By Frances Clause
Youngstown State University nursing and social work majors aided Northwest Haitians as part of a service learning and civic engagement course. The students traveled to Port Au Prince, Haiti, in the spring 2018 semester, impacting many lives including their own.
Three people represented each major, and it cost the students $100 with vaccination fees. The Bitonte College of Health and Human Services also offered support funding for the trip.
Sherri Harper Woods, assistant professor of social work, said the goal of the course is to use its content to understand the underlying social, political and economic issues that contribute to community difficulties.
“Students learn how to become an educated community member and problem solve through serving the community and reflecting on the meaning of their service,” she said.
Woods said Haiti is the only option the program currently offers, but future trips include Chicago and Japan.
Ana Zarlinski, a senior nursing major, said the course content prepared her for the trip, but nothing could fully prepare her for the life-altering experiences that occurred during her stay.
“[The faculty] told me I would be changed when the trip was over, but I didn’t realize how much my perspective of the world would change,” she said. “I became a critical thinker because in the U.S. we have endless medical supplies, and Haiti doesn’t have that luxury.”
Zarlinski said it was inspiring to see Julie, a Haitian nurse, work with the little materials she had.
The students and faculty stayed at Northwest Haiti Christian Mission (NWHCM) for their weeklong experience. Cortney Hobbs, a graduate student in the clinical mental health counseling program, said the social work and nursing students collaborated here.
“Dr. Woods and myself got to provide counseling services and a retreat to the staff of NWHCM,” Hobbs said. “Both the nursing and social work students provided encouragement and spa treatments.”
Other than working at the mission, students performed service activities at schools, an elder care center, brothel, prison and the nearby community.
Hobbs said she helped with the grocery ministry, buying food from their market to give out to local families.
“This experience was life changing, as I got to witness the severity of poverty in the area,” she said. “Children were rubbing their bellies as a signal of being hungry, and my heart wanted to feed everyone, but we only had a limited supply of food.”
Timmy Erskine, a senior nursing major, said he woke up every day more excited and ready to help the local people. Most of the students’ time was spent caring for Northwest Haiti residents from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“It was like a typical workday, but that just included the tasks that were scheduled for us,” Erskine said. “After that, there was always more children to play with, elderly to help and things to clean up.”
Erskine said his favorite experience on the trip was “Beach Day,” where students got to work with children with disabilities. These disabilities ranged from autism, spina bifida, Down syndrome and physical deformities.
“This day was so special for the children because it was all about them,” Erskine said. “The drive to the beach was crammed and almost pushed me to the edge, but seeing [the children’s] faces when we arrived made everything worth it.”