Two IUPUC students and one professor learned what health care looks like in Africa this summer.
For the first time, the IU School of Nursing at IUPUC traveled to the Kingdom of Swaziland for a service-learning experience.
Students Mindy Talkington, of Scipio, and Megan Ballard, of Columbus, spent three weeks abroad with professor Bethany Murray and a dozen other students and staff from IUPUI and Indiana University Bloomington.
The nursing students applied for temporary licenses to work in hospitals, where they observed, assessed and helped with medication administration. In their free time, they visited with families in villages and learned about the country’s culture.
“It’s very important for these students that they have cultural awareness and cultural experiences,” Murray said. “The need to realize the way we practice health care in this country is not the only way it can be practiced. It can very rewarding to learn about other cultures and other experiences.”
What did they find? A country with extreme poverty, few resources and the highest HIV prevalence in the world at 26 percent.
But Ballard said that also gave students the opportunity to witness more conditions and diseases in a three-week period than they would in three years in a U.S. clinical setting, especially cases dealing with malnutrition.
Talkington realized how families in rural areas of Swaziland needed health care but couldn’t afford it. She was happy she could help make a difference.
She did so in a pediatric ward when she assisted a nurse in changing a young boy’s bandages.
“He had deep dog bites covering the entirety of his body, and he cried out when we changed the dressings,” she said. “I felt so bad for him but knew what needed to be done.”
Murray said several of the students were struck by the extreme deprivation in rural areas.
They compared Swaziland to what it’s like to live in southern Indiana.
“Take away all the paved roads and leave only the two-lane interstates,” she said. “Then take away electricity. Then take away any kind of water that’s not carried in. And most people don’t have automobiles, so how do they meet their basic needs? How do they get basic health care?”
The answer: Residents of rural areas walk along dirt roads to the bus stops, which are few and far between. Many of them are subsistence farmers, which means they grow enough food for their family and no more. They cook on wood fires and live in primitive camps.
“I think that was very surprising to us,” Murray said. “The rural setting and the lack of resources that people there have.”
But the class also witnessed kindness and happiness beyond what they have seen in the U.S., and they were given the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.
They performed traditional Swazi dances and held the hands of children at the clinic.
They met a Gogo, or grandmother, who has adopted 17 children to care for as her own.
The students also spent time in the labor ward at Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hopsital, where many of the students saw birth for the first time.
“Seeing the miracle of life happen right before my eyes was truly an amazing experience,” Talkington said.
The nursing students partnered with an Indianapolis-based organization, Saving Orphans through Healthcare and Outreach, which raises funds to provide emergency housing and food for children left on their own.
Four students from another campus had gone on a home visit and found a young girl, probably about 13, living with her little sister, 8, alone in a one-room house with no lock.
So the girls traveled back to the hotel with the nursing students and watched “The Little Mermaid” and ate dinner. In that time, SOHO put a lock on their door and worked with another organization to provide food and clothing.
“It was so rewarding to see them doing well and essentially being rescued from their current situation,” Ballard said.
While both Ballard and Talkington had a hard time leaving the children, they said the trip helped reaffirm their future interest in helping children.
Talkington said she wants to become a pediatric nurse and work in a children’s hospital.
“Working with the kids every day and seeing their smiling faces really inspired me and brought me joy,” she said.
Ballard said helping the children — distributing food and clothes and giving them small toys and stickers after performing health checkups — was the most rewarding thing she has ever done.
She plans to complete her bachelor of science in nursing program at IUPUC and work as a pediatric nurse.
“When we were leaving, I remember looking back at the young girls, and all the other children watching us leave, and I didn’t want to leave them either,” she said. “That was the moment where I knew that this trip really meant something and leaving was the hardest part.”