RNnetwork recently sent a group of travel nurses and employees to Ecuador for a humanitarian mission trip that combined service projects with medical care. The trip, which was funded by a grant from the Making a Difference Foundation, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who participated.
Joy Bowman, an acute homecare travel nurse, traveled with her friend, Lottie, as well as her RNnetwork recruiter, Joe. Here’s the story of their amazing medical mission trip and how it brought them closer together.
Dedicated to care
Joy has been an acute homecare nurse for 12 years, which she switched to after nearly three decades of working in the emergency room. Joy decided to transition to travel nursing three years ago, and she’s been with RNnetwork ever since. She likes that travel nursing gives her autonomy while still challenging her each day.
Once, Joy was taking care of a woman who was nearing the end of her life. The woman grabbed Joy’s hands and told her, “When you pass this life, you have nothing to take with you other than what you’ve given as your goodness and what you’ve done with your life, so make every moment the best.”
Joy’s recruiter, Joe, was the one who connected her to the humanitarian trip. He had talked to Joy about travel nurse mission trips, and he knew that she was already interested. She had to fill out an application, but when her son-in-law had medical issues, she missed the deadline. So, Joe wrote a nomination letter on his own, and Joy was selected. She decided to bring Lottie, her supervisor from her current travel nursing assignment, which Joe says is a testament to how well Joy works with everyone.
Bonding with the team
Joy said she was admittedly nervous about bringing her supervisor on the trip, but she and Lottie became closer than ever.
Although Joy and Joe have worked together for three years, they had never met each other face-to-face. But when they met in Quito, Ecuador, Joy said it felt like seeing a family member. When they left, Joy told Joe that he’s like the son she never had.
“He’s a very compassionate person, he is so charismatic and helpful and just a gentleman,” said Joy. “We already had a good relationship and now we have a great relationship.”
Joy was one of the first travelers Joe worked with, and he said he appreciates the fact that she trusted him when he was still learning how best to do his job. Joe explained that meeting Joy gave him a new passion for his job.
“A lot of times the focus is on numbers and production and hitting your goals and metrics,” said Joe. “When you can get a little deeper than that, it’s very cool.”
Traveling to serve
The team met in Quito and then drove ten hours into the Amazon, where they spent the rest of their trip. On the first day, the whole team worked to build a school. They formed a chain line to pass rocks from a river up to the site of the school. The nurses then went on to take care of the people in the surrounding areas, giving them vaccines, weighing them, and providing general care, while the non-medical participants continued to work on the school. This work was difficult as they couldn’t use any power tools or heavy machinery; the whole point was to teach the people living there how to build on their own.
The story that stuck with Joy the most was when she and RNnetwork’s president, Lynne Gross, spent time entertaining kids while their parents and siblings were receiving care. One little girl was extremely quiet and solemn. When they started to color with her, she started to open up and smile. Then, at the end of the day, she brought a package of chocolate candy with only a few pieces, tugged on Lynne’s shirt, and handed her a piece.
“I about lost it because I thought, she had them to herself and could have eaten them, but she came up and shared. That just got me straight from the heart,” said Joy.
Exploring the jungle
In addition to service work, the team got to explore the surrounding areas. Traveling by canoe, they visited a local farm, met with a healer who did a cleansing on the team, and went on hikes through the jungle. They learned how to cook local cuisine and even tried a local delicacy — a large larva that’s best served raw. Joe said he couldn’t keep it down, but that’s part of the adventure of traveling.
“It was fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was so humbling and fulfilling and I’d go back tomorrow,” said Joy.