Mission to Cambodia: Freedom’s Promise School Clinic

Today (Thursday, 5/25) was the fourth day of our trip, but with travel was our second full day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia! After spending yesterday exploring the city and learning more about the history, we were going to engage in the community around us through a variety of ways. Following breakfast at the hotel, our group of fifteen split into three different groups. One group went with a Social Worker to do HIV home visits and another group went to a local hospital to assist with check-offs for their staff. The group I was with was six of us going to a local school through the organization Freedom’s Promise. At the school we would be holding a clinic for Well Child Checks.

As we arrived in the area with the school, the van dropped us off across the street and walked through a small street, similar to an alleyway. The bleak reality of these peoples’ living conditions shook me. Small rooms, which consisted of little more than dividing walls and a cover were homes for families. Running water and simply a place for trash were non-existent. After walking along the row of homes, we were then in the area with the school. It consisted of several classrooms, an office, and a library. A teacher directed us to their covered play area with tables and chairs to use for our clinic. Lauren and I, both nursing students, set up to do height, weight, vital signs, and an eye chart. The two Doctorate of Nursing students, Kim and Paige did thorough assessments. Dr. Wolford and Dr. Massie were assisting anywhere and everywhere – from aiding in assessments to helping prescribe to keeping kids entertained as they waited.

A health issue noticed in nearly every child was tooth decay. This may seem somewhat insignificant to us and an easy fix, but for these kids it can be so much more. If further decay occurs, they could end up without teeth or an infection. While the United States has fluorinated water to help prevent this, these children come from families without running water (and Cambodia’s water isn’t drinkable, much less fluorinated). For the most part, brushing their teeth isn’t a priority. A toothbrush here costs $1, which seems insignificant to us. Yet, for many of these families, that is a day’s wages – not to consider the need for toothpaste or the lack of access to clean water. This simple issue made me realize even further how we take so much for granted back at home.

Dr. Wolford, a pediatric nurse practitioner, made an important point at the beginning of the day. She said that “Kids were kids, wherever you go.” This simple statement eased some of the nerves about not speaking the same language, as I found this reminder to be so true. Smiles, laughter, and even many games are so universal. Even if it was after a little misunderstanding, we learned their games as they did cartwheels over a string made with rubber bands. They learned limbo and we played their version of jump rope. As they waited for the next part of the assessment, Lauren and I were taught some of the shapes in Khmer. We sang “Head, Shoulder, Knees, and Toes” and taught some boys how to flip a half full water bottle to make it land correctly and cheered after many attempts for each of us. These kids were full of joy, despite their circumstances and I think that was the most powerful part of the entire experience.

Mission to Cambodia: First Day

Today was my first day in Cambodia. My group and I woke up early, had breakfast, and walked through the city to the river. Most notably it was hot, and I sweated a lot. The city was pretty and the people were nice, so that made the heat slightly more bearable. Later on in the day, I went with a group to visit the S-21 prison museum. S-21 was first a school before the Khmer Rouge took power. The Khmer soldiers decimated the school and turned it into one of many torture camps used by the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian genocide. Their prisoners were held in hardly livable conditions, tortured daily, then killed slowly and painfully after they had given confessions to crimes they never committed. In each of the buildings, there were pictures of the prisoners and the cells they lived and died in.  The whole experience was hard to swallow, but I forced myself to look at the pictures, the torture devices, and the bones of the prisoners. I forced myself because it’s easy to look away, to not think about it and forget it happened – especially to an American. However, I see it as the least I can do for the people who can’t look away, and who can’t forget no matter how hard they try. They people who died there had no rights, no freedom, and no say in what happened to them, but I believe they have a right to be remembered; and I believe that it is our duty to remember them and the injustice of the Khmer Rouge so that those injustices will not be repeated. I think S-21 is a perfect example of what the Khmer Rouge did to Cambodia: destroy education, replace it with misery and death, and then leave it to be forgotten. There was a monument constructed at S-21 declaring that the information there is the right and property of humanity as to not forget the cruelty we are capable of.

Mission to Guatemala: Last days

Today, the nursing/pharmacy team had the privilege of traveling to a prominent coffee plantation and offering a hand. We focused on providing health screenings and education to the plantation workers and their families. We were also able to hand out dental hygiene kits to all the individuals we crossed paths with. One thing that we have really learned on this trip is the value of teamwork. The nursing students, pharmacy students, and a Guatemalan doctor all worked hand in hand to provide this community with access to healthcare. We also got the opportunity to see how this plantation prepares their coffee products. Now not to brag, but if this healthcare stuff does not work out, some of us may have a future in the coffee industry. The highlight of our day was definitely towards the end. As we were passing the horse stables, we saw one of the young boys we had seen on day 1 of this trip. When we first saw him, he was the picture of discomfort and pain. Today, when we asked him how he was feeling, he responded with the biggest smile and an endless amount of gratitude. This was a reminder that all our hard work here was making a difference.

