While in Guatemala, The Leap provided health education primarily to women and children, teaching topics like nutrition, proper hand washing, and dental hygiene. They were also able to take a donation of medical supplies to students pursuing medical degrees.
“Hand washing education will solve a lot of problems, so for us, it wasn’t just caring for a cut right now, it was teaching them to keep it from getting infected,” said Battani.
UTC students and faculty visited La Limonada, a city ghetto; the Guatemala City Dump, which serves as a ghetto for the severely impoverished; an orphanage for HIV positive children; a girls’ orphanage; and a women’s prison where inmates are permitted to keep their children with them until the age of four.
“We didn’t hand out lots of medications, but that’s the nice thing about nursing. It’s not always giving someone a pill to fix their problems. That’s what was brought home to these students,” said Dr. Chris Smith ’97, Director of the UTC School of Nursing.
Students and faculty rode a brightly painted “chicken bus” – an old Bluebird school bus – down a road that may have been little more than a dried up creek bed to get to the girls’ rural orphanage. Approximately 50 girls from age 5 – 16 live there. The group of students and faculty spent three days at the orphanage, where the girls were treated for worms and lice and educated about proper hygiene.
“We taught them to brush their teeth and we used a glow substance and a black light to teach them proper hand washing technique. While they were in school, we washed all the sheets and did a purge, and when they came back we washed hair and combed lice,” said Battani.
“The orphanage also had a big desire for sex education,” said Battani. “Many of the girls there had been taken from their homes because of sexual abuse. The psychologist and Dr. Smith, who had been a sex education teacher, helped us develop a plan of care on the spot. With the younger girls we talked about good touch and bad touch and when to tell adults. With the middle-school aged girls it was more about the change. With the older ones we talked more directly about sex and respect for your body.”
The Leap group was also able to visit a women’s prison where inmates are permitted to keep their children with them until the age of four. The prison features a screen printing factory to provide job opportunities to the women and a playground for the children. The UTC students and faculty were able to check on the children and answer any of the women’s questions.
“In America, we tend to have a black and white view and think that people in prison are bad. So this was a big gray area that gave them the chance to see these women as human beings,” said Dr. Amy Levi, who serves as faculty leader for The Leap project.
“I think it opened our students’ eyes to be able to sit with these women and hear their stories. The prisoners are very honest about what they’ve done and how they got there. And for many of them, they didn’t have many options. Their choices were gangs and prostitution. For some, prison saved them. The prison visit really shattered that idea of, ‘I’m a nurse and I only want to help people who deserve my care,’” said Battani.
“It was a well-coordinated trip that went very smoothly. We took a lot of supplies, from vitamins to coloring books. It was an eye-opening trip that gave our students a greater understanding of the challenges women and children face in Guatemala City and the challenges of nursing in third world countries,” said Dr. Smith. “Things like this have to be student driven. The faculty are just facilitators, but when you have dedicated students like we’ve had, it’s pretty easy. I expected them to succeed, but they exceeded my greatest expectations.”
The future of The Leap is still in the planning stages, though Battani says they have already elected a new president for the coming year.
“I won’t be at UTC forever, but I do plan to keep my hand in this for a while,” she says.
The Leap will do more international trips in the future, likely returning to Guatemala or other Latin American countries. However, they are also planning to do local outreach as well.
“Moving forward, we hope to do projects with the local Guatemalan and Hispanic population,” said Battani. “We plan to emphasize preventative medicine rather than treatment all the time, and we hope to be able to do clinics in the future as well.”
“We aren’t just doing a quick fix or a handout, we are educating people to take care of themselves. We’re teaching a man to fish, not giving him one,” said Dr. Levi.
The Leap is also in the process of becoming a club for nursing students at UTC.
“That will help provide man power for these local projects, as well as a great experience for students. Nursing can take you so many places other than just the ER, and I think experiences like these show that to students,” said Dr. Levi. “Chattanooga has a large immigrant population, like many places in America, and this type of experience will help students meet those patients where they are and treat them as people.”
“I see this as the beginning of something that we expect to be a consistent part of our nursing program,” said Smith.