Heather Burrell in Antigua, Guatemala

Hi! My name is Heather Burrell and I am an assistant professor of nursing on the Cattaraugus County Campus of JCC.

Last summer, I had the rare opportunity to travel to Guatemala with Theresa Baginski and one of our students, James McCollough, who was completing a study abroad course/internship. Theresa and I were hoping to form new relationships with agencies in and around Antigua and establish new internships and study abroad opportunities for our students back at JCC. As the trip neared, my excitement and nervousness grew. I had not taken a Spanish class since high school, so the language barrier had me feeling a bit uneasy. However, I knew that I was in good hands traveling with Theresa. In hindsight, that language barrier was not an issue; it is impressive to learn how much you can convey through body language (and it helped that many folks spoke some English there too).

Over four whirlwind days, we traveled to nine facilities and met with representatives.  Here are some highlights:

We toured the Albergue Hermano Pedro, located in a small village outside of Antigua. This facility provides permanent residence for 74 severely handicapped people and a daycare center for children ages 2-6 (not handicapped). At the Albergue, our nursing students would have the opportunity to work with the permanent residents, especially with physical therapy. They would also have the opportunity to work with the children in the daycare facility.

Later the same day, we visited Brillo de Sol, an elementary school for students with learning and attention difficulties or hearing impairments. Our students would be offered a variety of opportunities to intern or volunteer at this facility.

Our second day in Guatemala ended with a trip to the Hermano Pedro Obras Sociales, a permanent residence for people with both physical and developmental disabilities. Students who volunteer here would spend activity time with residents, or help with grooming, dressing, and eating. This facility has a great demand for volunteers, even those who don't speak much Spanish. Visiting a place like this with only Americanized healthcare experience, I will say that I was a bit shocked and saddened to see what others do without. It made me respect and understand their need for volunteers even more.

The following day, we made a visit to Vuelta Grande and El Hato, two indigenous communities close to Antigua. Here, we propose that student volunteers conduct charlas, short lessons on topics of hygiene, nutrition, dental care, etc. that would be presented to school children and their mothers. I believe the charlas will be a great opportunity for students to really interact with locals!

All of these and more would be wonderful opportunities for our students to volunteer their time and effort in a meaningful way, and practice and improve their Spanish speaking skills.

In between our meetings with representatives from these and many other agencies, we also met with representatives of La Union School and with Kim Larson, a professor of nursing at East Carolina University who generously shared with us her wisdom and knowledge and her annual program in Guatemala for nursing and public health students.

Did I get to see anything else? Of course! Our first day there yielded a great tour of Antigua. The city is amazing, with unbelievable Spanish style architecture everywhere. The churches and cathedrals were breathtaking, and with the preparations for the Corpus Christi celebration I really got to see and understand the culture and religion of the people. My favorite adventure of the trip was visiting the Guatemalan village. It was such a humbling experience to see how the people live compared to our commercialized ways. I watched children run around and play without a care in the world.

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