Nursing Students Reflect on La Morita Health Fair Trip
Monday, May 9, 2016
Experiential learning is a powerful aspect of a USD education. On April 16, University Ministry and Graduate Student Life staff and Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science students drove to La Morita, a community in Tijuana, to provide a day-long health education and screening fair. Two Master’s Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN) first-year students provided reflections about the experience.
Bessie Coronado-Vigil, first-year MEPN student
Thinking back on the health education medical mission to La Morita, I’m still flooded with warmth and appreciation for the opportunity to have participated on this trip. I was really excited to visit La Morita for the first time to see the clinic that USD has nurtured a relationship with. Pursuing a career in nursing was driven greatly by a desire to serve others, to live by the Ignatian ideals of service above self and being a woman for others.
As a young girl, I spent many summers road tripping with my grandparents throughout Peru on the infamous two-lane Pan-American Highway. As years passed, the trips amassed more memories and countless interactions with people of all cultures in Peru. What remained true always were the hard-working people we crossed paths with, the hospitality, and the simple but happy way of life we were welcomed. Witnessing poverty on a completely indescribable level was forcefully gripping each time, but eventually it started to feel normal. Those memories jolted back into my mind as we crossed the border into a snapshot of so many cities across Latin America. But, just as instinctually as it was to feel normalcy, I knew that this shouldn’t be normal. Being within viewing distance from our beautiful city of San Diego was a vastly different world than ours.
Upon arriving at the clinic, we were greeted by the rush of children leaving catechism class. We made our way into the community to this makeshift classroom partly sectioned off for health assessments. Immediately, we all took initiative. We taught nearly 60 school-age children about dental hygiene while passing out toothbrushes. We taught proper handwashing and took their weights and heights to make sure they were within normal range. We performed assessments on children and adults alike who had been waiting to be seen, taking their blood pressure and blood glucose all while working out of this one wooden-walled classroom and outside under the blazing sun. It was amazing to see everyone jump right into action! From the moment we stepped off the van, we were greeted by hardworking people all around us, feeling welcomed by sincere hospitality and gratitude. The simplicity surrounding us was extraordinary and in the midst of it all, that was all we really needed.
I felt one of the most pivotal points was visiting Casa de Las Memorias. It’s a 100 percent volunteer run and donations funded home for men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. It’s a sanctuary for people who are too often stigmatized and persecuted for their illness. The lead volunteer who had dedicated the last several years of his life to help the residents live in peace and safety told us the home is open to everyone without regard for their past; their doors never close, no matter how many times people come and go. I helped two little girls clean their duck’s corral. It almost seemed silly at times but I was spending time with these two young girls and getting to know them and their reasons for being in the home. I was immensely impressed by the selfless service the residents gave to support each other. Our group talked with various residents and gained insight into their unique stories and life trajectories.
I felt our team’s trip was a step toward fostering a stronger relationship with community in La Morita. I hope to keep participating on these trips and see both the clinic and Casa de Las Memorias grow more to reach those in need.
Daniel Roderick, first-year MEPN student
Somehow, I'm still always surprised by the impact that even just one day of volunteering can have. I’m not referring to the impact on the people we visit — though I hope that is significant as well. What really hits me every time, though, is the way the experience affects me ... selfish, right? Joking aside, there is some truth to the statement. Having spent many years volunteering and working in social justice projects in Tijuana, it’s easy sometimes for me to begin to falsely feel as if I’ve already seen it all. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. So why would I expect it to have much effect on me this time? But each time I go on this trip, I’m reminded how each experience offers new opportunities for growth and making connections.
On this latest trip, it was humbling and inspiring to work with a team of people so truly dedicated to being present in solidarity with those we visited.
In the morning, some of us taught a room full of children about important health topics, while others led discussions with adults about diabetes and hypertension. We checked blood sugar and blood pressure, and triaged those who needed a medical consult with our provider or referral for further care.
In the afternoon, we visited a home for individuals living with HIV and AIDS. We went not as healthcare providers to diagnose and treat, but simply as neighbors to spend time and share experiences. There was a palpable feeling of support and acceptance permeating throughout the home. I met a young man who had faced countless struggles since being diagnosed with HIV at age 14. Without the support of his family — or anyone else — he felt hopeless and had tried to take his own life. He gladly shared with me the experiences that led him to where he is now and what his ambitions are for the future.
In just one day of volunteering, any group is limited in the amount of tangible impact that it can make. The real impact is only felt with the continuity of presence over time as relationships are made and strengthened. Our trip to La Morita is testament to the fact that individual connections made between people, even on such a short visit, are significant. As we witness the lived experiences and various world views of those we meet on trips such as these, our own perspectives are invariably shaped as well. I only hope that my presence and conversation can be as meaningful to the people in La Morita as theirs have been to me.