UNBSJ nurses lend a hand in nicaragua

Eight third-year nursing students from the University of New Brunswick (Saint John) recently volunteered to provide healthcare assistance in Nicaragua.  When they embarked on their voyage they expected to learn about healthcare in the area, but what they took away was a lesson in appreciation. 

UNBSJ nurses travelled to Nicaragua to help those in need to healthcare. Left to Right:  Marilyne Bourque, Alison Floyd, Brittany Roy, Hannah Skidd, Michelle Kawatra, Mary Bountalas, Nicole Richard and Jessica Parent.

While this isn’t the first time a group of UNB nursing students has volunteered internationally, it is the first time they have gone to Granada, Nicaragua.

Travelling in early June the students discovered a community that needed them, not to mention the skills they had to offer. Assigned to assist the doctors at two local health clinics, and divided into two teams, the students’ eyes were soon opened by their experience.

Volunteering abroad

Working through the Volunteer Abroad program of Basecamp International, the group of nursing students was placed in Granada, where it was felt their skills and experience could do the most good.

Nicaragua is a developing country and medical facilities are often times underfunded.  This leads to difficulty obtaining equipment and finding staff to improve the delivery of health care. 

Upon arrival, the students encountered medical tasks were very similar to the ones that they conducted at home; only now they had to do them with very limitedresources.

“You don’t realize what a luxury it is to reach over and pull a band-aid out of a box until you simply don’t have that option anymore,” states Michelle Kawatra, a nursing student who was part of the group.

“Hygiene is a big issue and with so much poverty a lot of vaccinations are required,” explains Kawatra.  “Many families live together in these tiny sheds that they call home and disease tends to spread amongst them quickly.”

Encountering poverty

Residents of Nicaragua living in the countryside have limited access to health care, as transportation can be a hindrance.  The students, therefore, worked at the clinic and then travelled with the local residents to conduct individual health visits in the community. 

“Saint John has its own poverty issues but not to the level of what we saw there,” says Brittany Roy, another nursing student.

Seeing exactly how little health care is available in Granada, the students realized how fortunate we are with our Canadian system.

“In school we are taught to find solutions for our patients,” says Roy. “But there they don’t even know where to start to find solutions.” 

“This was a life changing experience for us. We went there to help out the residents, but we ended up learning so much more than we ever expected.”

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