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Bethel continues building connections with Haiti for service and learning

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by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College’s Haiti connection continues to strengthen, most recently through two service-related trips by students and faculty.

After fall final exams and before Christmas, seven senior nursing students and one 2012 nursing graduate, along with one of their professors, Geraldine Tyrell, spent a little over a week in the country.

Doug Siemens, assistant professor of education, was there most recently, Jan. 21-25.

All spent most of their time in Hinche, in the central part of Haiti, where Bethel graduate Wildy Mulatre lives with his family and works as a health-care administrator.

The nurses were at Hôpital Ste. Therese in Hinche about four hours a day, doing basic care. “We divided into two groups, so each spent [time] in the men’s ward/post-op, pediatrics, some OB and a little time in ICU with one particular patient,” says Tyrell.

“It was a good cultural experience,” says Susan Morris, North Newton. “It was different from nursing in North America. We spent a lot of time sitting around, waiting for something to do.”

“We’ve been taught: Go find, go do,” says Cassie Hinerman, Milan. However, the students and Tyrell found themselves frequently stymied by not speaking the language, as well as by the lack of supplies and equipment they were used to.

“We prepared for the worst,” says Morris, “but you can't really imagine what it will be like. They didn’t have basic essentials” such as hand sanitizer (the group knew to bring their own), soap or easy access to running – much less hot – water.

“Whatever we thought it would be, it was still more extreme,” adds Janet Schauf, Clearwater.

One important thing they learned, however, was that Haitian health-care workers are “a lot more resourceful than we are, because they have to be,” Morris says. “They can think more critically.”

Examples they saw were an IV bag and tubing made into an irrigating catheter (an expensive item beyond the hospital’s budget) and a latex glove used as a tourniquet.

“What I pulled from the experience was to rethink what supplies I use and why,” says Schauf. “I’ll think more about other ways of using what we have, not wasting so much.”

Morris says she found the trip “a way to broaden [my] horizons with new knowledge and different experiences, and to appreciate what we are able to do.

“We really had to focus on providing the best patient care possible [with what we had],” she continues, and Tyrell adds, “We realized quickly the importance of a smile and a comforting hand.”

“Sometimes I couldn’t do anything but rub the patient’s back,” says Hinerman of an experience with labor and delivery. “The next day, the woman sought me out to let me know how much she appreciated that.”

With several fundraisers during fall semester, the students raised $1,200 for bottles and infant formula for mothers who had problems breastfeeding, particularly in the case of premature infants. They also brought 360 lactation kits purchased through the Harvey County Health Department with funding from a United Methodist Church grant to Harvey County Health Ministries.

The group was gratified to be able to see some of the supplies put immediately to work. They got to work with a mother who had delivered a preemie baby, teaching her how to mix the formula and feed the baby without tiring him out, says Tyrell.

In addition to Hinerman, Morris and Schauf, the Bethel students who traveled to Haiti in December were Veronika Henderson, Wichita, Keara Johnson, Wichita, Danielle Keomany, Wichita, and Payton Walker, Sharon Springs, along with 2012 graduate Laura Prahm, Wichita.

Siemens went to Haiti to follow up on work Bethel senior Chris Smith, Hesston, did over a two-and-a-half-week period last January, when he installed Lexia reading software on computers in four schools in Hinche.

Siemens, who made the trip with Cliff Dick, North Newton, president of HOPE International Development Agency-USA, wanted to talk with teachers and to hear from Mulatre about his dream of making English-language study more accessible and effective.

“He sees one way of improving Haiti being to improve the English skills of more [young people],” Siemens says.

Students in Haiti begin English-language study in Grade 7. However, classes in public schools – and often in private ones – are overcrowded and understaffed. Few schools have enough computers; many schools have no internet access.

“I would go into the classrooms and kids would want to come talk to me, practice their English,” Siemens says. “They’re bright kids who want to learn and make something of themselves, but the possibilities, the resources are so limited.”

The way forward, Siemens says, is “to start small. 

“Cliff is going to fund a satellite internet connection to Wildy’s home, through HOPE International. During this next semester, we’re going to see if we can get something set up to talk via Skype or some other program, and get some Bethel students to tutor, starting with Wildy’s two oldest kids, who are14 and 12.

“We’ll have to see what we can get going – hopefully develop, somewhere down the road, more student involvement, maybe another interterm trip.”

The student interest is there, he says – some have told him they want to help with the tutoring and others that they would like to go to Haiti themselves.

Both Siemens and the nursing students recognized from their short time in Haiti that the barriers to making life better for the average Haitian sometimes seem overwhelming. “Starting small,” as Siemens says, may be the only answer for now.

“Just making a difference for one person is worthwhile,” says Cassie Hinerman. “It doesn’t have to be on a big, broad scale.”

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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