Health professions students discover Jamaican service trip rewarding on many levels

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By Monica Wilt, Marketing and Communications Assistant

An annual service-learning trip to rural Jamaica now available to 㽶Ƶ students through the Commonwealth University integration proved to be a life-changing experience for two future healthcare professionals.

“I came back feeling as though I was a completely different person, with an entirely different mindset of not only being thankful for what I’ve been blessed with but also assisting others,” said Kevin Dempsey, an exercise science major. “One of the days, I had the opportunity to apply fluoride varnish to the teeth of some (Jamaican) students and the reality at times was heartbreaking. It really helped me see how lucky most of us are to have easy access to dental care throughout our lives.”

Health professions students discover Jamaican service trip rewarding on many levels

Natalie Page, a nursing major, felt a similar impact from the winter break experience.

“While I'm only a sophomore in the nursing program here, my classes (have already) helped me (build) a foundational understanding of the basics I could share,” Page said. “Because there is often very little medical teaching provided in their community, the education I was able to provide could have a huge impact on their wellness and safety.”

The service trip to the mountain village of Harmons, Jamaica — led by Jennifer Bell, professor of physician assistant studies, and Amy Way, professor of health and exercise science — has been an annual winter break tradition for Clearfield and Lock Haven students for several years. During the week, students help build houses, participate in cultural activities, and assist with healthcare initiatives in local schools and health clinics. The past two trips have included opportunities for all Commonwealth campus locations, of which Dempsey and Page took advantage.

“My favorite part of my experience was getting to be a part of the Harmons community for the week,” Page said. “Everyone there was extremely kind, and it was very special for me to connect with them through faith. In particular, I really enjoyed visiting the schools and putting varnish on the students’ teeth. Seeing their excitement about our visit was so rewarding.”

Working closely with families was also a memorable experience for Dempsey.

“There were times where (we) were teaching various subjects either to parents in workshops or to children at their schools,” Dempsey said. “These sessions really gave me confidence in my ability to present my knowledge of various subjects to others. The program really puts an emphasis on sustainable methods of aid, instead of solely donating material items. By sharing our knowledge and educating the people of Harmons, the program can facilitate long-lasting changes within the community.”

Page saw the lasting impact the service trip has on Harmons, as well.

Health professions students discover Jamaican service trip rewarding on many levels

“When we visited two health clinics, I had the opportunity to speak with multiple locals about their experiences with healthcare,” Page says. “I learned a lot about providing health education, but more specifically, I was able to gain a better understanding of providing cultural care that I will be able to apply throughout my nursing career in the future.”

In addition, Dempsey and Page each had their own unique experiences while in the Harmons community outside of providing aid to residents.

“Another experience that really stuck with me was a hike a few students and I went on with some of the locals,” Dempsey said. “Near the top of the hike, we met up with a local who sold walking sticks and other handmade goods at his house. He brought us inside his home and showed us the new refrigerator he was able to recently purchase from the sales he made at our market night.”

Page added, “One very interesting experience we got was something called meals on heels. During that evening, groups of students are assigned a Jamaican family to go share dinner with. By welcoming us into their home and cooking for us, it provides a unique opportunity to bond with them and have meaningful conversations. That evening was very special to me because I got to hold their little boy and dance alongside the little girls.”

Dempsey also felt a special bond with the Harmons community.

“Throughout the week we were able to connect with so many new people and many of us became close with them,” Dempsey said. “Towards the end of the week, it was difficult to say goodbye. We were fortunate enough to be able to exchange our social media accounts to keep in touch with each other.”

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