A Western Carolina University faculty member who organized a trip to help the impoverished people of rural Honduras has been honored for her efforts by the WCU office that oversees service learning.
Janet James, assistant professor in WCU’s graduate nursing program and a resident of Sylva, received an award in the “outstanding achievement – service” category at the university’s fourth annual service-learning banquet held April 24. “Janet James exemplifies the qualities of a good teacher who supports her students in becoming engaged in projects that improve the quality of life in poor, underserved communities,” said Glenn Bowen, WCU’s director of service learning.
In January, James joined fellow nursing faculty member Judy Mallory and two working nurses who are enrolled in WCU’s family nurse practitioner program, Suzanne Green and Beth Lohse, on a 12-day trip to provide medical care and conduct community and family health assessments in remote villages hundreds of miles from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. A particular focus on the trip was assessments for malnutrition in the villages, particularly among children, and treatment for vitamin deficiencies, parasites and infections.
The WCU faculty members and students traveled to Honduras in affiliation with the nonprofit corporation Shoulder to Shoulder Inc., an Ohio-based organization that began offering health care assistance to rural Hondurans in 1990.
Before the WCU contingent left for the Central American country, they received some vital assistance in their work from local businesses and residents. The Sylva WalMart donated several boxes of procedure gloves and $300 for supplies; Eastgate Pharmacy assisted with the coordination of purchased medications, and donated supplies; and individuals in the area made donations up to $600 to help with the purchase of medications, James said.
In Honduras, the WCU group joined other volunteers to create a team that included a physician from Johns Hopkins University, four Johns Hopkins medical students, and a faculty member and seven nursing students from the University of Cincinnati. From Tegucigalpa, the team embarked on an eight-hour bus ride on winding mountain roads to establish primary clinics in three “base camp” villages, and from those villages the group traveled by truck to deliver services to other villages in the surrounding areas. At night, team members slept in tents under mosquito netting to protect them from malaria and dengue fever.
The medical care was offered in old schools and churches, and some residents had to walk for an hour to arrive at the clinics, James said. “Our students did so well,” she said. “I just love that they had such a diverse experience and gained a global perspective on health problems by volunteering in another country.”
James said the health clinics across rural Honduras don’t depend solely on the work of volunteers from outside the country. An active community leader in each village leads a committee that promotes the clinic services, and the committee prepares the community for the mobile health clinic that arrives every one to three months. The committee charges a nominal fee for services to help keep the clinics operating, she said.
Green, a registered nurse who works for Accredo Therapeutics, a specialty pharmacy based in Greensboro, said the trip was “the most rewarding thing I have ever done.” Her most vivid memories of those days “are of the beauty of the country contrasted with the poverty of the people, which would be unimaginable to most people in the United States.”
“The people were so kind and generous to us, and they really seemed to deeply appreciate everything we did for them,” Green said. “One particular thing that stands out about Janet on the trip is how the children really responded to her. She speaks fluent Spanish, and she was able to communicate very well with them, and they just loved her.
“We were in Honduras for 12 days, and we worked really hard every single day we were there,” Green said. “I learned a lot about giving up my accustomed comforts and the amenities of home, and working hard for the benefit of a community of people who are in need.”
Lohse, who works as a nurse at Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville, said she was continuously surprised by what she witnessed in Honduras, including the joy she saw in the children’s faces despite their chronic malnutrition, and the fact that “with no electricity or modern machinery to alleviate work, everything was done by manpower.”
“I heartily recommend a trip like this to anyone in service occupations,” said Lohse, who already holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from WCU. “So little effort on our part can mean so very much for our fellow human beings in Central America and beyond.”
For more information about service learning at WCU, contact Bowen at (828) 227-7184 or email@example.com. For more information about WCU’s family nurse practitioner program and other nursing programs, contact the School of Nursing at (828) 227-7467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.