Lessons learned in Guatemala help students become better nurses and paramedics in Canada

Courtesy: Humber College
Courtesy: Humber College

Humber College believes that a project in its third year for students in nursing and paramedics can transform their students’ perspectives on providing care for diverse and multicultural communities in Canada.

This February a team of students will once again leave for Guatemala. Equipped with their training and with four Humanitarian Medical Kits from Health Partners International of Canada, they will bring health care to children and adults who have very little access.

A major goal of the project is to learn “cultural humility”. The college produced a great documentary video of last year’s trip that is recommended viewing for anyone planning a medical mission trip. In the video they describe the concept as fostering “a commitment to listening, observing and learning with the understanding that I do not know everything from the perspective of an individual or a culture.”

The students will provide health assessments for all children living at Valle de los Angeles, a boarding school for kids aged 6-16 years old from impoverished areas around Guatemala City.

Bringing health to slums and schools 

They will also visit two schools in the slums to set up a clinic as well as at a church in the rural area of Solola.

“This is such a beautiful gift to us,” says the school’s director Franciscan priest Michael Della Penna. “This (project) gives us the opportunity to identify the problems.”

One of the places they visited in 2016 was the Guatemala City dump, the largest in Central America and home to 3,000 families and many children with sad stories.

Anyone can be taught how to take vitals and do assessments, but nothing prepares you to meet these children, one student said.

Courtesy: Humber College

Courtesy: Humber College

Another said she just wanted to do as much as she could to help. And a paramedic student said he was inspired by the positivity and tenacity exhibited by these children.

In all, 216 children were treated last year at the school and hundreds more at the other clinics- some communities had never had access to care prior to the team’s visit.

“Without the medications (from HPIC), we would not be able to deliver comprehensive care,” wrote Professor Frankie Burg-Feret, the organizer, in her report to HPIC. “The families living in under-resourced areas would not be able to afford to purchase medication or vitamins.”

This extraordinary experience at the beginning of their careers taught them to be open to learning from people they are working with so they can give the best care.

“If I don’t, who will?” 

In the Humber video it was noted that: 17,000 children under five years old die every day due to poverty and they die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. (UNICEF Progress of Nations report 2013).

These Humber students feel they are helping to make a difference even if it is limited. “If we don’t help, who will?” one student said.

Many children will lead healthier lives after receiving preventive care and being introduced to some basic healthcare, such as brushing teeth.

Humber College is sending another team Feb. 14-27.

Last year the Humber students brought four Humanitarian Medical Kits, including Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic donated by Bayer Inc. Bayer has been supporting the work of HPIC with donations of funding and requested products since 1995. In 2016 Bayer was a significant sponsor of our mission. It is estimated that over 800,000 people have been treated with medicine donated by Bayer to HPIC over the course of the partnership.

Documentary video of 2016 trip to Guatemala