What’s it like to come face-to-face with an elephant while you are in class? Or to earn clinical hours by holding a patient’s hand while their toenail was removed from a gangrene-infected toe?
In summer 2018, the Concordia University Ann Arbor School of Nursing launched three global clinical sites for students to complete their community health clinical hours. Twenty-six nursing students spent time in Guatemala, Uganda, and Kenya volunteering their time and talents in rural slums, clinics, community hospitals, and family households.
“Caring for people from various cultures from around the globe provides our students with a unique opportunity to learn and serve, both of which align with Concordia’s mission,” said Campus Dean and Associate Professor Cindy Fenske. “The students were able to use their skills to provide care, hope, healing, and knowledge to the people they served.”
The summer trips contributed to a record-breaking study abroad year for Concordia University. In 2017-18, the university sent 315 students—representing online, centers, and the Mequon and Ann Arbor campuses—on dozens of distinct global learning opportunities in more than 30 different countries. It’s all part of a growing effort to expand Concordia’s international footprint throughout the world and form mutually beneficial international partnerships to allow for the two-way exchange of professors and students. On the CUAA campus, the number of students taking advantage of global learning opportunities has dramatically increased thanks to the three new Global Education courses that were offered over the summer. Global Ed courses are faculty-led study abroad opportunities that can be completed for course credit and typically last one to three weeks.
While the addition of three new student trips in just one year was already an uncommon accomplishment for CUAA’s School of Nursing, the program has sights set on increasing global opportunities for students in 2019.
“We are thankful that the Lord has opened up so many opportunities for partnering with mission-based organizations so that we can give this opportunity to all of our nursing students,” said Fenske. “Our hope is to send students to these sites summer after summer, allowing us to make a considerable impact in the lives of those we are serving.”
Upon their return, nursing students have been eager to share how they are forever-changed because of their global summer experiences.
GUATEMALA: July 13-26, 2018
Lake Amatitlán, Guatemala City
Concordia nursing partnered with MOST ministries on their trip to Guatemala. Led by Professor Dr. Mihaela Zegrean, one junior and six seniors spent their time focusing on water sanitation and nursing care provided in a public health clinic interacting with the people of Lake Amatitlán area. The students provided nursing care to patients with respiratory infections, GI problems, skin diseases like scabies, and even gangrene. The nursing students also ran a mobile clinic in a distant village to administer vaccines to children and assist with medical consultations to individuals unable to make it to the clinic.
Desi Reyes (’18) shares that it was amazing to see how much the health care workers of the area could do with so little. “Despite the lack of resources, the patients’ and clinical staff’s attitudes did not exhibit a drop of bitterness,” said Reyes. “The clinicians worked efficiently and collaboratively and moreover, they were happy to provide us with guidance when we needed it.”
A day that Reyes will never forget is when the group took a trip to a woman’s home who was receiving the gift of a new vented stove for her home, donated by a volunteers from a Lutheran church in California.
“Sheets of metal put together with a metal roof held down by cinder blocks is not my idea of a ‘home,’ but for the last 18 years, this was this woman’s home, said Reyes. “She prepped her food on a rock slab covered in ash, dirt, and bugs and would burn wood inside of her house to prepare the food with no sort of ventilation system for the smoke of the open flame.”
Reyes said she and her Concordia classmates were speechless after what they had witnessed, but felt blessed by the opportunity to use their God-given talents to sincerely impact the lives of the people they were meeting.
“Little did we know, our lives, too, will be forever impacted because of the people we met and what we were experiencing,” said Reyes. “It felt like we learned more in this one clinical experience in Guatemala than all of our clinical experiences combined!”
Reyes says that even though they sometimes felt like small gestures, she knows that some patients would not have received care had she and others from CUAA not been there. Reyes hopes other nursing students from Concordia get the opportunity to go to Guatemala and use their nursing skills to help those living in the village of Lake Amatitlán.
Kenya: July 21-August 4, 2018
Athi River, Voi
CUAA partnered with Hope without Borders for the global clinical in Kenya which focuses on nursing care provided at clinics, hospital settings, and home visits as well as water and sanitation.
Along with school of nursing professor Peggy McLaughlin, seven CUAA students (6 juniors, 1 senior) travelled to very rural areas of Kenya to do healthcare visits in areas where such care is extremely limited. The students also assisted with health clinics and providing hygiene kits of soap, deodorant, and underwear for students in the Mukuru slums.
One student, Turome Chandler (’18) even had the opportunity to help deliver a baby girl. Chandler was granted the high honor of helping to name her.
