Midland nursing students learn many lessons in Guatemala

Midland nursing students learn many lessons in Guatemala

Jan 23rd , 2017

Lexie Dooley still sheds tears when she talks about her most memorable moment of a recent trip to Guatemala.

The Midland University student from Missouri Valley, Iowa, was one of ten nursing students who traveled to the Central American country for two weeks in January to install safe cooking stoves and conduct health checks at a Guatemalan school.

While other members of the group worked to install the stove, Dooley and a couple other students did health assessments with family members. That’s when she met the family’s 5-year-old boy.

“He came up to me and I tried to say, ‘Hola,” Dooley said. “I tried talking to him, but the parents told me, ‘He can’t speak. He can’t talk.’ I thought that was a little weird. But he came up to me and he, seriously for 5 minutes, would rub on my face, touch my neck and give me the biggest smile in the world; give me a hug.

“Later we found out he is autistic, and he’s going to get the help he needs.”

The work of the Midland students was part of Guatemala Esperanza, an initiative of Nursing Heart Inc. to create sustainable health care partnerships in the rural indigenous communities of Guatemala. Nursing Heart Inc. was founded by Ron Noecker, who served 18 years as a priest in the Archdiocese of Omaha before becoming a nurse.

Guatemala Esperanza is all about getting nurses introduced to international nursing, the students told Midland’s School of Nursing faculty after returning from the trip, which was led by Assistant Professor of Nursing Becky Hotovy.

Joining Dooley on the trip were Jessica Ford of Missouri Valley; Kaylene Hoyt of Pleasantville, Iowa; Shayla Koory of Omaha, Nebraska; Rachael Lehr of Lincoln, Nebraska; Molly Milbrandt of Omaha; Holly Nutter of Lincoln; Britta Olson of Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Jenny Preucil of Council Bluffs, Iowa; and Nicole Sodusta of Elkhorn, Nebraska. Director of Academic Services Eric Maczka accompanied Hotovy and the students on the trip.

Students learned health care is vastly different in Guatemala, especially in the rural areas. Many believe in home remedies and spiritual healing, they said. For those who do seek out medical care, access can be hampered by great distances.

They also learned that many families cook over open fires inside their homes. Ceilings and walls were covered in soot, the students said, and that could lead to health issues. The World Health Organization reported the emissions from the smoke could be toxic and can contribute to low birth weights, pneumonia in young children, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, along with other issues.

To help out, the Midland students raised funds through a raffle to cover the cost of five of the eight Chapina Stoves installed. The stoves were developed to be safer and more energy efficient, venting smoke out of the home and using less wood.

“My favorite part (of the trip) was when we were building the Chapina Stove,” Hoyt said. “There was one family that was getting two stoves, and the younger woman had a 9-month-old baby. She was just the happiest person in the world to be receiving this stove that was going to make a difference not only for her, but for her children.”

“You could see in the houses that they had soot on the ceilings and on the walls,” added Sodusta. “The wives just looked so happy and excited to get this.”

Midland students also spent a day conducting 55 health assessments at a primary school. The nursing students recorded heights and weights, listened to hearts and lungs, and provided fluoride treatments for the young Guatemalans. Of the students they saw, 32 were referred for dental follow ups, five for medical follow ups, and one for psychological evaluation.

Suggesting a 14-year-old girl receive a psychological evaluation had an impact on Ford. 

“She had cuts up and down her wrists. Some were old; some were new,” Ford said. “… For me, it showed despite all these other problems that they have, the kids still need the love and compassion so they can continue to grow older and be able to be strong and not have to harm themselves.”

Delivering toothbrushes to the youth also had an impact.

“The thing that hit me the most happened while we were giving these little kids a toothbrush,” Koory said. “Some of them were 7 and 8, and they were just learning to brush their teeth. Us, we start brushing our teeth at 2-3 years old, and we get a new toothbrush every six months. It was just awesome to see these kids light up when they got their first toothbrush.”

Midland students had plenty of toothbrushes for the Guatemalan youth. They took 288 – a whole suitcase full. Funds from Thrivent Financial and a private donation paid for the toothbrushes and toothpaste for the youth.

One obstacle the Midland nursing students faced was finding ways to communicate with the youth they were assessing. They learned a few phrases in Spanish, but they soon learned other ways to communicate.

“My favorite part was when we were wearing stickers on our face (during the health assessments),” Nutter said. “When you gave them a sticker after a fluoride treatment, they would stick it on their face and smile back at you. … Even though we didn’t speak the same language, it was like I could do the same thing.”

“When we were at the clinic, we were able to listen to hearts and all of that,” Lehr said. “But when there was a little down time, Britta (Olson) and I went and played soccer with some of the children. That was a cool experience. Even though we can’t verbally communicate, we can communicate through that common sport.”

The students said they would like to see future groups return to Guatemala to follow the progress of the families they have helped as well as continue the work of Guatemala Esperanza.

Midland University students have a tradition of studying abroad each year during January’s interterm. Study programs have included trips to Europe and Tanzania.