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Eleven nursing students traveled to West Africa in January to provide healthcare to the impoverished residents of Kpando, Ghana. They have returned with a new appreciation for the power of teaching and life here in the United States.
“Seeing people live in poverty and make decisions about whether to use what little money they have to eat or go to the doctor really changed how I see things here,” says Maggie Murphy. “Since I’ve been back, I try not to take things for granted and I tend to focus only on really important issues.”
Brianna Norton established Nursing Students Without Borders less than a year ago. With the help of Visiting Asst. Prof. Valerie King, who traveled with the students, and Visiting Asst. Prof. Miki Patterson, who stayed behind but was instrumental in planning and fundraising, the students raised more than $10,000 for medical supplies and travel expenses.
Once the group arrived in the country located just a few degrees north of the Equator, it was apparent to King that they could make a long-lasting difference in peoples lives if they taught the importance of good hygiene, clean water and healthy lifestyles.
“It was clearly a case of back to basics. For us to really help these people in just three weeks, we needed to teach them how to prevent health problems in the first place,” says King. “We brought hundreds of rubber gloves but I wish we had brought thousands of bars of soap."
One day a small group of students visited a fishing village where they showed the Ghanaian people how to boil water, use a basin and, through proper hygiene, prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
In a home for children, the students presented a care plan for those with HIV. “Once we arrived, their smiles widened and they just kept thanking us over and over for just being there,” says Erin Kane. “We’d also hang around, kick a ball around, and just laugh and play with them.”
Another student team educated an organization of 14- to 30-year-old women about how to protect themselves from HIV and AIDS. “They were so thirsty for knowledge and very open with their questions about sex and diseases,” says Heather Dwan.
For Katie Hutton, bringing a Ghanaian woman to the hospital for ulcer pain, staying with her for more than six hours, and paying for her care, gave her more satisfaction than she’s every felt in her life. “After we left the hospital, I thought that I may have just saved a person’s life.”
This transformed group of students will graduate in May but vow to take with them the importance of prevention in their roles as nurses in the United States, as well as on other mission trips.
“Teaching is a major part of what a nurse does,” says Katie. “Because we had to find the most basic ways of explaining how to live a healthy life, I now have the skills to teach anyone about health prevention and promotion.”
Visit UMass Lowell's photo gallery for a complete look at the Nursing Students Without Borders trip.