“I chose to name her after my daughter, Wynnsor, with the middle name Ann for Ann Arbor,” said Chandler. “I can’t wait to tell my daughter one day that there is a young lady in Africa that shares her name.”
Chandler originally chose to travel to Kenya because he had heard great things about the kindness of the people and the tastiness of the coffee. What he didn’t know is how much he would learn about himself and his future vocation as a nurse because of his experience.
“It is possible to accomplish more with less,” said Chandler. “In America, we heavily rely on our possessions and fancy technology to accomplish our goals, but in Kenya, they can only use what they have, like soil, rocks, and second-hand supplies. Their creativity runs deep, and it’s how they survive. They don’t have the things we have.”
Chandler says there is so much more learning that takes place when you are faced with the realities of a total immersion experience. The students washed their clothes by hand, heard lions roar as they slept in hut-like structures, and experienced the reality of poverty first-hand from the Kenyans that they helped and befriended.
Ashlyn LeBlanc (’19) shared that she will never forget the day the group traveled to the Mukuru slums to pass out hygiene kits to the children. Their homes, measuring 10 feet by 10 feet, were made from metal shipping containers. They would run their businesses selling fruits, vegetables, and homemade goods out of the front of their homes and use the back of the homes as their living quarters.
“The people we met, though they hardly had anything and were surrounded by trash and raw sewage, were some of the happiest people I have ever met,” said LeBlanc. “Their smiles lit up the room, and their willingness to never give up was contagious.”
LeBlanc, Chandler, and their classmates worked with patients at the St. Joseph Shelter of Hope Hospital in Voi, Kenya and Beacon of Hope in Nairobi, Kenya. Along with assisting with two c-sections, the nursing students provided fluoride treatments to 110 children, fit people for eyeglasses, and helped many who are affected by HIV.
“The people of Kenya really do make the best of every situation,” said LeBlanc. “I am going to be a better nurse because of this trip because I understand how we are blessed by our resources and healthcare.”
UGANDA: July 22-August 5, 2018
Twelve CUAA nursing students (4 juniors, 8 seniors) partnered with Women of the Pearl to serve and study in Jinja, Uganda. This trip was led by school of nursing advisor Angie Raasch.
Senior Caitlyn Freshour (’18) chose this trip because of its emphasis on women’s health. Freshour, a volunteer at the inner-city Detroit pre and post-natal The Luke Project 52 Clinic, learned that sometimes the problems you face as a nurse are not in your own control to fix.
“In Uganda, I had to just offer what I could, and some days that was simply a smile, a laugh or just my time,” said Freshour. “As a nurse, even if I can’t cure a patient’s illness, I can still be a positive impact, even if just for a day.”
Freshour was grateful that this trip offered opportunity to continue to develop cultural sensitivity and finding ways to connect with people despite the many differences and foreign environment.
A highlight for Freshour was visiting Christ Community Lutheran School. “The kids were so excited just to have visitors. Our mission for the day was to play with them and just have fun while their mothers received education, and oh my goodness, we had so much fun,” said Freshour. “I pray I never forget their sweet smiles.”
Concordia senior Shalena Blocker (’18) remembers the groups’ time at Nakivale refugee settlement as a day that she will never forget. Because the children didn’t speak English, Blocker began making animal noises to make the children laugh.
“I wanted to find a way to connect with them that crossed over the language barrier,” said Blocker. “Before I knew it, I had a crowd of kids sitting in front of me and laughing at me!”
Blocker, who like Freshour, chose this trip because of its emphasis on women and children’s health, shared the sense of helplessness she felt when she observed how much help was needed but was only able to assist in a limited capacity as a nursing student.
Blocker stated that she knew that God led her to this trip for a reason, and that helped to ease her sense of helplessness. Blocker also experienced the Lord’s presence in a physical sense when the group took a trip to visit the Nile River.
“I became teary-eyed when I put my hand into the water of the Nile, because I could feel God’s presence,” said Blocker, “I was interacting with Biblical history where tons of people have been and witnessed miraculous things happen, and there I was, at the source of it all.”
This could be you!
In semesters to come, the school of nursing is eager to increase global education opportunities for Concordia nursing students. Plans to return to Guatemala, Kenya, and Uganda are already in place in addition to new trips slated in Romania, Belize, and Tanzania.
To learn more about CUAA’s school of nursing visit www.cuaa.edu/nursing.
— Rachel Thoms served on Concordia University's Strategic Communications team from 2015-2022. Any inquiries about this story can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If this story has inspired you, why not explore how you can help further Concordia's mission through giving.