By Cheryl Toomey, University Relations Graduate Assistant

In many parts of the world people don’t have the same readily available access to healthcare that most people in the United States have. UTC School of Nursing (SON) students are raising the money to take a trip to one such place, Guatemala City, to try to change that.

Jenna Elliot and Katie Battani, students in the UTC SON, are leading the initiative known as The Leap to fund the trip.

Twelve nursing students and five faculty members from the SON will be going to Guatemala for a week, from May 10 – May 17.

The trip will involve trips to La Limonada, the ghetto in Guatemala City; the city dump, where approximately 3,000 people make their living amongst millions of pounds of garbage; three different orphanages; and the women’s prison, where new and expecting mothers are currently incarcerated and children born in the prison system are allowed to stay behind bars with their mothers.

“This will be my first time traveling outside of the country to provide medical services. Here in the U.S. we can go to the hospital and have care provided for us, but in these third world countries they don’t have the kind of access to medical care that we do. For me it’s going to be eye-opening,” says Elliot.

Students will get credit for the trip as a part of the Community Health course in the SON. They meet with faculty members over the semester to talk about health needs within Guatemala City and how they plan to address them. Students will then develop a plan of care for a community in Guatemala City through a partnership with an organization already established in the area, Hope Renewed International.

Students will address issues like parasites and dental hygiene, plan what supplies are needed and how to get them into the country, how to get support from local and external sources, and what’s going to be effective in the cultural context of Guatemala.

“It’s all guided by faculty but students develop the plan and they’ll get to implement it themselves when we get there,” says Battani.

A large part of the visit, however, will include setting up an infrastructure that Guatemalan citizens can maintain. While students may initially develop health care changes, the greater goal is to promote leadership within the community. This can maintain and further cultivate a sustainable health care model and encourage members of Guatemala City to enhance the quality of life within their own communities.

“We can’t make change in one week, but we can lay the groundwork to go back next year and keep that care and education going and continue to build on that,” says Elliot.

“For community health to be effective, it has to be long term and sustainable,” says Battani.

The original idea for the trip came when Battani, who had been to Guatemala before, gave a talk to her class about the experience. Afterwards, her fellow students expressed interest in doing something similar.

“A lot of the students mentioned that they wanted to do something like that, but that our program didn’t offer any opportunity for it,” says Battani. “We have these skills that we learn in the nursing program, but few opportunities to use them in a global setting.”

The total cost of the trip will be approximately $32,000, with the price per person about $1900. The group has managed to raise $7000 so far and hopes to be able to raise the entire amount.

So far, students have writing letters of support to families and local businesses. They recently promoted a Chili’s Night, where supporters could mention The Leap while dining at the restaurant’s Brainerd location and the restaurant would donate 10% of proceeds to the cause.

They also hope to host an event night to raise funds and have already received support from local businesses that will donate items for a raffle. The Leap has getting big and small checks, according to Battani and Elliot, and they appreciate them all.

“Our goal is to help them institute long term medical care and to provide clinical experience for our students,” says Battani. “Through this experience, students are more empowered to make change in their own local communities.”

Donations large and small are encouraged and appreciated. You can donate online or by mailing in a check, or donate items that the nursing students will take with them. For more information on how to donate, check their website.

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