David Smith is a fourth-year medical student at UF’s College of Medicine. He recently matched to pediatrics at UF. Smith lives in Gainesville with his wife of three years, Danielle.
In early February, I decided to join a group of my fellow fourth-year medical students on an international health outreach trip to rural Nicaragua.
Though the trip has been taking place for 12 years, not much is known about it. No large fundraising drives are held, no articles covering the trip have been written and word of mouth about the trip does not travel. This is because the older and much wiser fourth-year medical students return to the comforts of home and quickly spread their wings, moving on to residencies around the country.
One night our group came together to talk about how we might leave a lasting impact on future trips. It was at this moment that I decided I would bring the state of rural Nicaraguan health care back to our shores, to those who couldn’t attend. I decided to accomplish this via a collection of photographs. I knew that I would be able to capture photos, but the question was whether I could bring the experience home. So with my camera, two batteries and a prayer, I set out to capture the heart, soul and life of this amazing culture, with no idea the impact it would have on me or those we were there to serve.
My documentation of the trip began as we boarded a plane in Miami. I decided I would not hold back and take as many photos as possible. After all, I did not want those rare moments to pass by, missing that one great shot.
After arriving safely in Nicaragua, we attended a welcoming party hosted by one of the medical student’s family. After the gathering, our group split and went in two different directions. The eight students in my group headed north to a small town named Ocotal. Ocotal was our home base and each day we embarked on a 20-minute to two- hour Land Cruiser safari ride through rivers and across mountains to reach remote villages and provide health care. We stayed in a home for women who were experiencing high-risk pregnancies and immediately felt we made a difference. We tried to appease our American-sized appetites and need for running water and realized, surprisingly, that even though bucket showers of ice-cold water might sound unpleasant it is actually quite refreshing.
The next week we spent time everyday in clinics that were packed with people who had traveled for hours just to see a physician. One lady told us that she had walked five hours across the border from Honduras to see us, but the most amazing thing was that she was carrying two small children. Most of the people were healthy and only needed a kind ear and some Tylenol. The Nicaraguan culture is amazing. They have a strong work ethic and most had the muscles and hands of a day laborer and the heart of a child. The amount of beautiful people and opportunities to photograph were endless, and between auscultating hearts, tickling the kids, and providing some basic medical advice in my broken Spanish, I was snapping away with my camera. Anything that looked remotely interesting, cute, or exciting was recorded forever in digital format. The people, especially the kids, were ecstatic to see themselves portrayed on the two-inch LCD display. Every smile, giggle and blush made each photo worth taking. The process of recording this experience was the most enjoyable photography I have ever experienced. The people and locations were unparalleled in their ability to capture your heart through the lens.
As we closed our clinics and made our way home, the faces and stories of these amazing people wouldn’t leave me. I hoped that upon arriving home and loading the photos that something would stand out as the centerpiece of this collection. What I was bombarded with was 1,600 photos that each carried its own story and deep meaning. Although deciding which 20 I would present was hard, the experience of reliving those moments reinforced my calling to mission work and my desire to continue to tell the story of those with no voice through the eye of a lens.
David Smith displayed his photographs in the Founders Gallery for two days this past March. The images below are from his travels to Nicaragua. To view more of Smith’s work, visit www.smithartandphotography.com.