UAB’s partnership in Nicaragua develops cross-cultural understanding and increases access to scientific research for practitioners

With international travel on pause, a global remote internship provides a cultural experience for students and supports the efforts of Clinica Verde in Nicaragua, all from the UAB campus.
Written by: Karen Templeton
Media contact: Yvonne Taunton

University of Alabama at Birminghampartnership N.2With international travel on pause, a global remote internship provides a cultural experience for students and supports the efforts of Clinica Verde in Nicaragua, all from the UAB campus. junior April Alvarez chose to study criminal justice to learn how she could help improve outcomes and protect the rights of underserved populations.

“I want to focus my work on supporting the interests of minority groups,” Alvarez, a Birmingham native, said. “I found more and more through my studies that learning about criminal justice is tied to understanding human rights.”

This interest in human rights led her to enroll in a new UAB opportunity: The UAB Global Remote Internship: Human Rights with Clinica Verde in Boaca, Nicaragua (HRT 485). As part of this internship, students interact virtually with staff at Clinica Verde and learn about the clinic, the challenges it faces and the services it offers. They discuss their interactions with UAB faculty leading the internship, and work together to research resources to assist the clinic. Students also work on a community-driven project requested by the community partner to support development of its services. Clinica Verde provides its clients with clinical care focused on health and nutrition education, prenatal care, sexual reproductive health, gardening, telehealth, optometry, and pharmacy and laboratory services.  

Students in the UAB internship support the professional staff who provide mental health interventions for adolescents at the clinic. Students meet virtually with clinic staff to assess their needs and then provide resources to help support the interventions the clinic provides. Students obtain the resources from UAB Libraries, organize and prioritize the resources list, and discuss them with the staff. Students do not provide direct mental health services; they further equip the clinic staff to help their clients.

“UAB students get to hear more about the challenges Clinica Verde’s clients face and then hone their research skills while expanding the clinic’s offerings,” said Ashley Neyer, director of UAB’s Education Abroad. “This is an incredible opportunity to learn about Nicaraguan culture, especially as it pertains to adolescents and women.” 

With international travel on pause, the internship provides a cultural experience from the UAB campus.

“The internship is arranged in a way that enables cross-cultural exchange and enhances global awareness,” Neyer said. “Students are learning a lot about mental health similarities and differences between the United States and Nicaragua.”

Alvarez, who is fluent in Spanish, has translated for clinic staff and her fellow students when needed and has enjoyed a deeper understanding of human rights issues in Nicaragua. 

“We are learning about the levels of violence teens are experiencing and what is beneficial to their healing process,” Alvarez said. “This experience is showing me how I can be a part of change not just here in the United States but abroad, and how resource-sharing can develop better outcomes for adolescents in Nicaragua.”

The partnership with Clinica Verde was established by Majd Zayzafoon, M.D., Ph.D., assistant provost for International Education and associate dean for International Medical Education. Zayzafoon has worked with Clinica Verde over the years to provide community-based health care and hands-on health education for women and their families in rural Nicaragua. The internship is led by Tina Kempin Reuter, Ph.D., director of UAB’s Institute of Human Rights,  and Stacy Moak, Ph.D., professor of political science in UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences. They provide guidance in cultural competencies and in interaction with the clinic staff.

“In addition to the resource support for adolescent counseling, we talk about women’s rights and women’s health issues in Nicaragua and in collaboration with Clinica Verde staff,” Moak said. “Our goal is to work collaboratively with our students and the clinic staff to develop programs and educational initiatives and gain some hands-on experiences with human rights advocacy.”

Collaboration has been central to the relationship between UAB and Clinica Verde. Students and faculty learn what the clinic needs and what issues they face before tailoring support.

“This program has been so rewarding for the team at Clinica Verde,” said Clinica Verde founder Susan Dix Lyons. “The commitment and curiosity of the students has led to a rich and meaningful experience that will continue to strengthen mental health services for youth in Nicaragua. We are so grateful for the collaboration.”

partnership.N.3Clinica Verde also provides prenatal nutrition education classes for expecting mothers to educate them on the benefits of a healthy diet for both mother and baby. UAB internship students have collaborated with the prenatal health class to identify a vegetable within their curriculum and exchange cooking techniques to foster cross-cultural communication.

“Students have had the opportunity to share recipes and learn more about how dishes are prepared in Nicaragua as well as share their ideas for seasoning and preparing food,” Neyer said. “The clinic director, Rafael, has gathered local Nicaraguan coffee and chocolate, along with a cultural souvenir for the students, and we have been intentional in demonstrating ways that we can support the local community rather than purchasing from big box carriers. It has been a fun way to get immersed in a culture without being able to be in the country physically.”

A goal of the internship is to provide an understanding of how coursework ties to professional careers of interest, and Alvarez can see the connection clearly: “In improving human rights, we need to better see the barriers different cultures face. In my future career in criminal justice, I want to be a part of removing those barriers.” 

With international travel canceled due to the pandemic, UAB’s Global Engagement team will continue to identify virtual opportunities to provide a cultural experience for students. 

“While we all want our education abroad travel opportunities to resume, we are grateful to the UAB faculty who think outside of the box to make sure our students stay engaged,” Zayzafoon said. “UAB faculty have built incredible international partnerships, and we are fortunate we can build on those partnerships even during the pandemic, and provide a whole new way of communicating and learning for our students.”

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