Take My Hand

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By Lauren Lewis

Educational mission area

The crowds of children are what struck Antoinette Russell, third-level UNM College of Nursing student.

"They would come running up to us out of nowhere, take our hands and walk with us for miles," said Russell.

This past October, Russell and seven other UNM nursing students traveled to Kenya to work in a clinic with the non-profit volunteer group Project Helping Hands.

This was the first group of UNM nursing students to travel to Kenya. Judith Harris, UNM College of Nursing clinical instructor, accompanied the group.

"I went to Kenya for the first time in 2010 and thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for students to have a clinical experience there," said Harris. "It's important for students to see what other countries have available in terms of health care systems and the clinical experience they gain is vital."

The clinic in Kenya is located three miles outside of the town of Oyugis. For two weeks, Harris, Russell and the other students walked the three miles to the clinic and back to town every day.

"The clinic was on top of this really steep hill," said Russell. "We’d get up the hill and would all be exhausted, and see so many patients waiting for us."

On average, the clinic saw 300 to 400 patients a day, from the very young to the very old, but it was the children that caught Russell’s attention.

"I was shocked with how many people we saw at the clinic, but the children stood out the most for me," said Russell. "So many of them were without parents or any adults. They would walk with us to and from the clinic. Then, all of a sudden, they would say ‘goodbye’ and take off running somewhere else."

Harris said the reason for the large amount of orphaned children in Kenya is because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa.

"The huge number of orphans is the dilemma in Kenya," said Harris. "The community in which we worked in has done a very good job to provide services for these kids, though. They have come a long way since Project Helping Hands first began going there."

Assessment Skills

At the clinic, the nursing students were introduced to a fast-paced setting, seeing one patient after another with assistance from experienced professionals; physicians, advanced practice nurses and registered nurses.

The busy environment forced Russell and the other students to quickly sharpen certain skills. Russell said that one of those skills was making assessments.

"I really started to trust my assessment skills in Kenya," said Russell. "These patients didn’t have past medical history or medical records on file. It was really all about our assessment skills and how well we asked questions to learn more about their medical history."

The cultural aspect also came into play for the students, giving them the opportunity to learn how to communicate to a different population of patients.

"In the U.S., we tend to be upfront and blunt with how we say things," said Russell. "In Kenya, we almost had to tell a story because you can’t be so upfront. It takes them aback because they are more discreet there. I learned that as a provider it’s all about asking the questions and figuring out how to ask the questions."

Close to Home

This was Russell’s first trip to Africa and a trip that held a lot of personal meaning to the student.

Growing up, Russell watched her mother, a health consultant, take trips to Africa and other parts of the world.

"She used to come back with tons of pictures," said Russell. "That got me thinking. Whatever I decide to do, I know it will be in health care. I had a lot of emotions going to Kenya because I had been preparing for it for so long with my mom always going. I had heard so many stories from her growing up."

Russell is not exactly sure what she wants to do after graduation, but is certain she will be going back to Africa.

"I know that I’m going to be traveling a lot," said Russell. "That’s where I feel most led."

Antoinette Russell made a video about her trip to Kenya.

Want to Travel with Project Helping Hands?

All HSC students interested in traveling with Project Helping Hands, contact Judith Harris, UNM College of Nursing, (505) 272-5948