Making a difference abroad

Nine students and two advisors who recently spent the two weeksin Nicaragua working with the elderly were welcomed back at areception in the Center for Urban Studies gallery Wednesdayevening.

As part of an effort to better the lives of seniors living outtheir days in hogares – the Spanish term for nursing homes – theinternational health care and aging class spent 10-12 hours a dayaddressing schools, families, the Ministry of Health and theNicaraguan government about improvement from the destituteconditions.

Rebecca, one of the participating students, remarked that shewas able to create change in an unexpected way through talking tothe government: “They listened to us!”

The students taught modules on health and hygiene and leftprotocols on dealing with many of the health issues facing seniorsincluding incontinence and Alzheimer’s. However, Keren BrownWilson, Ph.D, instructor and President of the Jesse F. RichardsonFoundation (a non-profit agency that serves elders through globalpartnerships) said, “It’s hard to talk about universal precautionswhen you don’t have running water.”

Wilson developed a pilot program along with Dr. Margaret Neal,Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences Marvin Kaiser, and Dr. MarthaPelaez, Pan American Health Organization Regional Advisor for Agingand Health with the intention of training care providers for eldersin developing countries. Students did not have to pay for thecredits but were responsible for the cost of the trip, which wasabout $1500, some receiving help of scholarships from the EducationAbroad Office.

With a slide show playing in the background displaying some oftheir memorable snapshots, many of the students recalled theirpersonal experiences with the elderly in the hogares in the citiesof Granada and Jinotepe.

Ellen Liu Kellor, Program Facilitator for International Aging,said, “There was a lot of dancing. That’s one of those things thatI’ll always carry.”

She also talked about the joy that she felt as one woman, whohad been deeply affected by the loss of her sister and had beenconfined to a wheelchair was able to leave her chair for a dancewith Miguel Gonzales, who acted as a translator on the trip.

Gonzales said that he was glad to have the opportunity to “seepeople change” and that the seniors “gave you a rich history” asthe group sat and listened to them.

Some came away with a feeling of greater social obligation inseeing the faith that seemed present despite the poverty, otherswere inspired to learn Spanish and get back to work, helping theseniors that have so moved them, but it was obvious in all whospoke; everyone came away with something.

“We were privileged enough to be invited into someone’s life.That is the heart and soul of this journey,” Kaiser said. Kaiseralso described the trip as “life changing.”