Health Sciences students provide health care in Guatemala

Emma Moore, a paramedic student, conducts a health assessment during a trip to Guatemala. (Humber School of Heath Sciences)

Michelle Neha
Biz/Tech Reporter

The journey to provide healthcare in Guatemala was filled with hilly roads, beautiful valleys and lots of tortillas.

The final year students of Humber’s health sciences provided health assessments in Guatemala from Feb. 16 to 25. They focused mostly on primary health and dental care for children, said Frankie Burg-Feret, Humber Nursing professor in charge of the mission.

Students from Bachelor of Nursing Program, the Paramedic and Practical Nursing Programs have to apply, need to write a letter of intent and have a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 before undergoing the interview process, she said.

“It is competitive to get a spot on the team,” Burg-Feret said.

Once students know they’re going on that trip, they get a lot of background information.

They are instructed on what to expect, what they’ll be doing medically and how to frame simple medical questions, said Costantino Minielli, a fourth-year Bachelor of Nursing student.

“I heard about it in the second year and then from that point on I’m like, ‘I want to do that,’” Minielli said.

This year, dean of Health Sciences Jason Powell, media student Ian Coll and Humber video producer Ryan Patterson, accompanied them the group. Their work would be used to educate students on interprofessional learning, cultural humility and global citizenship, Burg-Feret said.

“I think we took like eight to 10 bags, you know, those big hockey bags of equipment, medical equipment, paramedic equipment, as well as first aid stuff, wound care, medications and a lot of vitamins too,” said Yvonne Ly, a second-year paramedics student.

Burg-Feret said the team visited two communities of Indigenous peoples in Solola, about 140 km west of the capital Guatemala City, where they reached out to community leaders, discussed health teaching and set up clinics. Three doctors and a dentist from Canada accompanied them.

“We probably saw about 350 children and some adults, but all together for the entire trip,” Burg-Feret said.

They set up clinics at Orfanato Valle de Los Angeles, Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios, the Guatemala City dump in Basurera.

“That day was an emotionally moving day,” Minielle said.

While assessing a single mom at the dumpsite, Minielle realised some problems were beyond their ability to solve. A priest from a nearby orphanage assisted by offering her a job to help her with her four children.

“In terms of health people not only need medicine but even being employed makes that much of a difference,” Minielle said.

A visit with a 95-year-old woman and her daughter left a lasting impression on the team.  Despite living in a shack made of rusted corrugated metal with flies all around in a mud floor, was asked if she needed anything.

“I have everything,” the elderly woman said.

Burg-Feret felt this was a great lesson for her and her students, about their attachments to material comforts, from a woman living in abject poverty.

“It (this trip) teaches the students not what they need to know, but also who they need to become, she said. “And that means they need to become more compassionate.

“They need to be more culturally humble,” Burg-Feret said. “They need to look through the lens of other and see the world from a different perspective.”

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