Contact: David Jwanier, media relations associate, 610-740-3790


Allentown, PA (July 27, 2009)--The country of Belize is renowned for its natural beauty, which is why it is high up on the list of rapidly developing tourists destinations in and around the Caribbean. Below the surface of its growing reputation for "sun, sea and sand," however, lies the reality that Belize is a relatively poor country without many of the essential services more developed countries take for granted. The problem is magnified for those who live in rural villages.

For them, running water, plumbing and electricity are almost non-existent. Families often use unpurified rainwater for their water supply-when the weather is kind enough to provide it-which leads to various illnesses. And when they do get sick, villagers typically have few options. There are virtually no qualified medical professionals to provide healthcare, and the nearest hospital is often quite a distance away.

This is the stark reality eight nursing students and two faculty members from Cedar Crest College faced during a nursing course trip to Belize from May 30 to June 12. The group worked with International Service Learning officials in Belize to provide badly needed healthcare services to more than 150 residents of the Seven Miles, San Antonio, and Cristo Rey villages.


First, the Cedar Crest contingent went door to door to meet with residents and assess their needs. Then, they invited those with healthcare needs to travel to the makeshift clinics that were available in their respective villages during the course of the next two weeks, where the group from Cedar Crest checked vital signs, administered blood pressure and glucose screenings, provided medications, etc. The most common illnesses seen and treated were diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, hypertension, parasitic diseases, skin infections, and respiratory ailments-many of which had gone untreated for a long time.

This was a far cry from what the students were accustomed to back home-and a great learning experience, according to the faculty members who traveled to Belize.
"We wanted the students to gain a greater appreciation for cultural differences and an awareness of alternative health care delivery systems, which they did. Going into a country that is medically underserved and working with populations that were very poor was an eye-opening experience, and it prepares a nurse for working in a global society," said Dr. Sandra Leh of Pottstown, assistant professor of nursing and director of nursing programs at Cedar Crest, and one of the two faculty members on the trip. "In the United States we are used to working with a wide variety of resources. It was very frustrating as well as challenging to work with the limited resources in Belize, but we all did the best we could and we feel like we were successful."

Nursing Instructor Roseann Flyte said many of the villagers she helped had run out of medication months ago and were unable to get more. The Cedar Crest contingent provided every last bit of medication they brought with them and it still wasn't enough. The trip provided one challenge after another. In one instance, a young girl suspected of suffering from malaria hadn't been getting the medical attention she needed. Her mother was unsure if she could take the bus that runs once a month to the nearest hospital-in San Ignacio-to ensure her daughter received the proper care.

"It was very hard on us. You really wanted to help but in many instances you were unable to," said Flyte, of Allentown.

Students on the service-learning trip had similar frustrations-but found it rewarding, too.

"If I had to sum up the trip from my own personal point of view, I honestly thought that I would come home with all of these fabulous stories about all of the people we helped and how we made such a huge difference and greatly improved the quality of their lives," said nursing student Samantha Barbato of Millstone Township, NJ. "The truth is it is unrealistic to have the goal of saving the world-or even a small village in Belize. We have a tendency to severely underestimate those who are less privileged than ourselves. These people accomplish so much with so little on a daily basis; it is just so incredibly humbling. That was the biggest lesson I learned; the will of humanity is so much greater than I ever could have imagined."

Brianna Powell of North Wales, PA, said of her experience: "Even though we could not make a huge dent in the villagers' health, it was nice to be able to teach them about health maintenance, and provide them with a limited amount of healthcare. The trip as a whole was so rewarding. We all took back how lucky we are. We are lucky to have access to healthcare, water, food, air conditioning, and so much more. The people of Belize seemed so thankful for us coming there and helping them. It gave you that warm feeling in the pit of your stomach to know that you helped so many men, women, and children with such small acts."

Leandra Logan of Exton, PA added: "I am grateful I was able to travel to Belize with Cedar Crest. I believe this will encourage me to be more culturally aware and give me a new perspective on the care I provide my patients."

In addition to administering healthcare, the Cedar Crest contingent went into local schools to educate students about the importance of brushing their teeth, and they also had a couple of free days during which they were able to visit the ancient city of Xunantunich to walk the Mayan ruins, tour a medical rainforest and iguana farm, and spend a day on Caye Caulker, where they enjoyed water activities. Other nursing students on the trip included Nicole Busedu of Center Valley, PA; Elba Kerkusz of Emmaus, PA; Marisa Lehr of Palmerton, PA; Sylvia Saoud of Tamaqua, PA; and Kimberly Suphal of Horsham, PA.

The Nursing Department at Cedar Crest College provides many service learning opportunities for students, especially those in upper-level courses. In March of this year, a faculty member and four nursing students brought thousands of dollars in medical equipment-including a colposcope, 50 specula, biopsy equipment, more than 1,000 pap smear kits, etc.-to the Ndologe Hospital and School of Nursing in Tanzania so they could perform badly needed gynecological health exams. They also performed blood pressure and preeclampsia screenings, as well as other basic tests, and vaccinated local children against polio and other diseases.


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Last Updated: 8/17/09