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A life-changing summer
By Chris Barnett / October 23, 2017 /   Loading Disqus...

Jena Lerch says her summer as one of our Metcalf Fellows was life-changing. The Rhode Island College nursing major joined an International Service Learning health-care team in Belize. She worked with five American nursing students and two veteran RNs to provide health services to more than 100 impoverished villagers.

All of Jena’s expenses, including airfare, were paid for thanks to a fellowship from our Michael P. Metcalf Memorial Fund, which awards grants to college students to subsidize experiences that broaden their perspective and enhance their personal growth.

A nation on the eastern coast of Central America, Belize has fewer than 400,000 inhabitants.​ ​In the remote rural areas that Jena visited, many villages lack basics like reliable electricity and access to clean water and sewage services, while p​it latrines and septic tanks are the most common forms of sanitation.

Jena says her community nursing courses at RIC prepared her to tackle the relationship between the villagers’ environment and their health. For example, she notes that smoke inhalation from outdoor cooking fires could​have been a factor in the respiratory problems she encountered.

Free healthcare is available to all Belizeans. H​owever, the small village clinics open for only a few hours,​​ once a month; and​​ although there is a hospital i​n Belize City, it is difficult for villagers who live in remote areas to reach.

Jena and her colleagues set up their first clinic in a village church. ​She interviewed patients and conducted physical exams. ​After assessing the patients, she sent them to be seen by a Belizean doctor brought in to work with her team.

The most significant takeaway for Jena was an awareness of “how much we take for granted and how fortunate we are in the United States.”

Portions of this material are used with permission from Rhode Island College.

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