The Challenge of Social Media & Web Video | Nicaragua Nursing Trip

Nicaragua Documentary Experience in Light of @tarakane36 ‘s “Service Done for Social Media
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This past March, I was fortunate enough to travel with 14 student nurses and faculty members from the Connell School of Nursing to Nueva Vida Clinic in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua, just outside the city of Managua.  Paul Dagnello (Senior Digital Media Producer for the Office of University Communications) and I spent five days documenting the Nurses’ work, their long-standing relationship with the Nueva Vida Clinic, and to the best of our ability, the community surrounding the clinic.  Not only did we we have the opportunity to film Nurse Practitioners working directly with patients in clinic rooms, but we also entered community members homes’ alongside Community Health Promoters who work in the community to provide various health services.

Obviously, there are countless sensitivities and considerations that are a part of creating such a video, and after I really enjoyed (and agreed with!) @tarakane36 ‘s Service Done for Social Media blog post from a few weeks ago, I wanted to write about our approach to the videos in light of these considerations.  These types of short-form documentary videos are becoming more and more prevalent on the web, and I think the ways the New York Times or the Boston Globe use video to accompany longer articles, like the Globe’s Spotlight series, can be very effective.  And though our work with this trip is nothing in comparison, I am inspired by Netflix Documentaries like The White Helmets and 13th – with audiences increasingly interested in streaming documentaries today, content like this can be an incredibly powerful awareness and advocacy tool.

To provide a bit of context, Ciudad Sandino is one of the most impoverished communities in Nicaragua, (Nicaragua is the 3rd poorest country in Central America) and lacks many of the basic resources, sanitation, and access to healthcare that all human beings deserve.  We were told on the trip that many residents live on less than $1 USD per day, and many of the residents, especially children, suffer the health effects that result from such living conditions. The Nueva Vida Clinic was founded by an organization called the Jubilee House, whose mission is to “enable communities to become self-sufficient, sustainable, democratic entities” and whose goal is to “to work in partnership with communities and cooperatives to facilitate empowerment.”  In many ways, I think the Boston College Nursing Program’s relationship to the clinic trumps many of the service-immersion stereotypes – they truly uphold the dignity of the people, have long-standing, meaningful relationships with the community, and not only provide healthcare services, but learn from the Nicaraguan staff and nurses who know the community best.

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Having been on many Appalachia service trips during my time at BC and being aware of many of the strengths and pitfalls of such experiences, I wanted to capture imagery that reflected the strong relationship that the Nurses have with the community, but would not be too “Hey look at the good things American, Boston College nurses are doing.”  To do so, I really focused on people’s eyes – especially in the clinical setting – and sought to let that tell the story.  Despite language and cultural barriers, it was clear to me filming the nurses’ eye contact and such moments of human connection is so transcendent, and I hope that that sentiment might be felt in the videos we created, especially the longer documentary.  

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All in all, we created 16 videos – one 6:30 full length documentary, one 1:45 social cut, and fourteen 0:30 profiles on each student and faculty member who experienced the trip.  

In the full documentary, we began and ended the video with community members from Nicaragua, seeking to focus the video on the Nueva Vida Community and the life of the clinic – in many ways making the Clinic, not the BC relationship to the clinic, the main character.  

The social cut was slightly more focused on the BC perspective and the students’ experiences in the clinic and during home visits, with the goal of driving all traffic to the full webpage that contained the full documentary and the individual profiles.  With the individual profiles, we sought to tackle some of the more reflective, bigger questions of the trip that could not adequately be addressed in the documentary, as well as shed light on the diverse perspectives and takeaways that come from an experience like this trip to Nicaragua.  Overall, I am proud of the story we told, and I have to give a lot of credit to Paul Dagnello who Directed the videos and took the lead on shaping the narrative both on the trip and in post-production, while I served as Director of Photography and conducted the interviews with the nurses, faculty, and community members.

Personally, it was emotionally challenging to not only witness the conditions experienced by this community, but to be pointing a camera – let alone a camera rigged to large stabilizer at times –  at these inhumane conditions. Paul and I were in clinic rooms with patients, and I was pointing a camera at dirt floors, tin roofs, and sewage-filled streets while on the home visits – and though I never did so without permission and with the company of the Nicaraguan Clinic Workers and BC Nurses, you still worry that that some of the community members might have been offended or responded to our presence with the same negative sentiments often used to describe these types of trips.  

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But ultimately, I had to reconcile the fact that sharing this story is important, that the work of the BC Nurses and our relationship to this community is important, and though marketing videos or a week of healthcare from BC nurses can’t solve the inhumane living conditions experienced by these people, it is still worth doing, and still worth documenting.  It is worth telling these stories in the hopes of greater awareness, in the hopes of inspiring prospective nurses, and in the hopes of raising additional funds to sustain these types of trips and these types of clinics moving forward.

So thanks, @tarakane, for bringing an important issue to light in social media/digital marketing, and I’d be interested to hear both your thoughts and our class’ thoughts on the content we created, and more generally, of your perception of BC’s role in service-immersion trips like this one.

3 comments

  1. Tully Horne · ·

    I must say you have had some unbelievable blog posts. You truly have a gift with this type of thing, and I hope you always stick with it. The focus on eye contact in the videos and photos really goes beyond any language or cultural barriers and speaks for itself. It highlights the fact that they are people like you and me, and this is a great example of using technology and social media for good. I don’t think that anyone will look at this and think it is just a promotion for BC Nursing. I think it more so sheds a light on an area of the world that needs help, and it spreads awareness of the lack of care that these people get. If you get a chance in class I would love to hear more about this trip and your upcoming plans for videos. Really cool stuff. I wish you the best of luck going forward, and I hope to run into you at your brother’s Mod plenty next year.

  2. kikinitwithraf · ·

    I was lucky enough to catch this video in its entirety as I stumbled upon it in my Facebook feed. What an incredible job of not only telling “their” story, but captivating your audience with raw emotion and kindness. Its really what BC is all about, and for those who aren’t here to experience it, they’ll never understand. But perhaps the most special point to this video is the ability to traverse all kinds of borders through the help of social media. While there may be so many negative stories circulating the media right now, this is just one of the many examples on how social media can help change the narrative.

  3. Wow, John, I am so honored that my blog post affected someone outside of the classroom. I watched your videos and think you did a beautiful job at capturing this trip. I believe focusing on the eyes of both the Nicaraguan community and the BC nursing students humanized the video for people who weren’t there. I appreciate you recognizing the emotional challenge that came with witnessing these conditions and holding a camera towards them, but like you said this is a story that deserves to be told. Your ability to artistically capture reality is incredible.
    I love this blog post and enjoyed having you as a classmate!

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