Making the challenge worthwhile

As part of the Nicaragua experience students assisted as firefighters. They got a little dirty. | PC: Meredith Nichols

As part of the Nicaragua experience students assisted as firefighters. They got a little dirty. | PC: Meredith Nichols

Picture this: You’re on a panga boat off the coast of a small island in Nicaragua.

You have no food. You have no water.

For 24 hours, you simply have sunscreen and the company of 21 other students. You shift every 10 minutes to prevent your whole body from going numb, but that proves unsuccessful after the first few hours. You watch the morning turn to afternoon and afternoon to dusk before dusk gives way to the power of the moon and stars.

The stars become your only light to see the white capped waves off in the distance. Before you know it the powerful sun is overtaking the sky once more. You try not to think about the deep hunger pains and the headache you’ve been nursing for the last six hours.

Then, just as you think you can’t last any longer, you hear the sweetest sound you have ever heard—the boat’s engine starting. You and your classmates make your way off the boat and onto sweet, sweet land.

Now, what was this experience supposed to teach me? Who knows really. But because of it I now have a new saying: I’ve been through worse.

My time at Union has been full of lessons learned, memories and adventures.

My experiences at Union and within the International Rescue and Relief program (IRR) pushed me out of my comfort zone—and I’m not just talking about trekking through the jungles of Nicaragua or less than ideal bathroom situations.

Union was my first introduction to Seventh-day Adventists—I didn’t even know Adventism was a religion.

Through this crash course in Adventism I’ve learned to keep an open heart and mind towards others—even when their way of life is different from my own. The thing I will miss most about the IRR program is that the chance to walk out of my comfort zone will not be so easy to come by.

There won’t be many more times I’ll be hanging upside down off the side of a building to practice rescuing my classmate. Nor will I be trekking through the jungle in the rain to provide medical care to a small rural village off the Rio Coco. I won’t be sitting on a boat without food or water for 24 hours again. Well, at least I hope not.

I would never have had these opportunities to grow without Union and the IRR program. I also would not know what I want to do with my life.

Through my education I’ve been able to put my passion for helping others into action.

In Nicaragua I was given the privilege of collecting data while the group conducted medical clinics along the Rio Coco (the river that borders Honduras and Nicaragua). I was able to collect data on 1,300 patients.

With the help of my instructors, I learned how to analyze the data to grasp a better understanding of the diseases seen in villages along the Rio Coco.

I found my passion in public health and epidemiology because of the hands-on learning style of IRR.

I’m extremely thankful for the IRR program and Union College as a whole. These last five years of my life have been full of laughter, growth, joy and adventure.

Not to say my time as Union wasn’t challenging—many times I thought about giving up.

But, the people and the experiences at Union made the challenges worthwhile.

Meredith Nichols is a senior guest writer studying international community development.