In May, seven Mayville State University students and two faculty members spent two weeks in the Central American country of Belize completing health education projects, various health clinics, community service, and culture and adventure activities.
Eric Leedahl, Lake Region State College nursing student and Belize study abroad participant in May 2017 and May 2018, stated, “I enjoyed the trip again this year. There were many good life lessons for everyone. This experience is such an eye-opener for so many, including me, who made the trip a second time around.”
Across the in-country experience, the team primarily resided in the town of Punta Gorda, Belize. Students stayed with families in their homes and experienced traditional meals such as hudut (mashed plantains and fish stew), a native food for the Garifuna culture.
Hattie Idalski, a student of the Mayville State University RN-to-BSN program, said, “This was an amazing experience! One of my favorite activities was the cave swimming that we were able to do. The entire stay was life-changing.”
Health education topics presented by the team in a local school included nutrition and healthy food choices and hand hygiene. Information about diabetes and exercise was also shared. Students collaborated with the local health post in Santa Cruz, Belize to offer a health fair for village residents, providing multiple stations that included blood glucose screenings, blood pressure screenings, and education related to hand hygiene in relation to parasites, family planning, and nutrition. Many school children came to the health fair and enjoyed fresh fruit cups and took home toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, and other small prizes.
An additional clinic offered by the team occurred at Help Age, a community-based senior center in Punta Gorda. During this clinic, the team provided foot care, blood pressure screenings, blood glucose screenings, and health education. Referrals to local health care providers were made when participants were found to have foot sores, high blood pressure, or high blood sugars.
Community service provided by the team included light construction on the health post in Santa Cruz, Belize. This involved painting, building a medication cabinet and shelves, and installing a sink with running water for hand washing.
The team’s greatest challenge was related to working in the extreme heat, so they started their community service days early in the morning to try to beat the mid-day heat. There was no access to air conditioning, and each day was 80 to 90 degrees with humidity so great that the temperatures seemed to exceed 100 degrees.
Additional community service was provided in Punta Gorda, where the team assisted in preparing a seedling house and helping to plant more than one hundred seedlings for a new local farmer’s market in a Garifuna village. The market will support community members in need.
Community service experiences provided the team with meaningful and lasting impressions as everyone joined together for a common goal and achieved positive outcomes that will continue to help many people in the local villages for years to come.
The last two days of the study abroad experience allowed the team to be tourists, as they enjoyed the beach of Caye Caulker, snorkeling on the Barrier Reef, relaxing, and some shopping. The students and faculty are very thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in this study abroad experience and thank Mayville State University and those who donated medical and education supplies for making this experience possible.
Plans are to continue to offer this study abroad in Belize experience annually. Through their participation in this experience, students are able to earn college credit while experiencing new cultures, adventures, and health-related service learning. For additional information about this experience, contact Tami Such, program director and associate professor of nursing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo caption: Pictured are Mayville State students and faculty who made the trip to Belize in May. They are (front row, l-r): Nicole Andrewin (People Inspire People), Tami Such, Emily Christoffers, Collette Christoffers, and Karisa Barthorpe. In the back are (back row, left to right): Cheyenne Durant, Cherokee Durant, Eric Leedahl, Noemi Romero (People Inspire People), Linnea Tracy, and Hattie Idalski.