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Vanier College’s Malawi Nursing Exchange Program and HPIC Working Together: 2010-2020

Every year Vanier College sends a select group of nursing students to Malawi in Sub-Saharan Africa to complete the final seven weeks of their nursing program. The selection process is rigorous and students often choose the nursing program at Vanier so that they can participate in the study abroad component.

We had big plans for the 10th anniversary of the Malawi Nursing Exchange. Our focus this year was on HIV/AIDS, which was our original focus when we began the exchange, and it seemed appropriate to come full circle to see how things had changed over the years that we had been involved. Six graduating nursing students worked all year to raise funds and to prepare for this unique learning opportunity. On March 13th, our bags packed and only hours prior to departure, the Quebec government mandated that all international travel for students and teachers stop immediately because of Covid-19. The news was heartbreaking and the students were devastated. So many dreams, plans and such tremendous effort had been expended to make this trip a reality.

In an attempt to still have a positive impact on the community, that has warmly received us for many years, we wanted to see what we could do here in Canada. With thousands of dollars’ worth of humanitarian aid, packed and ready for transport, we worked with a partner organization, K2Foundation and HPIC to airlift lifesaving medications and medical equipment to Malawi where they were so badly needed. Each year, the exchange program transports HPIC’s Humanitarian Medical Kits containing medications donated by Canadian pharmaceutical companies and distributes these medications while providing care free of charge in remote rural areas. With Covid-19 knocking at Malawi’s door, these medications were even more essential than ever. The exchange program raises funds to be used for special projects that arise while abroad. This year the funds were used to airlift medications, purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for the staff at the Chilanga Health Centre and provide workshops in the villages on how to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Makupo Village, where the students are hosted annually, and received hand washing stations and soap for every household.

Although our efforts were appreciated they did not replace the weeks we would have spent sharing best practices with our colleagues, conducting mobile clinics for thousands of impoverished Malawians offering free health assessments and treatments. The students did not have the global immersion experience that they had hoped for, however they were able to contribute to improving the health of rural Malawians. Covid-19 has clearly demonstrated that the health status of the people in one country is a concern to us all, not only from a humanitarian perspective but also because of the threat it can impose on global health.

Melodie Hicks 
Coordinator, Malawi Nursing Exchange
Vanier College, Quebec

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