Alex Soengkono, AVC 2019, traveled to Nain and Sheshatshiu in 2018 as one of the student participants on the Chinook Project. As part of the experience, the students craft various pieces of reflective writing.
I found myself excited yet apprehensive as I read the email I had received from one of our veterinarians who had made the trip up to Nain early. She informed us our clinic location would have to change last minute but, “it’s going to be fine”.
Little did I know at that time, this saying would become our mantra in the coming weeks and would mean so much to all of us as we tackled any and all difficulties that came our way. We’d been told the firehall in Nain, that had been used in years past, was the perfect location to set up the clinic. However, now just days before our departure due to unforeseen circumstances our ideal clinic location would not be available. We were given sparse details about our new location, other than it was a ‘shed’ used for woodworking, and that it needed some work to be turned into a clinic. Many thoughts ran through my head: what did the shed look like, how big was it, how clean was it, how could we possibly turn a shed into a functional clinic with such limited time? The task seemed daunting, to say the least, and I prepared myself for only what I could imagine would be a challenge.
The day we arrived in Nain was breathtaking. It was the warmest and sunniest day I’d experienced yet this spring (in Northern Labrador no less!). The entire community was surrounded by endless snowy mountains, crisp expansive oceans and beautiful forests. It was nothing like I’d ever seen before.
Immediately after touchdown we packed up the truck and drove to the much anticipated shed. We pulled up to the little building, it looked nothing like a clinic I’d ever laid eyes on! It was small inside, with make-shift walls covered in tarps. I was shocked to learn just days before this building had been filled with lumber and woodworking supplies. I couldn’t see it, I didn’t understand how we could possibly make this work. But as we were given a tour of each little room (reception, medicine, recovery and surgery) and saw how much time and care had gone into each design, I began to understand the transformation that had happened to build our little clinic.
I look back on our clinic in Nain fondly. I miss it’s striking plastic blue walls and tiny ‘ medicine window’, a hole made in the tarp wall so we could communicate about our patients. It made me appreciate so many things: running water, a working and readily accessible toilet, a thermostat… things I’d always taken for granted. The shed taught me how much you can do with so little and how you can make anything work if you want it badly enough.
Yet, most importantly the shed taught me about teamwork and comradery. We accomplished so much in so little time, helped so many, and overcame obstacle after obstacle with a smile on our faces. Despite the gruelling hours, along with a lack of amenities and resources, we were the perfect team. I learned so much during our time in Nain and made friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. I’m truly grateful to have been part of such a meaningful project and to have shared this experience with the most selfless and dedicated group of people I could have imagined.