Spring Break Service Trip Broadens Student’s Horizons

By Shaiann Frazier

Shanel Spence and Lehman L.I.F.E on first day of the trip before heading to the community of San Jose de Garcia in Nicaragua to volunteer. All photos courtesy of Shanel Spence.

“I’m more appreciative of the small things I took for granted. This experience humbled me,” reflected Shanel Spence, 22, a biology major and Lehman senior on her seven-day trip to Nicaragua. Born and raised in the Bronx by parents originally from Jamaica, Spence interns at Cavalry and Mount Sinai Hospitals with hopes of becoming a pediatrician. She also mentors incoming freshmen through Lehman’s SEEK Program which provides assistance to college students in need of academic and financial support.  

Spence with three doctors, Lucelia Quiroz (right), Dr. Karelia Torrez (middle) and pharmacist Carmen Pineda (far left) on the last day of volunteering in the community Santa Teresa in Nicaragua.

On Apr. 2, Spence boarded a plane to Nicaragua with 25 peers on another aid mission, this time to help people without access to adequate medical care. The trip happened in collaboration with an organization known as Global Brigades, an international non-profit organization that uses holistic models to meet communities’ health and economic goals. 

Shanel Spence on day three of volunteering before arriving to the community of Santa Teresa, in Nicaragua, for the first time.

Spence’s spring break trip to Nicaragua happened through a stroke of luck. “I actually planned to go to Florida,” she said. However, through Lehman Life, an organization that provides service opportunities to Lehman students, she was able to attend the trip.  To afford the journey she had to raise roughly 2,000 dollars to cover her expenses. “I didn’t have difficulty in raising the money,” she said, “because I had a lot of support and people who wanted to donate.”

Spence and her team volunteered in San Jose de Garcia and Santa Teresa, two communities in Nicaragua. There her day began at six in the morning, with breakfast by seven and a bus that left at eight for the “compounds,” which she first found overwhelming. “I was nervous, I didn’t know how to feel because it was a new experience for me.” 

Spence learning how to detect a UTI in female patients while shadowing one of the doctors, named Dr. Ramos. 

Spence was not used to the lack of basic services she found in that part of Nicaragua. There was little to no water or access to sufficiently sanitary bathrooms. “When I got there, it was a whole cultural shock for me. We had to use hand sanitizer every time we went to the bathroom. And at one point there was just a brick and wooden stall outside.”

Spence quickly learned how to appreciate how easy her life was compared to what locals were enduring. “It was a tough situation to adjust to, because where I come from I’m used to having hot and running water.” 

At the compounds, she worked with a team of eight doctors to assist roughly 400 patients. The compounds were divided into six sections: the GYN, physical therapy, the pharmacy, triage, consultation, and the dental area. “My favorite part was the triage because that’s where the most interactions with people happened,” said Spence. 

Her patients were a variety of ages with numerous ailments, the most common of which were UTI’s, meningitis, and hypertension. “Observing the GYN doctor changed my mind about what path I wanted to pursue in the medical field,” she explained.

Spence also developed an unexpected friendship with a 7-year-old girl who arrived at the compound for dental issues. “She was so mature for her age. I wondered to myself how does a little girl have such a good mindset. And then I realized that they’re raised differently,” said Spence. 

Spence’s day ended at five with dinner at the hotel, where she and her peers reflected on their day.  Spence made two close friends on the trip, “Binto and Alimata. We always checked on each other, [and] all of us who went on the trip together got a chance to learn about each other.” 

Spence with a young girl in the triage, who wanted to know how the sphygmomanometer works. And Spence allowing the young girl to test the instrument on her. 

When it was time to go back home, Spence said, “I was actually sad about leaving.” The trip made Spence want to revisit the compounds in the summer. She is also thinking about pursuing a career as a doctor serving similar communities. The youngest of two children, Spence will be the first college graduate in her family. After graduation, Spence plans to take a gap year to study for the MCATS and apply for medical school. 

“I appreciate what I have more than did I before,” she said. “These people don’t have much, but they still appreciate the life they have and they live. And I feel like we take that for granted every day.” 

Lehman Women See Their Dreams Through

By Kimberllee Mendez

Dream Come True painting by Deborah Nell.

Since she was five, Lehman senior Jennifer Ramirez’s dream has been “to have a career in music. It’s always been something that I hold close to my heart and soul, because I love it so much. It’s when I can put out all my hurt, pain, anger and happiness altogether and just let flow.” To get there, she is getting “an education that will lead me to where I need to go.”


According to The Lehman Value 2016, women make up 67 percent of the student body. 40.3 percent of them are the first person in their family to go to college. 55 percent are from the Bronx, where only 16.2 percent of residents have a college degree, according to statisticalatlas.com. However, numerous students told the Meridian that they are letting nothing stop them from achieving their goals.

Astrid Lorenzo, a Lehman senior, said she is not letting the hardships of being a Latina woman get in the way of what is important to her. She is meeting her goals, she explained, “by never limiting myself and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. How to make a dream a reality has everything to do with the right frame of mind, how clear the goal is.” 

Her dream, she added, “is to become an entertainer, writer and a girl boss.” She added, “I’m always keeping myself involved in all areas of arts and entertainment which includes modeling, music, acting, dancing, photography and even fashion design.” 

Other Lehman women found that networking and community outreach are keys to their success. To reach her dream of her career at a nonprofit, “that works to midget the effect of climate change and other social justices,” Lehman sophomore Nira Rahman is studying environmental science and interning at a nonprofit organization. “It’s giving me a lot of background on how a non-profit operates,” she said. “What I like best about it is that it brings me closer to the community and also closer to politicians.” 

Likewise, Lehman senior and journalism major Natalia Quinones has been interning with Bronxnet and applying for internships outside of school. “My plan,” she says, “is to find a job and apply everything I’ve learned in school and from the internships that have led me to a position I see myself doing long term.”

Having a role model in her family has also pushed her to achieve. Quinones is following in her mother’s footsteps by attending college. Her mother earned her associate degree in the Dominican Republic and was a teacher for eight years.

“I’m scared honestly about what’s going to happen after college,” Quinones said, “but I’m searching for jobs and internships. I just know I’ll find something. Just having a positive attitude and knowing that the American Dream is possible through hard work and dedication.” 

Other students have had to take a different path than the one their families envisioned for them. Shaine Perea, a junior at Lehman College, is the first of two children going to college and her family wanted her to be nurse since many of her family members are nurses. However, Perea found nursing wasn’t for her, and she fell in love with Recreational Therapy. When she told her parents about what she really wanted, they didn’t agree to it at first, but as time passed they knew they couldn’t force her to like a career she didn’t have a passion for. 

Perea says, “I plan on earning my bachelor’s in Therapeutic Recreation, and then take my CTRS exam to become certified, and also working in long term care facilities helping those in need, maintain and improve their physical, emotional and social well-being.” She also intends to go back to school to be a certified as a Doctor of Physical Therapy. 

“There are a lot of hardships in my path,” Lorenzo acknowledged. “Being a female, a minority while at the same time trying to get an education, handling a personal life, work, a social life, mental health and staying determined with the ever-changing times can be very difficult. But never impossible.”