Nursing students build and educate in Guatemala

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Casey Schiedel is no construction worker, but she didn’t let that stop her from building multiple cinderblock stoves this winter. Why would a fourth-year nursing student take on such an unexpected project? Because it aligns perfectly with the mission of Nursing Students Without Borders at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Schiedel and 12 other members of VCU’s NSWB — a nonprofit organization that encourages public health both in the Richmond community and internationally — traveled to Guatemala on an annual service trip to improve the quality of life and health of villagers.

This year, the team built six cinderblock stoves in LaCumbre, Guatemala, with the help of a mason, translators and villagers.

“The families live in homes that have tarp over tops, they have dirt floors and they’re cooking over open flame,” Schiedel said. “So, by building the stoves, we reduced the risk of injury with their children [walking into open fires], increased the amount of food women can cook for their family and lessened smoke inhalation because they’ll actually have a chimney that will vent the smoke out of their homes.”

The stoves will reduce chances of respiratory illness for each family by improving the indoor air quality and provide more time for the woman of the household to work on endeavors that will provide income for the family.

The group partnered with the Highland Support Project and spent some time at the Asociación de Mujeres del Altiplano, an organization of Maya women that empowers women with strategies to adapt to economic, social and climatic changes.

“They don’t just show the women how to make things and move on,” Schiedel said, “but actually teach them to do things for themselves … to use what they learn to supplement their family’s income.”

Along with building stoves, the NSWB team conducted 32 health screenings including health history, height and weight, fasting glucose testing and blood-pressure reading. Two translators continually translated English to Spanish to Mum — the native language — and vice versa.

The team followed the screenings with a health education program about diabetes.

“None of them had really known what it was before that,” said Jessica Watts, second-year VCU nursing student and recently elected president of NSWB. “It’s interesting how much we take for granted.”

In the village of Chuicutama, the team provided health education with the aid of a bone setter, a health promoter and three translators.

A morning and afternoon session covered topics that included using natural herbs as supplements in the bone-setting treatment process, healthy eating and personal hygiene. Villagers, midwives and health promoters from nearby villages attended.

This year marked Fay Parpart’s third trip to Guatemala with NSWB.

“I never regret going,” said Parpart, RN/NP volunteer, VCU School of Nursing. “I find it to be a rewarding trip from an educational standpoint with the students and rewarding in the community service we do with Highland Support Project in the communities in Guatemala.”

This year’s group included two second-year students, four third-year students and six fourth-year students. During the trip, the team worked with two Highland Support Project interns from Dartmouth University.

“As many differences as there might be between our community here in Richmond and their community in Guatemala, many things are universal,” Parpart said. “The desire to raise healthy children, the desire to do better for the next generation … things are present in every community you go into and you start to realize you have more in common than you have different.”

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