Sharon I. Richie, PhD | Director, School of Nursing
I first met Nicole DiDomenico, our director of NU VISIONS Abroad (NUVA), walking from the dining facility in the Wise Campus Center. What I first heard was, “We need faculty advisors to accompany students on our overseas trips.” I immediately raised my hand and said, “I will go.” I did not know where, when or how. I just knew that I was being called to serve.
Nicole quickly arranged for a briefing to give me the details of the trip, the preparation needed and the steps to select the right mix of students to participate. Our job was to perform a community needs assessment of a small Philippines village recently hit by a typhoon during an 18-day trip from December 24, 2014 to January 10, 2015. Selecting students was a great competitive process, where each applicant offered a five-minute presentation to trip advisors. To my delight, we selected students majoring in nursing (senior Michelle Weaver and first-year student Corrine White), architecture, engineering, management, biology, computer science, criminal justice and international studies. Our student-advisor group then met over the course of eight weeks every Friday night for two hours of rigorous study. We worked to better understand the culture and Filipino language, to conduct team-building exercises, to designate team member leadership roles, to identify donations we could take to the village, to learn how to pack for three weeks in one carry-on bag and to identify our individual and group strengths.
Our stateside contact, United Planet in Boston, helped to smooth the way with State Department alerts, as well as security and medical clearances. “We Spark Action” served as our on-site coordinators and the first welcoming faces we saw when we landed in Cebu for our one night at what we later called the “Hotel Ritz” — a hostel with bunk beds and 15-20 people to a room. After our one night of rest, we headed to our host village of Kawit in vans for a four hour drive, passing through towns that were intact or showed much devastation. Kawit village leaders who were to work with us for the next two weeks met us at their small community center. They welcomed us with food and a dance performance by some of the older students from the area.
The sequence of our work was much the same as US Special Forces arriving in a foreign land: First win the hearts and minds of the children. Then the families. Last, the other adults in the community. Our team focused first on the children, and we provided craft classes and outdoor sports. Within minutes, we were in love and could identify many of the children by name. After a few days we were split into two groups, one for construction (to rebuild the ceiling of the community center) and the second to learn and practice the women’s livelihood skills (canning vegetables and sewing unique dusters). Once we bonded with the elders of the community, we invited all to attend the formal community needs assessment and participate (in small groups) to gather data about their needs, wants and assets.
When all of the groups reported in, they helped us to prioritize their needs and determine what we could do within our four-year project window. The first priority was to build a new multi-purpose hall. This new center would not only serve as a meeting space for several community organizations, but as the only library in the village. It would also double as an emergency evacuation center when needed. The second priority was to address the inability to provide immediate healthcare in the wake of more anticipated typhoons. With only eight appointed healthcare workers (like nursing assistants) in the village, residents wanted emergency medical training and the tools to then train others.
Each day Michelle, our senior Norwich student nurse, acted as our medical officer. So we lined up for sick call when our stomachs started to roll, we had bites of unknown origin and when we stayed in the sun too long without hats and sunscreen. Corrine, our first-year Norwich student nurse, was our strongest construction worker amongst the women and was requested daily to join that team. As nurses we saw the poverty in the housing, dress and nutritional needs of the residents of Kawit. More important is that we saw the warmth, support and love shown to each other and to us.
We look forward to the coming years to help our Kawit partners build a larger community center and expand their knowledge of first aid and CPR so that they can take care of themselves.
When we returned to Cebu City for our flight to Manila, we were privileged to tour two hospitals, meet with the directors of two nursing schools and receive invitations to return and partner with them for advanced clinical experiences with our students. Needless to say I left the Philippines with a full heart for the individual service I could provide and for the future opportunity to return with my Norwich University student nurses to help them become world-class, global nursing leaders.