Valdosta Daily Times

August 7, 2012

Study abroad program takes VSU nursing students to Nicaragua

Valdosta State University

VALDOSTA — VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University will send 12 students and an instructor to Nicaragua for a 10-day field study in transcultural care. The study abroad  excursion will be a first for the College of Nursing and was made possible when one University System of Georgia institution of higher learning reached out to another.

 Troy Spicer, a faculty member at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences in Tifton, took a group of students to Nicaragua during the summer of 2011. One year later, he approached VSU’s College of Nursing about joining the  experience.

 Spicer, who has seven students leaving for Nicaragua on Saturday, July 28, said that a partnership with VSU made perfect sense.

 Denise Atkinson, a board certified family nurse practitioner and nursing instructor, will lead VSU’s group to Nicaragua. Spicer referred to her as an ideal person for the role because she serves the Latino population as a medical professional and has the unique  ability to excite students about cultural experiences.

 As part of the field study in transcultural care, VSU and ABAC students will visit Lake Nicaragua, Esteli, the Masaya Volcano, and Historic Granada. Atkinson said they will examine available resources in the country, as well as the ability of the native people  to promote their own sustainability. They will look at agriculture and first response systems like fire, law enforcement, and emergency medical services.

 The students will have a chance to visit Casa Materna, which provides a short-term residence to high-risk pregnancy women, one to two weeks before and after childbirth, and other outreach services. Casa Materna’s focus is on reducing rising maternal and infant  mortality rates. In Nicaragua, a maternal death occurs every 38 hours.

 While at Casa Materna, the students will learn about and plant Moringa trees -- also known as miracle trees or vitamin trees. Atkinson said the tree is often used to fight malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers. Its leaves can be eaten fresh,  cooked, or stored as a dried powder for months without refrigeration or a loss of nutritional value. According to Optima of Africa Ltd., a private company that deals with the tree in Tanzania, 25 grams of Moringa leaf powder will meet 125 percent of a child’s  daily calcium needs, 61 percent of his or her magnesium needs, 71 percent of his or her iron needs, 42 percent of his or her protein needs, and more. Almost every part of the tree can be used for food or some other beneficial purpose.

The students will also visit what may best be described as a dumpsite. Atkinson said it is where the people go and collect “trash” -- pieces of tin, cardboard, and paper -- to use to build homes for themselves and their families.

Atkinson said she hopes her students are inspired by what they learn, hear, see, and do in Nicaragua. She hopes they return with a broader sense of who they are in this ever-changing world and a better understanding of how a different culture lives and survives.

 Half of her group has never been outside the U.S.

 In the future, Akinson noted that the field study in transcultural care will be open to students from any major and particularly beneficial for those in Spanish, sociology, psychology, business, and women’s and gender studies.

 Among the students from ABAC participating in the field study are nursing majors and rural studies majors.