The PT/OT team spent our last workday back at Keramion, the school for special needs children that we visited on Monday. The day began with a bit of dancing, followed by receiving gifts from the children. We were so amazed by the generosity that we were shown and will treasure the gifts as well as the hugs we were given. Afterwards, the OT team saw one more child with autism who had some behavior issues that the mother and teachers wanted to discuss. We were able to provide education on different calming strategies such as deep pressure, bouncing on a ball, and slow swinging. His mom was present and was really interested in learning, and some of the other OT team members also had the chance to interact with child’s younger sister. Following this, the PT and OT students set up a small obstacle course for the children. Due to rain, we had to move it inside, but it still worked! The staff was excited to learn about new ways to engage the children in purposeful play that would encourage practicing different skills such as crawling, jumping, and grasping various objects.

The children headed home after completing the obstacle course so that the afternoon could be used for a staff in-service. Griselda, the school’s founder, also shared more of her incredible testimony with us, and we were able to pray for her which was a very moving experience for everyone involved. The PT students on the team also worked with Griselda on different exercises and were able to give her advice on managing her back pain. It was amazing to see how much she had improved in only a few days! For lunch, Belmont team members treated the staff to spaghetti, and the rest of the day was spent training the staff on specific topics such as sensory integration, proper lifting techniques, and behavior management. All of the staff members were extremely grateful for our help this week. After spending so much time together, it was hard to say goodbye, but we know that the children are in good hands at Keramion and that God is definitely at work there. It was such a blessing to bear witness to this incredible ministry this week.

Written by: Anais, Emily, Alicia, and Hope

Mission to Guatemala: Mother’s Day

Today was Mother’s Day which is a major holiday in Guatemala as many of the mothers had the day off work. We wanted to help serve the community by helping them prepare for the special celebration.  We enjoyed helping the students decorate and pick flowers from the field for the mothers. The PT/OT team also supported the nursing and pharmacy students stepping in as needed to assist with orthopedic and musculoskeletal concerns.  We worked as a team to identify the proper professional needed for each case.  The PT/OT team also spent the afternoon preparing educational materials for the upcoming day tomorrow.

Today, the nursing team primarily focused on mothers and children, with cultural perspective seeming to be the theme of the day. Because there was such a high number of mothers and children seen there were several things that we realized that we never noticed before. One was the relative age of mothers. Today we had a mother who was 19 with two children. This provided a dose of perspective as several members on the team are around this age and could not even imagine being in her shoes. It was also shocking to realize how access to care differs from America. Back home, if we have a concern with a child we can just drive to a clinic; however, here in Guatemala mothers showed up from all around carrying babies on their backs knowing that we were the only resources they had access to. It was eye-opening and humbling to see how far these women came just for us to get the opportunity to care for them.

Written by: Kristin & Dylan from nursing and Lexi & Maggie from PT/OT

 

Mission to Guatemala: Teamwork

TEAMWORK was the word of the day. Today both the OT/PT and Nursing/Pharmacy teams went to a coffee plantation with a school attached. Nursing and Pharmacy set up a health screening station similar to yesterday where they checked blood pressure, blood glucose, and height/weight. We assessed their needs for any medications and the doctor was able to write prescriptions. For example, one coffee worker came in for a screening and stated there were no complaints. When the nursing team found out he was having knee pain, the physical therapists were brought in to show him exercises for strengthening and explain why those would be beneficial. He was very grateful because he could apply what he learned to his everyday work. In addition, while performing a health screening on a mom and her son, nursing noticed that the son was having difficulty with using his hands. Occupational therapy was brought in to do a short assessment with the son and he was given a bag of toys to take home with him to work on his fine motor skills and radial-ulnar dissociation. He was overjoyed and thankful for the toys that he could call his own.

The kids at the school were preparing for Mother’s Day tomorrow, which is a huge holiday here and the kids were excited to make crafts for their “madre”. The kids split into groups and made necklaces bracelets with beads and a card with flowers and a special message to their mom. After this activity, the kids were excited to play outside with jump ropes, soccer and parachutes. The team noticed how much joy and happiness the kids had on their faces and in turn how much joy and happiness they brought to each one of us.

Even though there was a language barrier, the interpreters were very helpful and greatly appreciated. While there was difficulty finding interpreters who were willing to take off work from their daily jobs to help, there were a few who were gracious enough to fill the need. Along with an interpreter, a few people on the team taught CPR for adults and infants as well as the Heimlich maneuver to the adults and high school students. The parents were grateful for this education and were able to practice on the mannequin.

As we performed screenings, played outside with the kids, and did arts and crafts, every one of us on the team was amazed by the joy and love we received from them. Our work is truly appreciated and we can’t wait to go back again tomorrow to help celebrate Mother’s Day!!!

