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Students make a difference on IFS trip to Ecuador

Students make a difference on IFS trip to EcuadorFrom April 28 to May 6, the IFS trip to Ecuador featured more than 25 students from the Dental Hygiene, Practical Nursing, Graduate Nursing and Personal Support Worker programs. The trip was hosted in collaboration with Solidarity Experiences Abroad (SEA), a program that supports faculties, educational institutes and businesses in developing social justice activities through international community development projects.

Practical Nursing student Jennifer Di Pardo, reflected on her experience interacting and helping some of the local unhoused population in downtown Guayaquil.

“This was a memorable experience for me because of my surprise at how much emotion was triggered in me afterwards,” said Di Pardo. “It was inspiring to see that these individuals were so joyful and kind despite the cards they were dealt and the conditions they were in.

She noted that playing games like ‘stella-ella-olla’ with the children and sharing smiles and hugs with the adults was a very humbling and rewarding experience for her.

“The impact of human connection was very clear during that evening and despite the language barrier, I felt we all left there feeling fuller,” she said.

The Be World Ready program’s International Field Studies trips are a key example of how NC consistently provides students as well as faculty and staff the opportunity to become more culturally and globally engaged in an applied education setting with a global mindset.

“As much good as we did for the people of Ecuador, I feel that the lesson we learned from this trip is that access to healthcare is a global issue,” said Practical Nursing student Christopher Reilly. “As privileged as we are at home in Canada, this opportunity has taught us that even small actions can make an impact, and our actions towards improving access to healthcare can, and should be, applied regardless of the setting or geographical location.

“We made a difference in Ecuador, but there is still work to be done here in Canada.”

With the leadership of Mark Grabner, professor in the School of Nursing and Personal Support Worker Studies, and Ruth McMullan, professor in the School of Allied Health Studies, SEA is focused on supporting the education of dental hygiene and healthcare in Ecuadorian communities Guayaquil and Salinas as well as small rural areas in the vicinity.

“Watching the interprofessional education of the dental hygiene and dental assisting students work together alongside the nursing students was a very rewarding experience,” said McMullan. “They were great ambassadors for Niagara College.”

Although Ecuador has a well-developed health care system, expenses such as dental care, medications and medical clinics are not accessible to some rural communities, shared Grabner. In their one week spent abroad, these NC humanitarians helped approximately 1400 Ecuadorians. Projects and campaigns in Ecuador included chronic disease management, street outreach and medical attention for the homeless, first-aid education, an oral hygiene campaign as well as language studies.

“When I started at NC, a senior student asked about doing mission work. I jumped at the opportunity to develop our first trip back in 2014,” said Grabner. “Participating in the IFS trip to Ecuador helps me to connect with the world our students are living in now.

“I have the opportunity to help students develop their skills while continuing to enhance my own. It helps me to be more relevant in my practice.”

When asked about a memorable moment of the trip, Grabner shared his experience with a young mother and her sick infant son who had a high fever and was quite lethargic. Grabner took care of the woman’s son, ensuring he received antibiotics and other medications.

“She came to me afterwards and was very upset,” said Grabner. “I was able to teach her about how to manager her son’s illness. She calmed down, thanked me and went home. I felt really connected to her.”

Stephanie Lu, a senior Dental Hygiene student in her sixth and final term, had a similar experience with an Ecuadorian woman while explaining the concepts of flossing and the benefits of brushing one’s teeth a certain way.

“I saw the exact moment it clicked in her mind,” said Lu. “The smile she gave me when she stood up to leave was so genuine; it’s something I don’t think I will ever forget.”

“This trip to Ecuador was a very humbling experience. The people there did not have many of the comforts and luxuries I am used to but they were so happy and grateful for what they had and were so open to us.

“ It really made me stop and re-evaluate what I have and take for granted and how I act on a day-to-day basis.”

Even one day can have an impact on the communities as IFS students and faculty worked to raise awareness regarding health and dental care practices. This work integrated-learning was mutually beneficial as it allowed students to reflect upon their own practices in the workplace and build upon their view of humanity through the development of cultural competency.

Second-year Dental Hygiene student Emma Rock discussed how during one of the evening debriefs, a colleague had shared that “it all comes down to loving the person in front of you.”

“I thought that was amazing, and it completely changed the way I want to care for my future clients,” said Rock. “Showing love and compassion for the person in front of you is such a huge part of our job and can sometimes be overlooked if you are having a rough day, or don’t get along with that particular patient. Just love the person in front of you!”

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