HHD Students Serve Others on Spring Break

April 2, 2009

For many undergraduate students in the College of Health and Human Development, spring break is not just a respite from classes and studying; it’s a time to make a difference. Students spent their weeklong break volunteering in parts of the world that need assistance the most—from New Orleans to Honduras, South Africa to Haiti.

View images of all HHD spring break trips

Nursing in South Africa

Six Nursing students—Lauren Shuttlesworth, Nicole Meekins, Elizabeth Shenk, Jamie McHale, Juliana Kalinowski, and Jessica Mann—spent two weeks in Capetown, South Africa, where they visited health care facilities and co-mingled with nursing students at the University of the Western Cape. The students went as part of a Nursing course that stresses public health and diversity in nursing.

“South Africa provides a unique learning environment for students,” says Dr. Beth Bates, instructor in nursing, and one of two faculty members leading the trip. “HIV/AIDS is a prevalent issue there now, and the effects of apartheid provide a unique cultural perspective."

The trip allowed the students to see clinics in which Western Cape nursing students gain practical experience. They also visited government-funded health care clinics in Khayelitsha, South Africa's largest informal settlement and home to more than 1.3 million people, where they distributed school supplies, personal hygiene products, and t-shirts. Students saw firsthand the “greatest need and greatest poverty” of parts of South Africa, according to Bates.

This is the School of Nursing’s third trip to South Africa. The students will receive academic credit for the trip, and, as part of the course, will present their experience at a global nursing presentation, sponsored by Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Honor Society, with support from the Penn State School of Nursing.

“I will never forget the people of Khayelitsha,” said Lauren Shuttlesworth, a student on the trip. “Their courage and hope in the face of unimaginable adversity is awe inspiring. In many instances, orphaned children as young and six or seven years of age are the head of households, caring for younger siblings by any means necessary.”

“It’s hard to not feel immediately connected to the people we saw there,” said Bates. “Part of your heart stays there, after you leave.”

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Visiting a South African clinic
Nursing students and their professors

HDFS student helps build home with Habitat for Humanity

Sabrina Denson, a sophomore in Human Development and Family Studies, went with Penn State Habitat for Humanity to Johns Island, South Carolina, to help build a home for a family in need. She travelled with fourteen other Penn State students, all of whom learned various aspects of home construction, such as how to put roofing up and secure baseboards.

The students were allotted some free time, which they spent at the beach, or visiting another Penn State Habitat for Humanity team in Charleston, South Carolina. “The most memorable part, for me,” said Denson, “was seeing our accomplishments at the end of the week, and getting to know all of the students I travelled with.”

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Penn State Habitat For Humanity

HDFS student helps rebuild orphanage

Stephanie Ohlson, a Human Development and Family Studies major, traveled with the Calvary Baptist Church to provide assistance to the Rose of Sharon Orphanage in the Dominican Republic. The group spent part of the time rebuilding a perimeter wall for the orphanage, and spent other days taking orphanage children on educational trips to Faro A Colon (“Columbus Lighthouse”) and Catalina Island. “Some of the children had never been in a car before, let alone on a boat,” says Ohlson. “It was great to be able to give them that experience.”

This is the fourth time Ohlson has travelled to volunteer with the Rose of Sharon Orphanage. Past projects included planting fruit trees for the orphanage, constructing an entrance gate, painting hallways, and building a canopy over the recently planted strawberry plants. “Each time it’s so amazing,” she said. “The children are so generous and wonderful, which is especially apparent when you see the older children caring so much for the younger.”

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Building the perimeter wall at the Rose of Sharon Girls’ Orphanage
Stephanie and a few children at the Rose of Sharon Orphanage

Global Medical Brigades in Honduras

James Evert, a sophomore in Health Policy and Administration and co-president of the Penn State Global Medical Brigades, travelled with twenty-three other students and three doctors to Honduras to provide medical relief.

The Medical Brigades traveled to villages outside of Gracias, Honduras, where they set up a health care facility that included an intake station, triage, doctor station, and pharmacy. The group treated roughly 450 patients each day, totaling nearly 2,000 for the trip, and issued vouchers for free treatment at nearby medical centers if patients had more complex health issues. The group also spent one day pursuing leisure activities, such as sight-seeing Mayan Ruins, horseback riding, zip-lining, touring a coffee plantation, and exploring a waterfall.

“It was great to know that we made an impact on such a great number of people, and knowing how much they appreciated that we were there,” said Evert. “It was also great being able to work as a great team and getting to know everyone in the group.”

Prior to the trip, the group spent a majority of its time educating others and to fundraising so that they could purchase enough medicine and supplies to bring. Penn State Global Medical Brigades is a chapter of Global Brigades, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing sustainability in Honduras and Central America.

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Penn State Global Medical Brigades
Women and children lined up and waiting to be treated by the Penn State Global Medical Brigades

Project Haiti

Andrea Gerloff, a junior in Health Policy and Administration with a minor in Gerontology and Legal Environment of Business, travelled to two cities in Haiti with Project Haiti, a service organization.

While in Haiti, the group spent their time getting to know children and helping them learn English. They visited a nursery for sick and malnourished infants and children. In Jacksonville, Haiti, the group helped construct a mission house and brainstormed plans for a vocational school.

“The most memorable part of my trip was the connection I felt with the Haitian people,” says Gerloff. “Even though I spoke very little Creole, I was still able to communicate and build relationships with the boys and girls at the orphanage. Although they have so little, the people are filled with an indescribable amount of joy, generosity, and love.

“I have never seen children and teenagers who wanted to be educated so badly. It was touching that at 9:00 at night instead of playing games I would find many of the boys trying to educate themselves in their ’library,’ which consisted of a few bookshelves of donated books."

Gerloff said that at the end of the trip, she and her classmates received letters and pictures from the children. “Many of them spent all week to learn to write in English so that they could thank us for coming to their country,” she said. “They let us know how much they appreciated us spending time with them. They also wrote that they will never forget us and hoped that we would return soon. I went to Haiti to give back; however, the experience has allowed me to learn more than I ever could have imagined.”

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Walking through the town of Hinche
Playing jump rope with the girls at the Maison Fortuné Orphanage
Recess with the local children at a school in Jacksonville
Taking a break from laying blocks for the Mission House in Jacksonville
Sifting out rocks by hand so that the sand can be mixed into cement

Hillel helps rebuild New Orleans

Kimberly Fleishman, a Human Development and Family Studies major, traveled with Penn State Hillel to New Orleans, Louisiana, to help rebuild in areas still damaged from Hurricane Katrina.

Penn State Hillel, in conjunction with students from other universities and the nonprofit organization Rebuilding Together, fixed up a house for an elderly man. Specifically, Kimberly and a few other students cleaned up one bedroom of a house—they scraped paint off doors, mantles, and walls, then prepared the walls and finally painted.

“Unfortunately, I'd have to say the trip was memorable because I did not understand the magnitude of destruction, even four years later. It made me angry to see how bad everything still is there,” says Kimberly. “However, when we finished the week, the house we worked on finally had started to look like a home.”

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Scraping paint off the windows
The house that Penn State Hillel spent the week rebuilding

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Editors: For more information, please contact Liam Jackson at liam.jackson@psu.edu or 814-863-4325.