Nine Selkirk College Nursing Program students have arrived in Guatemala to promote health, develop skills and continue a partnership that has touched many lives for almost a decade.
The Selkirk College-Guatemala International Nursing Experience practicum has been sending students to the Central American country since 2005. Over those years students have done their part to foster global understanding and made a difference in a nation that's one of the poorest in the region.
Nursing students during their final preparation for the trip to Guatemala last week. The donations from the community include 42 quilts which were made by the local Doukhobor community and will be given to families in the Central American country. The Doukhobor community also made a generous financial donation to the trip and provided the students a pre-trip blessing.
“Originally I thought it would be a really good personal experience and professional experience, seeing how nursing can be transferrable to other countries,” nursing student Melissa Mazereeuw said last week as the group made its final preparations for the trip. “As I began to learn and grow in my own nursing knowledge, I discovered that there are a lot of reciprocal things happening between the north and south. I’m hoping I can go down and bring down some knowledge back to my community.”
The nine third-year students and Nursing Program Instructor Mary-Ann Morris left for Guatemala on Tuesday and will be working with communities until May 24. They are joined by Nelson resident Michael Chapman who has acted at the facilitator of the practicum since it began.
Providing Health Care at the Grassroots Level
The goal of the practicum is to explore how community development and health are positively linked. The students collaborate with their grassroots community organization partners in addressing fundamental social issues such as poverty, inequality, discrimination and human rights violations. One of the primary partners is the Association of Women in Solidarity (AMES) which works with women labourers in factories located in free trade zones surrounding Guatemala City.
“It’s a lot of work, but throughout the year we have been learning extra skills,” said student Braden MacLeod. “One of the reasons I chose to do it was to explore the evolution of nursing. As the definition of nursing broadens, so does what nurses do. It goes beyond the hospital and clinic as we begin to explore things outside of our bodies and how it all affects health.”
Guatemala has a population of 15.4 million and is comprised of more than 60 per cent descendants of the ancient Maya. The country was gripped in a civil war between 1960 and 1996 which continues to have a profound impact on its people. It is estimated that the wealthiest 10 per cent of the population receives 50 per cent of all income and that 7.6 million people live in extreme poverty.
“This is an important trip for those taking part because we are continuing on an important relationship and helping it evolve on the work that has been done by students in previous years,” Mazereeuw said.
Community Support Key in Practicum Success
The trip is optional for students, but does fulfil the practicum requirement of the program course load. Students began fundraising the $23,000 required to help pay for the trip in October and put on several events in the community. Through that work and reaching out the community in a variety of ways to get supplies for the people they work with in Guatemala, the experience goes beyond the actual journey south.
“The build-up and planning has been just as rewarding and beneficial,” said Mazereeuw. “Both personally and professionally, we have been called upon to use and hone skills we didn’t even know we had. We’ve really had to try new things and step out of our comfort zones. This will be beneficial to us when we are in the south.”
Two Different Paths, One Similar Experience
Mazereeuw arrived to Selkirk College after being out of school for more than a decade. The 32-year-old was a hairdresser prior to enrolling in the Nursing Program and said she wanted a new challenge. As a mature student, Mazereeuw said it wasn’t an easy choice to interrupt her life for a four-year program.
“It’s not been without its challenges, but getting to focus on bettering myself and bettering my community is the action I have decided to take,” she said. “I’m willing to accept the fact that I don’t have the life other 32-year-old people have, but this is a really fulfilling position I am putting myself in.”
MacLeod was working in the oil and gas service business and the year before enrolling at Selkirk College he was working for the BC Ambulance Service when he decided to embark on a career in nursing.
In 2009 Nursing Program students made a series of videos which provide insight into their experience in Guatemala.
“Nursing struck me as something that aligned with who I am,” said the 25-year-old who grew up in Keremeos. “I came to the Selkirk because of the Kootenays and the outdoor recreation in the area, but I am so happy I came here. It’s so much more than the lifestyle, I have enjoyed the curriculum and instructors that Selkirk College has to offer.”
Both students agree that taking part in the Guatemala practicum is going to enhance the overall education they have received.
“One thing that Selkirk College offers that other schools might not is that sense of community,” said Mazereeuw. “The instructors really connect with you and you have the chance to connect with them. You have the small campus in this beautiful location that is absolutely breathtaking. Going through the planning of this trip, I have really got to witness the sense of community that much more. I have never got to experience anything like this in my life, I’m humbled really. I love this community.”
When students return from Guatemala they will be expected to present their experiences to the community through a number of different events over the next year.