During my junior year of high school I experienced my first great rejection. I had applied to go on a summer trip to Peru with the American Youth Leadership Program. I made it to the interview round and was so excited to possibly be able to participate in this amazing program. A few weeks after the interview, I got the disappointing email that I was not chosen to go on the trip.
While upset about the rejection, I was still committed to the idea of traveling abroad and experiencing a new culture. I remembered that my church did a service trip to Mexico each summer, which seemed like a good alternative, so I signed up. I didn’t know then that this trip would change the course of my life.
When I got to NPH Mexico that summer, I found one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. The kids were so generous, welcoming, and radiated pure love and light. Their smiles were infectious and even though my Spanish was pretty minimal, we could somehow communicate so easily without words. I went back home from that trip thankful that I had been able to experience something so amazing. The following summer I returned on the same trip, and that is when I decided I wanted to return to NPH as a volunteer after graduating from University.
During the fall of 2014, I began nursing school at the University of Pennsylvania. That same year, ‘Penn’ developed an award called the “President’s Engagement Prizes.” The prize is a $100,000 grant for graduating Penn seniors to design and implement a global, national, or local civic engagement project. When I heard about this award, I immediately thought of NPH and I became determined to apply for it when I became a senior.
Over the next years, I began reaching out to NPH, university professors, and anyone else who I thought could advise me on this project. With the support of so many people - my advisors Cindy and Nancy, Corinna and Pilar from NPH International Medical services, and my family and friends - the idea of “Healthy Pequeños” was formed.
Healthy Pequeños is a nurse-led, holistic infection prevention program aimed at addressing the global problem of pediatric infectious disease. Infectious diseases are the leading cause of pediatric morbidity and mortality around the world and are the primary health concern among the children at NPH Mexico.
The program consists of three parts: pathogen-exposure reduction through environmental changes, such as access to adequate sanitation facilities and clean water; health promotion and education aimed at children and their caregivers; and community infection surveillance by medical personnel.
During January of my senior year, I submitted the application. In April, I got a call from the University President telling me I had won. I immediately began to cry because I couldn’t believe that I would be able to return to NPH and contribute to the already amazing place that it is.
I have now been at NPH Mexico for almost 6 months. My mornings are spent in the clinic working on the project – writing the curriculum and giving the education lessons, collaborating with NPH staff to design and implement pathogen reduction repair projects, designing health promotion interventions, and working with the staff in the clinic on a variety of tasks. My afternoons and evenings consist of helping care for the "chicos" section of boys, ages 7-10.
The days can be long but they are filled with so much learning, laughing, and love. I am learning more than I ever thought possible in my first year as a nurse – how to manage a budget of $100,000, how to collaborate with different teams of people, how to learn from other cultures and communities, and ultimately how to turn a project idea into action.
I am also filled with and surrounded by more love than I could have ever imagined – the children, caregivers, other volunteers, and staff at NPH, as well as the Mexican people, have made a place that is very far and different from my home feel comfortable and familiar.
Looking back, I now realize that the rejection letter that hurt so much in the moment, would be what lead me to where I was meant to be. I have never been so sure of what I am meant to be doing and where I am meant to be doing it. NPH has given me so much – from igniting my initial passion in global health to welcoming me into a beautiful and loving family; I couldn’t be more grateful. I am so glad that through Healthy Pequeños I am able to give something back to an organization that has given me so much.