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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Fundraisers for Service Learning Trip

OCC Nursing student Jennifer Ohlsen surrounded by children in Guatemala.
OCC Nursing student Jennifer Ohlsen surrounded by children in Guatemala.

This is a busy time for students in OCC’s Nursing program. Not only are they working hard to finish the semester and do well on finals, they are also preparing for a trip to Guatemala over semester break. Students will bring medical supplies, provide health care and share their knowledge with people in need.

Fundraisers are planned to help pay for the service learning trip. Saturday December 5 there will be a spaghetti fundraiser in the Bistro in the Gordon Student Center from 4pm to 6pm. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 10 and there is no charge for children 5 and under. The Nursing department is also selling winter hats and gloves for $5 each.  Assistant Professor Lee Berg, who is coordinating the trip for the third year in a row, is overseeing the sale of the hats and gloves. You can contact her at m.l.berg@sunyocc.edu, call her at (315) 498-2362 or go to her office in Ferrante Hall room 105A.

Nursing students who have gone on previous service learning trips to Guatemala have found it to be a very rewarding experience. We hope you can help them on their journey again this year!

Delivering Healthy Habits to Guatemala

Students in OCC’s Nursing program spent the holiday season thousands of miles from home helping others. Nine students and two faculty members packed up suitcases filled with medical supplies and traveled to Guatemala. Their service learning adventure brought medical care and knowledge to people who desperately needed it. “This trip was the single most meaningful thing I’ve ever done,” said Nursing student Joshua McGinley (Whitesboro High School).

The green liquid is shampoo Nursing students made for residents of Guatemala.
The green liquid is shampoo Nursing students made for residents of Guatemala. Nursing student Marisa Canuso-Reiner (Jamesville-Dewitt H.S.) holds a bottle while student Amanda Pezzulo (Burnt Hills H.S.) pours shampoo into it.

While in Guatemala, McGinley and his fellow students held community health presentations on a variety of topics:

  • Oral hygiene for children
  • The importance of vaccinations
  • Breastfeeding
  • Prenatal Care
  • The importance of good nutrition while pregnant and breastfeeding

Students also went into homes and brought medical care to people. “The personal home visits and informational meetings we held were very rewarding. People were so thankful for what we were doing,” said Shelbie Pidkaminy (Solvay High School).

Students also helped build fuel-efficient stoves in homes which vented to the outside. Residents were used to cooking inside over an open flame without any ventilation, blackening walls and lungs with damaging particles which contribute to significant respiratory problems. “We worked with a mason who only spoke Spanish. Over time we were able to work through the language barrier. The families watched us work and were very thankful,” said Amanda Pezzulo (Burnt Hills High School).

The trip was coordinated by Assistant Professor Lee Berg. When she was a student she took a similar trip to Vietnam and found it to be invaluable. This was the second year in a row she brought students from OCC to Guatemala. “It was another wonderful experience. We believe generations from now people in Guatemala will be living healthier lives because of the lessons our students taught them,” Berg said.

Along with Berg’s leadership and the assistance of Assistant Professor Dianna Lewis Brewster who accompanied her, the trip would not have been possible without the generosity of numerous businesses and organizations:

  • Welch Allyn contributed lightweight medical equipment such as digital thermometers, otoscopes, headlamps, and blood pressure cuffs which were all very useful during home visits. They also donated two bags filled with beanie babies which the children of Guatemala loved.
  • M&T Bank donated $5,000 toward the trip and also brought our trip to the attention of Northern Safety which donated first-aid kits and replacement supplies for the kits. Students used several ice packs, antiseptic wipes and dressing change supplies on the trip.
  • Johnson & Johnson gave coloring books in Spanish for the children of Guatemala.
  • Wegmans contributed $1,000 which was used to purchase over the counter medicines, vitamins, first-aid supplies and toothpaste.
  • Salvation Army hosted the first fundraiser for the trip and also donated toys for the children of Guatemala.
  • The OCC Foundation, Nursing Department and entire Campus Community also contributed in various meaningful ways.