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Nelson nursing student shares Guatemala experience

Selkirk College nursing student Tessa Munro travelled to Guatemala last year. This year
Selkirk College nursing student Tessa Munro travelled to Guatemala last year. This year's students are fundraising for their trip to that country with the annual Beans and Rice dinner held this Friday.
— image credit: Photo submitted

It was a career-defining journey for Selkirk College nursing student and Nelson native.

Last May, Tessa Munro spent three weeks in Guatemala with fellow classmates who were selected for the practicum experience. There she learned the importance of grassroots healthcare.

“It opened my eyes to the complexities of health and health promotion,” says Munro. “It’s not just enough to look at a person in isolation and their lifestyle choices. There are all these broad social and political factors that shape the circumstances and environments that people live in and those in turn influence people’s ability to achieve and maintain their health.”

As healthcare providers, understanding this complex picture – the underlying causes of poor health, is a revealing lesson for nursing students that Munro believes is incredibly valuable.

“Schooling, poverty, food security, social well-being aren’t what you would consider traditionally as part of the health care system,” she continues. “But they have such a strong influence on people’s health.”

This is a lesson Munro brought home.

Ten 3rd year Selkirk College nursing students are preparing to travel to Guatemala in May 2013 where they will gain similar enriching experiences. Nelson’s annual Beans and Rice extravaganza returns as the first major fundraising effort to send the group south and Munro will be attending to share her experiences.

This year’s students are the seventh group to travel to the country that endured 30 years of civil war ending a mere decade ago. Previous groups visited urban free-trade zones, highland villages and remote jungles where government health services are almost non-existent.

When Munro went to Guatemala with fellow students, health promotion was at the forefront of their mission. Free from clinical setting, nurses worked in schools teaching basic concepts such hand washing and teeth brushing. They educated nursing students like themselves about sexual health and met with the many women widowed by war, educating them on how to make change for themselves.

“There’s a lot of work being done to foster community among these women to empower them so that they can have more rights and choices,” she says.

When Munro graduates this spring she would love to pursue a Masters Degree in Public Health to continue the type of work she was exposed to in Guatemala. Treating the sick and injured is an important component of health care but “we need to be focusing way more upstream on education and creating healthy communities and promoting health because in the long run that’s going to lead to a much healthier population – and healthier world,” she says.

The ever-popular Beans and Rice dinner offers a delicious, traditional Guatemalan dinner at 6 pm, Friday, Dec. 7, at Nelson’s United Church. As well as the dinner, there will be music, silent auction, and a personal report from students who made the trip south this past year, sharing images and stories of their experience.

Cost is $10 at the door. Children are welcome.

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