Nursing students jump as a group in front of a pyramid, Xunantunich Mayan ruins, in Belize. Photo by Paige Le.

Nursing students jump as a group in front of the Mayan ruins Xunantunich in Belize. Photo by Paige Le.

By Sarah Kyo, Public Affairs Assistant

Helping others and learning more about another culture went hand in hand, as 23 nursing students and two faculty members traveled to Belize for three weeks ending June 27.

Professor Ruth Rosenblum said the School of Nursing has offered faculty-led programs in the past, but not in the last few years. She chose Belize, a Central American country located south of Mexico and next to the Caribbean Sea, partially because its official language is English. Also, the country was recommended by ProWorld, an organization that offers international volunteer opportunities and internships.

“Although our cultures are very different in our beliefs, our values and our way of life, we all have the same basic needs and desires: to be healthy and cared for,” said Danielle Pepi, a senior nursing major.

The students set up free clinics and performed basic health check-ups in villages near their home base in the town of San Ignacio. Pepi said hypertension and diabetes are a couple physical conditions that afflict many Belizeans. A patient with unusually high blood pressure and blood sugar would be offered a ride to the nearest hospital or clinic to receive tools and prescription medicine.

Lecturer Arlene Spilker, who co-led the program with Rosenblum, said challenges during the trip included the humid, hot weather and “the feeling that we could have done more.”

“It would have been nice to do more, but what we did was very good and much appreciated,” Spilker said.

Pepi agreed, saying, “We could only do the best we can and I think this is something that rings true in any culture as a nurse.”

The students and faculty participated in weekend excursions, including hiking to the Mayan ruins Cahal Pech and Xunantunich, river tubing on the Mopan River, playing in the water of the Big Rock Falls, exploring the cave Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) and visiting the island Ambergris Caye.

My Lam, who recently graduated from SJSU, said she is working with ProWorld to gather data from SJSU’s trip and would like to use the information as the basis for a graduate research project in the future.

Lam said she enjoyed getting to know the locals and gaining exposure to a different environment. The trip also confirmed her nursing interests.

“I enjoyed working and I enjoyed health care,” Lam said. “I enjoy the whole idea of preventative health care as opposed to working in a hospital.”

The faculty members both said one of their favorite things was seeing the students grow during the course of the trip.

“It gave them a lot more autonomy,” Rosenblum said. “A lot of them said it was their first time feeling like a nurse and to do something without someone looking over their shoulder.”

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