Adios for today from Guatemala!

Maria (PT), Hope (OT) and Allison (Nursing)

Mission to Guatemala: Our first day

Buenas Noches!! We successfully completed our first day of clinics here in Antigua, and wow was it humbling. The nursing/pharmacy students had the privilege of caring for around 50 students at a local school on a coffee plantation here in town. We set up a pop-up clinic that assisted a Guatemalan doctor providing physicals and basic health screenings for children and their mothers. Although today might not have gone according to our “perfect” schedule, we used today as a learning experience to remind ourselves that God’s perfect plan does not always align with our ideal plan. As a team, we learned that even though our treatment plans may have felt insufficient to the need we were trying to fulfill at the time, our love was sufficient and the Lord’s presence was there. A team member, while providing care, saw this first hand. She was observing a student who was young and just appeared sad and scared. She noticed that the student had been looking at her stethoscope with curiosity so she went and asked if the student would like to listen to her heart. The second the student began to listen her whole demeanor began to change. Her face lit up and she said “Corizone boom boom”. She continued to listen to other body sounds smiling the entire way. Through this encounter, it became apparent that healing is not only physical, it is more so emotional and spiritual, and although we do not have the resources to heal every single medical issue, we do have the capacity to show love and heal spiritually and that is in some cases even more valuable than fixing a physical issue.

At the same time, the physical therapy and occupational therapy team was over at the school for disabled children called Keramion. We started off getting to learn a lot about the school and the teachers that are devoting their lives to help these children. This staff was incredible and so welcoming of the team. Everyone was greeted with a big hug and a such a genuine smile! Griselda, the founder of the school, was so open in telling us her testimony and all she’s gone through to make Keramion an awesome environment for these kids to learn and grow. After meeting the kids, the team split up according to their specific needs and evaluated each child to assess where they are in their development. The staff members were very grateful for ideas that the mission team had given them on past trips and we’re hoping to give them more suggestions to continue the progress they are already making! While a lot of our day consisted of evaluating and utilizing what we have learned in school, a great portion of the day involved playing, interacting, and loving on the kids. A definite highlight of the day was coming back from lunch to everyone singing, dancing, and praising Jesus. We had so much fun brainstorming games for the kids to play that will also help their therapy progress!  After all the thanks we received, we couldn’t help but feel equally blessed by the staff and kids of Keramion and we are so excited to go back on Thursday!

Adios from Guatemala!

Kendall & Macey from PT (in the picture below), Kristin (not pictured) & Brooke ( back row right in the picture above) from nursing

Health Sciences Students Provide Health Care in Guatemala

Student taking blood pressure of Guatemalan childDuring Belmont’s spring break last March, students and faculty from the nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy and social work programs traveled to Guatemala to provide health screenings, patient teaching programs and medications and vitamins to citizens in Antigua. The trip was made possible through the university’s partnership with a Guatemalan coffee company, Kafes Guatemala, through its CoffeeMed Program. The students and faculty served over 350 people.

Belmont’s College of Health Sciences and Nursing has been involved with the CoffeeMed Program for the last three years, serving more than 800 patients. The program aims to provide basic needs to workers on Guatemalan coffee plantations who don’t always work under ideal conditions. In addition, the program takes students on a hands-on tour of plantations, hoping they will realize the importance of their involvement. Students who participate in the program are expected to fund the trip themselves by selling coffee from Kafes Guatemala in their communities.

In addition to current students and faculty, 2015 nursing graduate Claire Zetak served as a team leader on the trip. Zetak noted the importance of student engagement in an interview conducted recently with Roast Magazine. “In the health care profession, interdisciplinary works are always taking place,” said Zetak. “Nurses are working with doctors or physical therapists or pharmacists, so this is an example of what they’ll be doing in their future careers.”

Founder and President of Kafes Guatemala Pablo Castaneda realizes the value of the help Belmont students bring to Guatemala and expressed his gratitude for their work. “Thank you, Belmont students, for your love for others,” Castaneda said. “Never forget you can change lives for good. Your love for others is impacting so many lives, and it goes beyond medical attention to proving you are serving a living God.”

College of Pharmacy sends group to Honduras for medical mission

A group of faculty and students from Belmont University College of Pharmacy recently traveled to Honduras as part of the Baptist Medical Dental Mission Trip. Drs. Adam Pace and Leela Kodali and Noah Vasilakes and Brittany Hayes, two 4th year pharmacy students, joined a team of 20 medical professionals for the trip.

The team set up a medical clinic, dentistry clinic and pharmacy in a schoolhouse in Naguaterique, a rural mountain community on the El Salvadorian border and saw more than 1500 patients. About 5800 prescriptions were dispensed through the pharmacy, 223 teeth were pulled by the dentist for 117 dental patients and 325 pairs of eyeglasses were distributed. Additionally, 64 individuals professed a new found faith in Jesus or expressed a renewal of their Christian commitment during the church services and through personal evangelism at the medical stations.

