Even a deadly volcano eruption didn’t stop faculty, staff and students from Southeast Community College from making their service trip to Antigua, Guatemala, in June. While around 200 people remained missing and around 100 people were declared dead, local residents still needed basic health care assistance, perhaps more than ever.
This is the fourth service trip for Health Services dean Jill Sand and the third to Guatemala. After learning about the volcano and its effect on the community before her departure, she was anxious, but knew the need for help was still just as important.
“We had a heightened awareness of the disaster, and some of the students’ family members were concerned, but we were all safe,” she said. “The students worked hard, and the people were so thankful and gracious to receive care even if it was simple.”
Fifteen students from different health science programs traveled to Antigua to offer assistance and supplies to the community. Programs represented were Associate Degree Nursing, Practical Nursing, Respiratory Care, Surgical Technology, Physical Therapist Assistant and Dental Assisting.
Sand said the community has a wide variety of health issues, and most people cannot afford medical care. Common problems include chronic pain, sinus infections, back and neck pain, and dry coughs. Students were able to take what they are learning in their programs and apply it directly to the people of Antigua.
“I was surprised how much from school I was able to use after figuring out what they needed,” said Marianne Wegulo, a second-year student in SCC’s Associate Degree Nursing program.
Wegulo had never traveled out of the United States and thought this trip would be a good opportunity to broaden her horizons and use some of her Spanish skills.
“It was a bittersweet experience because it was wonderful to give them what they needed, but at the same time, we could only give them a limited supply,” she said.
Wegulo and other students gave hygiene bags to Guatemalans. She learned that simple things like nail clippers were in high demand, so they had to decide who needed those items the most. This trip further cemented her decision to work in nursing.
“I’ve always loved making people’s lives easier, and with nursing I’m able to do it one-on-one,” she said. “I love getting to know people.”
What stood out to Sand and Wegulo was the tight-knit community and how it differs from the United States for many reasons.
“With the volcano eruptions, we saw people who were affected by that, and I think what really stands out is their sense of community,” Sand reflected. “They do life together. They don’t have the services and technology we have. Interdependence is that much greater. They have to know neighbors there.”
Wegulo would like to eventually get her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and work in the mental health field after she graduates from SCC next spring. One thing she knows for sure: She will definitely take another service trip in the future.
“I think everyone should take a trip like this; you’ll learn a lot about yourself,” she said. “It opens your eyes to a different culture, and you are helping people, and that is important. It can be expensive, but at the end of the day, it’s more than worth it. It’s a win-win.”
The group also was able to explore some regional attractions and find out how local fare, such as coffee and macadamia nuts, are grown and harvested. They also were able to see an inactive volcano and view unique architecture, including Catholic churches.
“This trip is one of the best things for me every year and puts things in perspective,” Sand commented. “It’s good for my soul and good to have positive student interaction. It’s fun to see Guatemala through the students’ eyes, see the history and experience the culture.”