Archived Voice Articles

Nurses take their training abroad

By Sally Jongsma

Five nursing students got a better sense of the many sides of nursing during a spring break trip to Haiti in March. Ranae Draayer, Anna Fedders, Emily Hiemstra, Jena Mouw, and Robin Van Zandbergen, all seniors in Dordt’s nursing program, helped organize and staff the first NICL (Nurses Internationally Changing Lives) spring break service trip.

Anna Fedders (left) and Emily Hiemstra (right) assess children’s hair, skin, eyes, and nutritional status.

Anna Fedders (left) and Emily Hiemstra (right) assess children’s hair, skin, eyes, and nutritional status.

The five nurses traveled to Pignon, Haiti, in the central plateau region of the country, to spend a week working with missionaries JeanJean and Kristie Mompremier of United Christians International. They helped Kristie, a nurse, with nutrition clinics and first aid classes. Despite the initial culture shock that is inevitable when people of privilege immerse themselves in the lives of the “poorest of the poor,” they quickly came to respect and care for the cheerful and happy people who came to the mission compound for care.

“They were very grateful for the basic first aid information we tried to teach them,” says Hiemstra. She and her classmates hope that some of what they were able to share will allow people, who already do not have enough money to feed themselves, to avoid having to pay for basic medical care. Medical care is available but people in the community cannot afford to make use of it, say the nurses.

“We answered a lot of questions. They were hungry for knowledge,” Hiemstra adds.

The women spent three afternoons assisting with the nutrition clinics already set up by Kristie. On these days, 150-200 children came to be served a good meal, after which they were weighed and checked.

“There is a lot of neglect and abandonment, often because parents need to go elsewhere to find work,” says Fedders. Ten and twelve-year-olds are left to care for younger children. The median age in the country is seventeen. Almost all children have the distended bellies typical of bodies full of parasites; diarrhea and upset stomachs are common. The nurses passed out vitamins and medications they brought with them to treat these conditions. As she recalls the clinics, Van Zandbergen says she found it the best part of the week.

“It was a joy to work with the children. With joy and enthusiasm, they play soccer in bare feet among the rocks and thistles,” she says.

Ranae Draayer weighs children who come to Pignon for the weekly nutrition clinic.

Ranae Draayer weighs children who come to Pignon for the weekly nutrition clinic.

Clinics for the widows and widowers involved taking blood pressures, offering vitamins, and providing treatments for such things as parasites and scabies.

“The dirt is full of parasites and people are so poor that they make ‘cookies’ out of clay and water and salt to curb their hunger,” says Mouw. The water, too, is contaminated. People must drink out of streams, where they wash and animals urinate and defecate. Although filtering systems are being set up in some areas, Pignon has no access to clean water.

“The week really changed my focus,” says Mouw. “I came to realize that nursing isn’t just about individual patients, but that there is a real community aspect to health.” Fedders adds, “We didn’t do much of the typical nursing things like giving shots, but we learned how to think creatively about how to deal with problems related to health.”

“It opened our eyes to the many opportunities out there if you are willing to stretch yourself,” says Van Zandbergen. “We used our skills in ways we wouldn’t have and couldn’t have thought of before.”

Although the parasites the women treated will likely come back and although they couldn’t solve the scarcity of food problem, the five Dordt seniors believe they did some good and they also were changed through the experience.

“People are so grateful for what they get and have such a sense of hope, despite circumstances that are difficult,” says Hiemstra, who found herself looking at her own life differently.

“We are so consumer-oriented and materialistic,” says Van Zandbergen, who says she almost feels guilty at times for having running water.

“It makes me feel less attached to ‘stuff,’” says Fedders. “I feel like I don’t need as many things and hope I will be more generous with what I have.” She continues, “Lots of people here are in better situations—they have plenty of food, clothing, and medical care, but they are not happy. We’re spoiled,” she says, adding how just the week before she was grumbling that her washing machine was not working quite right.

The five women expect to stay in contact with JeanJean and Kristie. Has it changed them in lasting ways?

“I’d like to think it will,” says Fedders. She admits that it’s hard to think outside of your own culture when you’re immersed in it. But the memories of the full, rich singing and the joy on people’s faces will not leave her soon. Neither will the distended bellies and the incredible poverty.