A lot of college students like to go to scenic beaches for spring break. South Carolina track and field junior distance runners Hope Dominique, Katerina Hendrix, and Claudia Satzke went to Ecuador for nine days and worked in health clinics to try to help underserved people there. The trip was organized through the Methodist Student Network at the University.
“We went to do medical and optometry clinics,” said Dominique who made a similar trip during last year’s spring break as well. “We brought an American doctor with us and an optometrist. There were also Ecuadorian doctors. After last year, I felt very moved by all the interactions we had with the people there.”
“I want to go to medical school, and I love helping people in any way,” said Satzke, who is studying exercise science. “I love traveling, so doing this was just as cool as going on a spring break trip to Florida.”
“I had always wanted to go overseas to serve and engage with the people who were in need, but I always came up with excuses or never had the time,” said Hendrix, who is an exercise science major with a desire to continue her education to become a Physician’s Assistant. “When this opportunity arose to go to Ecuador during spring break, I knew this was the time. Leading up to the trip, I had been battling an injury and was a little nervous. If I couldn’t run, how was I going to cross-train on this trip to stay in shape for the season? A few days before the trip, I really thought to myself, why am I selfishly thinking about if I could ride a bike in Ecuador when some of them do not even have running water or a bed to lay their head. This trip gave me a life perspective that was beyond my running goals.”
While there, the student-athletes had a variety of tasks.
“The doctors would see patients, and we would take their vitals, greet them and check them in,” said Dominique, who is an exercise science major, minoring in Spanish, with a desire to go to medical school. “Some of our group would be working at the pharmacy, get them the medicines they were prescribed, and explain how to use them, and we also gave them hygiene kits.”
“If there wasn’t a big line, we could shadow the doctors and listen to what they were telling the patients,” Satzke said. “In the optometry clinic, we had to dilate some peoples’ eyes, and we used an autorefractor that we would hold up to their eyes and the computer would pull up the best matches for a prescription for the glasses that we had.”
“Seeing how happy they were once we helped them and being able to interact with them really boosted your spirit. ”
The clinics took place in three locations in Ecuador, on the coast in Pedernales and Santo Domingo and in the mountain town of Romerillos. The living conditions in the towns were not what most college students would be accustomed.
“Pedernales was hit by a big earthquake a few years ago, so in the community where we were, they built what were basically just stone huts,” Hendrix said. “So, there were tons of families in these small houses.”
“Most of them hadn’t had access to health care,” Dominique said. “In some of the places we would go, we weren’t sure if we would have electricity to use our equipment or running water.”
Despite the poorer living conditions, the student-athletes were happy to give their time to help and felt like they received something great in return from the people they met.
“The biggest challenge was trying to stay positive sometimes,” said Satzke. “It was hard to see those people and how little they had. It could be upsetting at times. Seeing how happy they were once we helped them and being able to interact with them really boosted your spirit. We may see something sad, but they don’t have a lot, and they’re still so happy.”
“You see how less focused they are on material things, and they’re more focused on simple things like loving on each other,” Dominique said. “They’re all so happy. Being able to give them simple things such as vitamins and ibuprofen, they’re so happy and grateful. The little kids were happy to get toothbrushes. I picked out a little pink toothbrush for a little girl, and she got really excited. With the optometry clinic, I felt like we had more of an immediate impact. When you see someone getting glasses for the first time, and they’ve gone their whole life not even knowing what they’re missing, it’s so great.”
While their spring break trip wasn’t a day at the beach, the Gamecocks were glad they went.
“Hope told us about it last year, and I really wanted to expand my interests outside of the United States and to give to these communities that don’t have as much,” Hendrix said. “I knew it would change my perspective in how I live my life. Each day in the clinic was great. I love kids, and sometimes when we weren’t too busy, I would go outside and play with them. Seeing smiles on their faces, I was just so grateful for that. This definitely validated that I do want to go into healthcare.”
“Since I went last year, I knew how things were run, so I could spend more time interacting with people,” Dominique said. “The trip wasn’t just about giving, but also receiving. While we provided the people with medicine and glasses, we were also able to receive so much love from them in the form of gratitude and appreciation, which was so amazing. This is such a meaningful and fulfilling trip. This certainly solidified my desire to go into medicine.”
“I think this will help me a lot in the future,” Satzke said. “It keeps me inspired and motivated. The whole trip was life-changing and opened my eyes to what really matters in life. I would encourage anyone who had the opportunity do something like this to do it!”