During Spring Break 2018, graduate nursing students from Wagner College travelled to Cap-Haïtien airport where they would begin a six-day mission to provide health care to the men, women, and children of Haiti. Our NP students acquire 50 community hours toward the required practicum hours for their service.
Haiti, a beautiful country with white beaches and clear blue water, is approximately one-third of this tropical island, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. The name actually means “high land,” as much of the island is covered with mountains. The official language is French with most people speaking a dialect known as Creole.
“For Haiti With Love” is located in the northern area of Haiti called Cap-Haïtien. Our team of volunteers brought a large amount of medicine and supplies, as our NP students would be treating as many as 50 people per day during the first days in the clinic. Although exhausted, there were no complaints, as this was a gift to the Haitian people given from the heart.
Interactions with the local people gave the student nurses a great sense of satisfaction and exposure to a new and interesting culture. The group was well received with genuine acceptance and welcoming love. Riding on the back of a pick-up truck and eating fried goat were some of the unique aspects of the culture that contributed to this bonding experience.
Upon arrival, poverty and issues with waste management were noted with trash being seen along the road and in the water. Another major issue was widespread unemployment. It was also noted that there was no access to running water or electricity inside their homes.
Although the nursing students were anxious initially, the people made the volunteers feel comfortable and safe. The group was warmly embraced and received three home cooked meals per day and were treated like family.
Children were well dressed and smiling. Although underprivileged on many levels, education was extremely valued among the Haitian people.
The volunteer work at the clinic involved a lot of wound care, such as venous stasis ulcer care. Although volunteers were working in the burn clinic, no one was turned away if they had other health issues that needed to be addressed. Many children received burn injuries from spilling hot water upon themselves. Education related to prevention of burn injuries was badly needed. Most of these children went directly to school after having a debridement and dressing change with little pain management. Privacy was another concern since many patients were treated in one room at the same time.
The volunteers used their clinical skills in a place outside of their comfort zone. Knowing that most of their patients would return to very poor living conditions was difficult for the volunteers. Many reported that this changed their perceptions and their lives. It helped them appreciate their own good fortune, the value of good health, and accessibility to health care. Similarly, the people of Haiti were filled with love, trust, and appreciation for everything the volunteers were able to provide.
Upon the return of the volunteers to campus, they were given the opportunity to present their experiences to other graduate nursing students in their Health Policy, Organization, and Finance class. A lively discussion and exchange recapped the entire experience for our volunteers and left our other students in awe.
Making a difference in the lives of those who may not have the means necessary to help themselves was a good feeling. Most volunteers said they would do it all again if given the opportunity because it was an experience of a lifetime.
Edna Aurelus, DNP, FNP-BC, RN-BC, APRN, PMHNP, is an assistant professor with the Evelyn L. Spiro School of Nursing at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York.
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