A group of nine nursing students at Southern flew to Jamaica last month for their spring break. But unlike many of their college peers, these students didn’t get a chance to spend much time on a beach, taking a break from the rigors of academic life. Instead, they volunteered their time alongside Jamaican healthcare professionals to assist at various medical and care centers.
Antoinette Towle, an assistant professor of nursing who teaches the class “Understanding Global Healthcare,” visited Jamaica with her husband to do a trial run shortly before the trip with her students. “I was amazed at the lack of healthcare and how one can leave these beautiful resorts and beaches to find a third world country in the midst of all this wealth,” says Towle, who is also an APRN.
The trip marked the Nursing Department’s first educational trip outside the United States. The objective of the course is to offer nursing students an opportunity to study within a culturally diverse and vulnerable environment.
At the beginning of the trip, she prepared the students for the long, rigorous days of working in the field by participating in challenging team-building exercises.
“We went to Dunn’s River Falls and climbed the 950-foot waterfall as a group,” says Nicole Valeriano, a junior from Stratford.
The students observed the Jamaican medical professionals at work, but they also provided assistance with checking patients’ vital signs and performing general health assessments.
Visiting the Jamaican countryside induced a bit of culture shock for the students, as the local nursing home was a “big ward instead of individual rooms,” and a vast majority of the natives walked around barefoot and had no access to running water, creating some unsanitary conditions, according to Towle. Some of the patients were amputees, the consequences of uncontrolled diabetes.
The students also volunteered at a children’s hospital in the capital city of Kingston, where they saw patients who suffered from asthma and chicken pox.
“The children were so kind and were so happy to see us that (we) really felt like just (our) presence was changing their lives,” Valeriano says.
In addition, the nursing group volunteered and brought toys, coloring books and reading books to children at, “Fellowship Hall,” a one-room schoolhouse in the Parish of St. Mary.
Preston Briggs and Melina Raucci, juniors from Old Saybrook and North Branford, respectively, said the children were animated and seemed to appreciate the group and gifts. “We were attacked with hugs the second we walked into (the school),” Raucci says.
Towle says she developed a great appreciation for the positive demeanor of the Jamaican people, and was very moved by their warm and welcoming manner once they became familiar with the Southern nursing class.
Raucci says she also was impressed by the upbeat attitudes of the local people, despite the seemingly underprivileged conditions in which they lived.
“Money is not their reason for happiness,” Raucci says. “But they get excitement out of working hard and showing others how beautiful Jamaica is.”
As a teacher, Towle’s favorite part of the trip was watching the students’ perspectives transform throughout the week, as they went from seeing “the big, stark buildings with no windows,” to valuing and understanding the people.
Regardless of the tropical weather and beautiful resort, Valeriano said the trip changed her life by giving her a greater appreciation for the opportunities and cleanliness in the United States, and changed her perspective on mission trips. “I look at people differently now and will take my experience with me wherever I work,” she says.