In my experiences in the last three months with Timmy, and the last few years in Indianapolis, I have seen the enormous need for quality, compassionate physicians both locally and abroad. I feel fortunate to know that I will take these experiences and memories with me directly into medical school in the fall. They will serve as a vivid reminder of the need that exists in the world and will motivate me to become a physician that serves my community to the best of my abilities. And the best part is, I still have so many things (challenges included) left to experience in the next six months in Ecuador. I am incredibly lucky to be having this great experience with such an amazing organization.

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