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Nursing students will spend summer providing medical care in developing countries

Students thirsting for experience use summer vacation to travel. Practically-minded students use it to gain experience in their careers through internships. More altruistic students use it to volunteer in other countries.

Central Oregon Community College’s nursing students will be doing all three on the same trip.

This summer, COCC will partner with non-profit organization Project Helping Hands to travel to Haiti to bring needed medical treatment.

Erick Jackson, a graduating nursing student at COCC, is one of 20 students planning to go to Haiti for two weeks in June.

“Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of need to be met there. Ever since the quake of 2010, people haven’t fully recovered. …The people there have need for some of the most basic stuff that we take for granted, like tylenol, toothbrushes, even toilet paper.”

Jackson will be providing essential medicine to locals while using his medical knowledge classroom lessons. He and other students will get a chance to work with trained physicians, nurses, and Haitian officials during their stay.

“Getting this opportunity is about as ‘hands-on’ as you get,” Jackson said.

Taran Smith, student activities coordinator and ASCOCC advisor, said the partnership between COCC and Project Helping Hands has brought a lot of notoriety to COCC in the medical field, allowing the students access to training outside the classroom and across the world. Smith hopes the partnership in the long run will “open the thing up to more students.”

Second year nursing student Kris Kruse is among the returning student members. He visited the Dominican Republic on his first trip last year where he was able to get hands-on-training and fulfill his need to help others.

“Going to the Dominican Republic was my first time out of the country. So it was an eye opener getting there and seeing how in need the Dominican people really are.” Kruse said, “but on the other hand it was amazing seeing how grateful this people [the Dominican’s] are just for us being there and lending the medical treatment.”

Kruse recalls that when he went into a village near the clinic where the shopkeeper insisted out of gratitude that Kruse take anything he wanted.

“The translator who was with us explained to us that for [the Dominicans], it wasn’t about the money,” Kruse said. “It was about us being there and doing what were doing for the villagers.”

In 2010, Project Helping Hands sent more than 170 volunteers on 13 mission trips, providing medical care for nearly 18,000 people in five developing nations, according Project Helping Hands founder Jeff Solheim. By 2015, Project Helping Hands expects to sponsor 14 teams with a total of over 280 volunteers.

The project’s mission statement is simple, Solheim said.

“Our goal is to provide quality health care where there is none and develop locally operated clinics in these locations,” Solheim said. “We also strive to provide an unforgettable personal growth opportunity for the volunteer.”

Jackson and Kruse will be joined by 18 other nursing students and non-medical volunteers as well to head to the Haitian capital Port Au Prince where they are expected to treat upwards of 120 patients a day.

“In Haiti, people are still living in huge trap-tent cities, with no clean water, no sanitation, is just bad,” Jackson said.

Jackson and Kruse’s biggest take away from their experience is to be grateful.

“We need to be grateful for what we have and realize not everyone has it as good as we do here in the United States,” Kruse said. “If any student has the desire to help out, just do it, pay it forward. You don’t have to be a medical student or travel abroad to help. Start small and go from there.”

Brayan Gonzalez | The Broadside
(contact: bgonzalez@cocc.edu)

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