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Helping Moms in Need in Mexico

July 20, 2016

While some students might use their break week to catch a breath from their hard work over the course of the previous quarter, others, like Christina Martindale, opt instead to put their time to work and make a difference.

Martindale spent her quarter break week volunteering in an impoverished area in Mexico hiking to find pregnant women in need of medical care. An amazing opportunity for a budding nursing student, Martindale used this unique experience to learn, but also to set an example of how students can take advantage of their free time in their busy schedules to truly make an impact on communities, local and abroad.

“I visited Oaxaca City, Mexico from June 11-17 through the volunteer program Love Volunteers,” said Martindale. “I was placed at El Centro de Salud de San Jacinto, a rural health center in the outskirts of Oaxaca City.”

Unfortunately, Martindale ran into a bit of bad luck upon her arrival, as the nurses and doctors were on strike for the first few days of her visit. “They were frustrated with their working environments and poor funding, understaffing, and corruption that is deeply rooted in the government-funded health and academic systems,” said Martindale. “Health care providers and educators in Oaxaca actually go on strike pretty frequently. Many of the health facilities were not open during these days, so unfortunately I wasn't able to volunteer at the health center until halfway through the week.”

Thankfully the program organizers were able to set her up with a nonprofit children's center, El Centro de Esperanza Infantil, which provides an educational safe haven for impoverished children. It sponsors over 600 children in the area, and is completely run off of donations. “The impact that this center has on the community is immeasurable,” said Martindale. This opportunity allowed her to still lend a helping hand during the strike. On the days she visited the health center, she assisted the local physicians with patient intake and physical exams in the office and went on home visits to check up on the pregnant women in the village.

Martindale shared a particularly touching story about how she and another volunteer went hiking in the mountains, spending about six hours assisting pregnant women and new mothers, most of whom were between the ages of 13 and 22. They would assist them in their "casitas,” which directly translates to “small house,” but Martindale clarified that they were merely poorly constructed shacks without electricity or a clean water supply. The living conditions of the population in the rural areas are drastically different from the city, and the nurses who usually help these women are horribly understaffed and lack the necessary supplies. This kind of initiative shown by the nursing staff can not only be very comforting to these mothers, but occasionally life-saving.

“At any given time, there are close to 100 pregnant or postpartum women in the area,” said Martindale. “The purpose of these visits was to assess for complications of pregnancy and to educate the families about proper care for a newborn, nutrition, and general health promotion.”

Martindale was able to learn a great deal that she will be able to take back with her to the United States. Not only did she bring back more experience and knowledge, but she also brought back a sense of gratitude. “The experience was very humbling. It really put things into perspective,” said Martindale. “While school can often be stressful, and the health care environment in U.S. has its shortcomings, these challenges pale in comparison to the misfortunes that others experience. It was a reminder to be grateful for the opportunities I have in my personal and professional life and to take advantage of the fortuitous ability I've been given to positively impact change in the lives and health of others.”

After an eye-opening trip, and a newfound understanding of a completely different health system, she is even more inspired to continue her excellent work back here in Philadelphia. “This experience gave me a strong desire to seek out more volunteer programs out after I graduate,” said Martindale.

 By Jacob Cushing '19