What separates Alma College Nursing Program from other programs? To outsiders, many would say the “smallness” of the class and ability to get to know your professors. However, we, the students have a different opinion—the ability to travel. Alma College Nursing Program has a partnership with Flying Doctors of America which allows a few students each year to travel overseas to not only learn about a culture, but help hundreds of people in need and further our nursing knowledge. This past March, two second degree nursing students, Alex Kravat and Abby Schafer, traveled to Guatemala in a charitable mission with Flying Doctors of America, led by Dr. Morris Brooks, to aid hundreds of less fortunate people living in the northern rural areas of Guatemala.
Guatemala was a new exploration for Kravat and Schafer. According to Kravat, “I had never traveled out of the country, resulting in apprehension on what to expect. I had my preliminary thoughts of what Guatemala was going to be like—rural area, lack of medical personnel in area, sick people. However, like everything else on this trip, my eyes were opened to a true third world country. We stayed in bungalows in the middle of the jungle and fell asleep to the howling of monkeys! Our lodge was right on Lake Yaxha, providing the best view of stars I have ever seen.”
While serving the people of Guatemala, Kravat and Schafer were surrounded by some of the most compassionate, intelligent, creative doctors and dentists they had ever met. Their team consisted of a wide variety of medical personnel from all different areas of the United States—Idaho, Utah, California, Georgia, and Michigan. As Schafer puts it, “Thanks to this mission trip, we took strangers and brought us all together to create a little family for a week helping others in Guatemala. The generosity of others amazes me who are able to travel on these mission trips and provide for those who have so little.”
With the help of their team, Kravat and Schafer were able to treat upwards of 500 people in need in just three days! Kravat and Schafer assisted in triaging of patients, extracting teeth, and fully running the pharmacy. “We were able to see some new things that we normally don’t see in America,” says Kravat. “We were able to help treat a variety of patients ranging from a macrocephaly baby to a blind man to a mother with five ill children or more. Many of the medical chief complaints were due to infection or pain, resulting in tons of antibiotics and pain medications distributed. The hardest part for me was to see all the little children and the amount of parasitic medication used. Here you have this family of five children who love to play outside and run around like any other five year old, fighting the symptoms of parasites due to the unsanitary nature of the area.”
“We did run into a few barriers while treating the patients,” states Schafer. “Out of the 500 people we treated, only one spoke English—everyone else spoke Spanish or a Mayan dialect. As one can figure, this created difficulty in communication. Working with 10 other volunteers and only having three interpreters created a difficult situation for all. By the end of the trip, I was able to teach the patients the frequency of taking their medications in Spanish, but anything after that, I had to call for an interpreter.”
Overall though, Kravat and Schafer experienced a life changing event. As Kravat states, “This trip was the most humbling, rewarding, eye opening experience I have ever been apart of. Here you have these people who basically have nothing but the essentials, but yet they are so content with life. The clinic days were usually set up in a school and people would come walking up just to watch! It turned into an event for the whole town to come to. I know we have made an everlasting impact on this people, but they also impacted my life as well.”
As Schafer states, “The trip will be something I carry with me the rest of my life. It was one of the most rewarding, exciting, and influential experiences I have ever done. I never expected the impact those people would have on me, to live off their land and have so little but making a life for themselves is incredible. They are so happy and grateful for what others do for them and bring into their life. The children are always full of smiles even when they have so little and bring smiles to our faces.”
Kravat and Schafer both agree that any nursing student that has the opportunity to travel with the Flying Doctors of America should take it. It will be an everlasting memory that will be filled with the love of helping those that are less fortunate than ourselves. These people show nothing back happiness and are grateful for what is being done for them!