Bridge to Better Health

OCC Nursing students carry health supplies across a footbridge in the highlands of Guatemala.

OCC Nursing students carry health supplies across a footbridge in the highlands of Guatemala.

They left with a strong desire to help others. They returned with a sense of satisfaction and an appreciation for life here at home. Seven of the College’s Nursing students spent their semester break on an unforgettable service learning trip. They brought medical supplies, provided health care and shared knowledge with the people of Guatemala.

Assistant Professor Lee Berg coordinated the trip for the third year in a row. She planned fundraisers and oversaw the collection of medical supplies. One week before their scheduled departure Berg and the students gathered to pack up their supplies. They filled 16 suitcases as close to the 50 pound limit as possible. When they finished they still had supplies left over which have already been set aside for the next trip.

OCC’s contingent took off from Syracuse December 29. When they stepped off the plane in Guatemala and began making their way to the rural area where they would spend the next 10 days of their lives it was evident they weren’t in the United States any more. “There was a tremendous amount of pollution in the air,” said student Lindsy Coon (Central Square high school). “Everyone there burns there trash. Vehicle emissions are bad too. You would see a van going up a hill leaving a big, black cloud of smoke behind it.”

Once they arrived in the community of San Lucas Toliman the students went right to work. They spent two days in a rural mountain village building fuel-efficient stoves in homes which vented to the outside. Residents were used to cooking inside over an open fire without any ventilation, blackening walls and lungs with damaging smoke which would contribute to significant respiratory problems. Cooking over an open fire in the home also increases the risk of severe burns, especially for children.

OCC students also broke up into teams of two and worked on teaching projects including hygiene, injury prevention and overcoming diarrhea. “We did our best to tailor our donations to what we were teaching,” said Coon. “When we talked about hygiene we gave everyone toothpaste, tooth brushes, body wash and hair products.”

When the topic was injury prevention they gave children donated shoes. “A lot of the children are barefoot. Wearing shoes prevents parasites. We made bringing shoes a priority because it’s a direct health intervention,” said Coon.

Students found natives were actually surrounded by solutions to their health problems. “We used plants to make shampoos and a substance similar to Vicks Vapo Rub,” said Shaowen Chen (Baldwinsville high school). “For diarrhea we worked on rehydration with plants which grow there.”

On January 7 the students said good-bye, boarded a plane and returned to Central New York. “I was so happy to come home. I walked in our kitchen and couldn’t believe everything we have,” said Coon. “It was very rewarding to go there,” said Cheng. “I would definitely do it again.”

A slideshow can be found at the bottom of this story. The Nursing students who went on the service learning trip are:

  • Rita Brush, Henninger high school
  • Lindsy Coon, Central Square high school
  • Shaowen Cheng, Baldwinsville high school
  • Kaylee Hartley, Edward-Knox high school
  • Josh McGinley, Whitesboro high school
  • Hannah Rhodes, Binghamton high school
  • Kira Kelley, Lafayette Junior-Senior high school

Berg and the students would like to thank the following business and organizations whose generosity made this trip possible:

  • M&T Bank
  • Wegmans
  • OCC’s Whole Earth Club
  • The entire OCC Community which generously donated supplies and funds
  • Families and friends of the students who also contributed supplies and fund

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