September 27, 2020

By Stephanie Lefebvre
Some people believe that one person can’t make a difference in the world. But last summer, five inspired women proved that’s not true, making a difference in five different worlds.
As part of an international exchange, Martina Zvalena, Tracey Kramer, Emma Wichers, Edom Gebeyehu and Amanda Guthrie, level four students in the bachelor of science in nursing program at Conestoga College, were offered the chance to spend three months in a different part of the world. In Argentina, Nicaragua, Zambia, Kenya and Thailand, the five women were able to see nursing through different eyes.
At an informational session on Oct. 22, three of these nursing students were available to share their experiences with anyone who wanted to know more about doing an international nursing exchange.
There, they were able to tell students and faculty alike about a variety of different topics, including how difficult it was to adjust to accommodations, the cost of their stay and what they learned.
The students opened up about why they chose each locale, the role they took while they were there, the highlights of their stay, what they learned and what they were able to teach the communities they were in.
The exchange has been offered through Conestoga College since 2004, but this was the first time each student visited a unique locale, one that had never taken a student before.
Tracey Kramer, who went to the Roberto Clemente Santa Ana Health Clinic in Nicaragua, chose that locale because it was the poorest country in Central America, but it was also stable enough that she felt she could bring her family with her.
While she was there, she educated the people about diabetes, nutrition, clean water and general hygiene. She also noticed the differences in culture.
“I learned a lot about family-centred nursing,” said Kramer. “When I was at the clinic, I don’t think I saw one patient who didn’t have a family member with them.”
That was different than what she was used to.
Martina Zvalena went to Mendoza, Argentina, where she was able to not only be educated and earn a certificate in breastfeeding, but also to teach others. She was invited to create a presentation about the health-care system in Canada and also give some feedback as to what she learned while she was there.
Zvalena said she really realized the role of nurses in other countries as well as the role of a nurse coming from another country.
“You can’t change everything,” she said. “And you can’t help everyone but you can definitely influence at least one person.”
That’s definitely how Emma Wichers felt when she went to Chitokoloki, Zambia. She was already interested in mission nursing and wanted to get a taste of it before committing to it for a longer period of time.
Chitokoloki has an incredibly high HIV-AIDS rate and part of Wichers’ job was to educate the people about how to prevent contracting it. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
“I was able to give a talk at the school to all the Grade 8 to Grade 12 girls. The teachers asked me to talk about sexual health and HIV-AIDS,” she said. “I was happy to do that, but I found out that 80 per cent of them had children already.”
Wichers said it was shocking to her that this was the case and knew that this talk should’ve been given to younger females instead because for most of the girls, it was already too late.
However, Wichers valued her time with the community members outside of the hospital because she said it helped her to learn about how they think and their attitudes toward different topics. She said this aided her when she had to take care of them in the hospital.
After contacting the other two students who were not able to make it to the informational session, it was easy to conclude that all five students wouldn’t have traded their experience for anything.
They learned more than just how to be a nurse or how to survive in a different country. It was more than just an exchange program. All five women could say they now view the world through a different pair of eyes and that Canadians are lucky to live in a country with such sophisticated health care.