Eight senior students and Dr. Michelle Cole from the UConn School of Nursing traveled to La Antigua, Guatemala to partake in a global clinical immersion experience. The one-week practicum provided the students with 30 clinical hours. However, the real reward came from working side by side with local community organizations, educating residents on healthy daily habits, and exploring the diverse cultures present across the Greater Panchoy Valley. The school partnered with Dr. Carolina Ortiz, an OB/GYN from Guatemala. Dr. Ortiz has a clinical practice in Guatemala and served as the community partner.
Throughout all their interactions with local people in Guatemala, UConn students displayed the three guiding principles of the School of Nursing Global Programs: to educate students to become global citizens, to cultivate mutual understanding, and to facilitate capacity building. The logo on the group’s shirts provided a constant reminder of the importance of the four Cs, the values for the UConn School of Nursing, and their implementation in clinical practice: Compassion, Collaboration, Commitment, and Caring.
On their first full day in the Valley, the students arrived in Santa Maria de Jesus, a town with a population of about 20,000. While there, they worked with children at a “faith-based feeding center” and at a local school called Escuela Official Urbana de Varones, as described by Dr. Cole. At the feeding center they spoke to a girl that was “seven years old, who had walked from over 30 minutes away to the center on her own with their siblings to line up for food.” The center provides a place for these children to feel safe, in an impoverished area with challenging living conditions. Senior Nursing student Destin Rivera continued, “it was very eye-opening and humbling to see the maturity levels some of these children possessed. It was also inspiring to see the level of care they were able to deliver for their siblings at such a young age themselves.”
At the Valley school, the UConn nursing students were able to teach 70 young girls about the importance of menstrual health and what to expect during puberty. They asked questions of the children to assess their base knowledge of puberty and continued asking questions throughout the lesson to keep the students engaged. In the end, the girls were provided with reusable menstrual kits, donated by Days for Girls International, to take home with them. The day concluded with an assessment of “environmental aspects of the community” to determine how these children could be helped within the bounds of their community’s resources, says Dr. Cole.
Day two consisted of home visits and education on water filters to families to help improve the water sources for the community. On day three they traveled to Sumpango to conduct family assessments with Nurse Angela within the local community. These families had been identified by the nurse working with the community organization Revive. UConn nursing students worked with Revive, which “aims to improve education, infrastructure, and nutrition” to better the lives of some of the approximately 30,000 residents of the town of Sumpango.
In their summary of their third day in Guatemala, students Olivia De Paola, Jenna Laselva, and Katherine Aceves discuss some common health problems confronting the people of Sumpango. On two separate occasions, the students learned how uncommon it was for local people to drink clean water. They spoke with an 85-year-old man who drinks a liter of Coca-Cola per week, and a man living with his brother and nephew who almost exclusively drinks “fresco,” or fruit juice, related the students. The reason for this is simple, functional water filters are not present in every home. Access to clean water is not readily available in their homes and community and the cost of purchasing water or a filter is not a viable option due to cost. They do not have the resources/funds. Lack of access is the main reason, then we teach them the importance of using water from an improved source.
Our students focused on educating these people on the health benefits that come with regularly staying hydrated with uncontaminated water, as well as on how to install and maintain water filters. The goal of this initiative was to improve the water sources for families. Families often suffer from parasitic infections and gastrointestinal illnesses as a result of drinking contaminated water sources. “While providing education around menstruation, water filtration systems, and first aid kits, I was able to recognize my own privilege as a provider sharing this knowledge” stated UConn Nursing student Katherine Aceves.
Through these visits, the nursing students learned, in their own words, “about the lives of people living in rural communities… about the physical health of different families, as well as their emotional and psychological health,” and finally about themselves, as these “uncomfortable situations” broadened their cultural lens and made them “better nurses and individuals.”
By Saturday, the fourth day of the experience, most of our nursing students’ clinical practicum had concluded. The group traveled to Panajachel, a community on Lake Atitlán, by “a short boat ride.” The locality is “a beautiful tourist city with lots of street food, merchants, and artisan classes on agriculture, sewing and weaving, and even Guatemalan art,” says student Destin Rivera. He notes in his journal, one of which each student kept during their time in Guatemala, that “I really enjoyed this experience as it was a slightly different pace from what we had been doing the days before.”
The experience in Guatemala undoubtedly changed the lives of the students who had the opportunity to go. Rivera describes it as containing “some of the most eye-opening and humbling experiences I have had throughout my nursing school education.” Johanna Gutierrez, meanwhile, was able to summarize her time spent assisting and getting to know local residents in one sentence: “in order to understand, in order to love, and in order to admire another culture, we must be willing to immerse ourselves into something new.”
Student Writer, Zachary Rowe contributed to this report.