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Nursing students prepare for service trip to Haiti

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by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN.– Two Bethel College senior nursing students and a professor came back from a service trip to Haiti last spring so excited about the experience that they’ve convinced others to go, too.

Seven of this year’s seniors, along with Geri Tyrell, assistant professor of nursing, and 2012 Bethel nursing graduate Laura Prahm of Wichita (one of those who went last spring) will spend eight days in December, right after final exams, in and around Hinche, in Haiti’s Central Highlands.

The students have been raising money to buy supplies to take along and will be holding a fund-raiser Nov. 8, 6-8 p.m. at Pages Books & Coffee, 605 North Main Street in Newton.

They will offer tastes of Haitian goodies and a chance to ask questions about the upcoming service trip as well as contribute to it financially.

“When we came back and last year’s juniors heard us talk about it, several of them said they were interested in doing one this year,” says Tyrell.

Senior nursing majors have a fairly rigid schedule. Spring break, when the first trip took place, proved to be a tough time academically. After a discussion and vote, the senior class settled on Dec. 8-16, before Christmas but after finals, and seven of them committed to going.

Over fall break in early October, Tyrell took a quick trip to Hôpital Ste. Therese in Hinche, where she and the two students went last time and where the second group will go as well.

She was able to meet with instructors from the hospital’s nursing school and plan, in addition to work in the hospital and clinic, an afternoon for the American and Haitian nursing students to interact with each other.

Bethel has a strong link to the hospital through Wildy Mulatre, a Bethel graduate and a health-care administrator who works at Hôpital Ste. Therese and a number of rural clinics.

When Tyrell was in Hinche for fall break, she says, “I ran into some nurse-midwives from Boston. We were talking about how heartbreaking it was not to have basic supplies at the hospital, such as infant formula. One can of formula costs about 20 U.S. dollars, twice what it would here” – and a huge expense where an average annual income is around $650 U.S.

The Bethel group knew they wanted to take supplies and, after Tyrell’s conversation with the midwives, decided it would be bottles and formula. While nurses and nurse-midwives strongly support and encourage mothers to breastfeed, sometimes they or the babies are too ill (particularly premature infants) for that to happen.

The Bethel group will be taking as many good, used scrubs as they can find to donate to the hospital but they will buy the infant formula on-site, through a supplier in the Dominican Republic. Cliff Dick of North Newton, who works with an international aid agency, has been a consultant for several Bethel student trips to Haiti in the last several years and was the contact for getting the formula.

The class has already been working to raise money. They held a pumpkin-carving contest early in October. Bethel students, both individuals and groups, carved pumpkins that were put on display during Fall Festival, with passersby invited to “vote” for their favorites by donating money.

The nursing students also took orders for homemade tamales – 100 dozen of them. Student Danielle Keomany’s family has a long history of making tamales for fundraising, and her Wichita church has offered their kitchen for the project.

Payton Walker, senior from Sharon Springs, is a friend of Danica Cox, who went on last year’s trip with Prahm and Tyrell. Her church made a donation to help buy bottles and infant formula, she says.

In fact, Walker went to Haiti in 2011 with Cox, when Cox was organizing the spring 2012 service trip. “I wasn’t prepared for how bad it was,” she admits. “It’s cool to be able to help, and to make a difference.

“I’m excited to see the clinic,” she adds, “and to get to use my nursing skills, because the last time [in 2011], I couldn’t.”

Cassie Hinerman, senior from Milan, says she has been waiting since she was 15 to take another mission trip. Then, she spent three weeks in Kazakhstan.

“Since then, I’ve been interested in [developing] countries, places that don’t have what we [in the United States] do,” she says. “I wanted to be part of something bigger than me.”

In addition to doing hands-on nursing and having a cultural exchange with Haitian nursing students, the Bethel group will also spend some time in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, Tyrell says, learning about damage from the 2010 earthquake (still widespread and severe almost three years later) as well as recent flooding from Hurricane Sandy.

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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