IWU Nursing Grad Gained Hands-On Education in Nicaragua
Angel Arroyo assists an elderly patient at a clinic in Nicaragua.
May 11, 2006
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – “I could totally do that,” Angel Arroyo of Chicago, a 2006 graduate
of Illinois Wesleyan University’s School of Nursing, remembers thinking as he watched
a nurse care for a newborn baby at a hospital where he was visiting a friend. Inspired
by what he’d seen, Arroyo transferred from the Military Institute in Lexington, Va.,
to Illinois Wesleyan in January of 2003. Little did he know that his nursing education
at IWU would ultimately lead him to Nicaragua, where, at make-shift clinics, he would
distribute antibiotics by the Ziplock bag to needy families.
In February of 2006, Arroyo joined a group of volunteers from Bloomington’s Wesley
United Methodist Church as they embarked on their annual mission trip to the Central
American nation. The church contacted Donna Hartweg, director of the School of Nursing,
inquiring about Spanish-speaking nursing majors who might be interested in volunteering.
Hartweg suggested to Arroyo, who was born in Mexico and is bilingual, that he join
Although the trip required him to miss a week of class, Arroyo gained invaluable hands-on
experience. Three of his courses for the spring semester—Leadership, Epidemiology
and Community Health Science, Nursing Senior Seminar with an emphasis on global healthcare
issues and Medical Spanish—were directly related to the skills he would use and learn
Throughout the week in Nicaragua, the volunteers, including a doctor, physician’s
assistant, nurse anaesthetist and nurse practitioner, held clinics at various sites,
including a city dump, where they performed physical examinations and distributed
medicines to orphans and families.
Local ministers announced to their congregations ahead of time that the mission team
would be coming, and distributed forms, one per person in a family, listing all the
available medications that the volunteers would provide. At the clinics, families
lined up, papers in hand. After each examination, a volunteer marked the necessary
antibiotics on the list and sent the patient to the pharmacy team where he or she
received the indicated medicines.
“We already had Spanish labels on the medications, and I made sure the patients knew
how to use them,” Arroyo said of his daily clinic work with the pharmacy team. “Especially
with inhalers or with antibiotics, where they have to finish the whole course of medication.”
Detailed planning for the trip began in the fall of 2005. Divided into teams, the
group split the responsibility of tasks such as writing letters to ask for donations
of materials and planning activities to do with children at the orphanages they visited.
In February, the team flew to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, and then traveled
seven hours by school bus to Jinotega, the site of the orphanage where they stayed.
“There were little kids filling in potholes along the road,” Arroyo remembered of
the drive. “They do this so that drivers will give them tips.” However, a seasoned
mission trip vet warned him that at night the children shoveled the dirt back out
of the potholes in order to re-fill them each day.
According to Arroyo, this behavior, learned so young by street children, mirrors the
biggest problem facing the nation: many attempts to improve education and health care
and reduce poverty in Nicaragua have been undermined by corruption. However, as a
volunteer with the Wesley mission team, Arroyo helped to fill in some of these figurative
potholes for good.
Arroyo, who graduated from IWU in April, will begin work in the trauma unit of Loyola
hospital in Chicago this August. Although he is beginning a new phase of his life,
Arroyo’s experience in Nicaragua has permanently colored his perception of the nursing
field. When he accepted the job offer, Arroyo immediately asked his prospective employers
if the hospital sponsored any volunteer trips.
“The hospital has Doctors Without Borders (an international humanitarian aid organization
that provides medical assistance in more than 80 countries), and they need nurses
to help out,” he said. Making such a trip would mean sacrificing a week of his allotted
vacation time. However, after his life-changing experience in Nicaragua, Arroyo knows
that he “could totally do that.”
Contact: Rebecca Welzenbach, (309) 556-3181