When it came to returning from work after maternity leave, naturopath Kathleen Murphy set herself the brave task of travelling to Central America on a volunteer health brigade with her baby daughter Molly in tow.
By Kelly Jo Gates
After years of hearing about the work of naturopathic global health organisation Natural Doctors International (NDI), Kathleen decided it was time to take the plunge and join them in late 2014.
Her mission was to travel to the Island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, Central America, to join with experts from both sides of medicine to serve their community, one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.
The island’s remote location means that access to healthcare and other essential services is severely limited for many inhabitants. The NDI team has run an integrative health clinic there since 2005, which provides free naturopathic and medical care, psychology services, free medicine, an emergency hospital transport service and long-term support for patients with chronic health conditions.
“The chance to work within an integrative health clinic to help such a large and under-serviced community seemed an amazing opportunity,” said Kathleen.
Once she’d arrived Kathleen and her fellow brigade members from America and Canada spent time learning about Nicaraguan history and culture as well as its traditional medicine practices. They also learnt about public and global health and the work NDI has done over the past decade in the Nicaraguan community.
Kathleen then spent a week working in the clinic, which opened for longer periods over each consecutive brigade to enable more patients to be treated. It was a time she described as incredibly busy, challenging and rewarding.
“It is such a popular clinic people travel long distances just to secure an appointment. One morning I came into the kitchen at around 6am and I could see across to the clinic’s yard, where at least 20 people were already sitting, waiting to be put on the list for an appointment,” Kathleen said.
Another surprise for Kathleen was how warmly her six month old daughter Molly was welcomed throughout the trip.
“Nicaragua is a very baby-friendly country and people are used to having infants and children present in almost every setting. I brought Molly to all the lectures, group events and outings, and during clinic days she was babysat by our ‘host mum’ Mireya. I found Molly adapted extremely swiftly and seemed to enjoy herself thoroughly,” said Kathleen.
Throughout her trip, Kathleen stayed with a local host family that had many generations living under one roof, from great grandmother Gloria to five year old Maya. Living with this tightknit family for 10 days gave Kathleen the opportunity to experience life as a local.
“Eating, muddling through conversations and laughing and crying together. All of these 'normal' daily experiences played an important role in connecting us to the community,” Kathleen said.
This passionate health advocate firmly believes this trip was a once in a lifetime experience that was extremely rewarding and sharpened her skills as a practitioner.
“It was fascinating to see conditions I would likely never come across in everyday practice – such as chronic parasitic infections and severe malnutrition. It really opened my eyes to the global, grassroots application of natural medicine – something I just don’t see in an inner city clinic. It reminded me this really is the people’s medicine and I can help deliver it in many ways.”
Natural medicine graduates and students interested in becoming involved can visit ndimed.org. Health brigades run throughout the year and NDI also offer internships lasting between one and 12 months.
Naturopath Anita Pierantozzi built on her degree with two postgraduate qualifications that helped her enter the conventional medicine industry, landing the highly coveted role of Senior Medical Education Officer at Redcliffe Hospital.