Pace oversaw the setup and operation of the dispensing pharmacy while Kodali provided clinical pharmacy services in the medical clinic by answering providers’ questions about medications and making recommendations on drug therapy.

As part of their advanced pharmacy practice experience, Vasilakes and Hayes split their time between the pharmacy and the clinic. This experience was designed for them to compare and contrast the provision of pharmacy services during a mission trip in Honduras to that of a Nashville patient population.

Vasilakes said, “The Honduras medical mission trip was a wonderful opportunity to use my pharmacy skills and knowledge outside of my comfort zone. It amazed me what our team was able to do in only a few days when teaming with the Hondurans who were incredibly friendly, helpful and welcoming. It was a blessing to be able to provide care to people who otherwise likely would not receive it, and I am so thankful for being provided with this chance to share the love of God through healthcare.”

Hayes added, “Traveling to Honduras gave me the opportunity to not only learn more about myself and the type of practitioner I want to be, but also allowed me to learn about an entirely different culture. The Honduran people were warm, welcoming and grateful for any and all assistance we provided. Although a language barrier existed, a smile and kind eyes created a patient-provider bond that ended the consultations with hugs and trust. I will never forget one particular patient who spoke about the renewed love of God she found that day through the generosity of the mission. As our eyes teared up, she thanked me and blessed me for everything she had been given that day. What she didn’t know was that she and the other patients gave me a renewed love of God as well. Healing begins with the soul and I find myself blessed to have been able to contribute to the physical and spiritual healing in Naguaterique.”

Mission to Guatemala: Energy, Laughter and Happiness

by Kristina Mertz, Meghan Chen, and Allison Lane
KristinaMeghan's HeadshotAllison's Headshot
This week has flown by faster than any of us had expected considering our rocky start. It is crazy to think that today was our last day of clinics here in Guatemala. Thursday's Blog PictureToday we were blessed enough to serve at Escuela Esperanza surrounding ourselves with kids full of energy, laughter, and happiness. The mission of this school was to break the cycle of poverty through education and empowerment, which motivated us to continue on through the heat of the day.

At the end of the day, we had our usual debriefing meeting where we reflected upon 1 Corinthians 1: 12-19. In this passage, it discusses how “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” This scripture made us realize how God has given each individual on this team special abilities and talents that has allowed us to work together as a team. Similar to the Body of Christ, health care is made up of many different parts and roles. Our team is made up of students from pharmacy, physical therapy, social work, and nursing. Over the past week, we have realized the importance of integrating interdisciplinary roles in order to serve the people of Antigua. We all have our own individual strengths but we also know it is okay to ask for help when we need it.

Thursday's Blog Picture 2It is so rewarding to know that we were able to provide health care for so many people over this short amount of time. None of this would be possible without each of us coming together to form a team, for the sum of our efforts are greater than the parts we each play. Each of us will walk away with a stronger understanding of how we can serve others as the Body of Christ.

As Jesus says in Matthew 25:40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Mission to Guatemala: God came through. . .

by Shelley Robert, Adjunct Professor and
Nurse Practitioner, Vanderbilt Trauma Center

“Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.” -Psalm 119:89-90

Leading the students on this trip has reinforced and renewed my faith in several ways. As a newcomer to Guatemala, as a rookie leader of a student trip, and as a nurse practitioner who practices in a highly organized healthcare system with ample resources, this trip presented many challenges and fears. I was not able to solve these challenges by my own volition or control, therefore I asked God to give me the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. I breathed this prayer under my breath many times throughout the week, as I walked up to obviously sick women and children. And He responded. Our student team saw many very sick patients who literally had no other option outside of us. We are practicing in a rural area where many families live in great poverty, and they do not have the resources to provide healthcare for their families. Many of our Guatemalan friends, when I questioned their medical history, had never been seen by a doctor. We saw a variety of illnesses, ranging from children with chronic respiratory illness to a woman with dengue fever and impending hypovolemic shock. I prayed so many times during these examinations, for God to help me remember my training and to give me direction for how to best care for these very sick people. Cellular networks were unreliable, and we had no use for all the fancy & informative apps on our phones. But God came through for us. He answered my prayers, in all His goodness and grace. He helped me to recall the knowledge and skills that go unused in my day-to-day profession, which is highly specialized and not at all similar to the primary care/international medicine practice that we needed with these patients. He also gave me a brilliant multidisciplinary team of health science students and other leaders who were passionate and excited to lend their fresh expertise in a new perspective. God is faithful. Our prayers are a reminder of our reliance on God, as we humbly and desperately invite Him to fill us with faith and strength.