Global Health is something that has always been on my mind. Rather than be a Canadian nurse, I wish to be a nurse worldwide. I am interested in being part of different cultures and wish to expose myself to different challenges that allow for growth, sharing, learning, teaching…everything. I wish to be a nurse wherever the need is wherever I am in the world.
My recent trip to Colombia was the debut of my global involvement in a way I might not have thought possible. It was where I literally learnt how to be available for whatever was available for me. It was a time where I slept at odd hours because I received last minute requests to prepare lectures at the University. It was challenge overload and exhilaration all the time. There were times of overwhelm and self reflection when I saw challenges and wondered how I could empower others or inspire change. It was a time of flexibility, plans changing on a dime and still, beautiful surprises. It was a time of resourcefulness where I was able to reach out to my Canadian counterparts to assist with research that I needed for a lecture or group activity. It was also a time of love and joy and gratitude and connection and friendship.
Glen made it happen for me. After speaking with him about what was on my heart and mind, he set to work. There were many roadblocks to acquiring the kind of volunteer experience that I desired. When I was about to give up, he called to tell me he had found something for me. Honestly, it was not what I thought I wanted but it ended up being what I did not know that I needed. Meeting him and being around his energizer kind of energy was an honor.
It would be a shame not to mention the people that accompanied me and made sure that language was not a barrier. They easily became my fave people and friends and had no reservations when it came to
bothering assisting me. They threw coffee beans at me, pinched me, lifted me up or chased me for any and every reason. However, when the time came to get work done, they were 100% present and willing.
I got to help out with the nursing program at the Catolica Universidad de Manizales. There, I gave some lectures and helped out with some of their English programs. It was a great opportunity to interact with the professors and be a witness to their passion to teach. I was part of amazing lectures and great conversations. What was even more interesting was being referred to as ‘Professor Liz’. In Spanish, I was la profesora or as students there say, ‘profe’.
Before leaving for Colombia, I had prepared a lecture on Healthcare in Canada that ultimately showed the similarities of healthcare the world over. The lecture was meant to be for the students and I really had nothing else prepared. My plan was to collaborate with the professors at the university once I got to Colombia. Being given an hour’s notice to present to the health studies faculty was a bit disconcerting as I had to tweak the presentation to match the audience.
The presentation was a great success. There was an activity that involved naming things that were important to them as nurses in relation to the kind of nurses they hoped their students would be. As well, they named things that were important to them if they were to be patients. This forum opened up many conversations about institutional issues that prevented humanized care and it was a chance to re-ignite those passions to inspire change in whatever spaces they happened to be in.
I met many inspirational professors at the University. One of them is Professor Maria Duque who is a bioethics professor. She has the contagious desire to nurse outside the box and has created a clown team to work with people with learning disorders as well as children. It was inspiring to be around her.
The Director was great as well and facilitated my transition into all the classes that I was able to attend. On my birthday, she mentioned it to the cafeteria staff and when I went there for a cup of tea later, I was given a chocolate bar and told ‘feliz cumpleaños‘. She always had a smile on her face. We definitely had language barrier issues that we got around with the trusty help of Google translator. We spent an afternoon together on one of the days and between me stumbling through my Spanish and filling in the words with charades, we were able to talk at length about the joys and challenges of healthcare/nursing in Colombia.
To say that the classes were fun is an understatement. The students were fun, passionate and brilliant. There was never a dull moment. They were also very inquisitive! There was no class or group where students did not ask about my age, my relationship status and if I liked Colombian men!
I saw a great deal of creativity in many of the activities that the students were part of. I do not remember being as creative as these students were!
In one of the classes, we had to create a song about the risks in various work settings. After that, we went to different faculties and sang about those risks! In Spanish! These students had these projects dialed down to a science! Their projects were great avenues for opening up conversations of all kinds.
In the primary care class, mental health and language barrier were focus points. The scenario I prepared highlighted how immigration is changing the backgrounds of the patients we see and how easy it is to overlook mental health issues when providing care. The students did some amazing work in their discussions and their ideas on how to communicate and be resourceful were refreshing.
One of my favorite projects was the cognitive therapy sessions for the elderly in the community. A place was set up for the elderly to socialize as well as have exercises that allowed them to keep their minds engaged. Nursing students assisted with various activities such as teaching the elderly how to use walkers or canes to ambulate safely. I was fascinated at the level of involvement regarding the needs of the elderly in the community.
My other fantastic moment was English teaching at one of the elementary schools. The students in the said school are from ‘unsettled’ homes and a lot of them have many needs. In spite of that, they were still eager to learn and please. They enjoyed one on one time and were always up for hugs, smiles, and high fives.
I was able to visit a home for the elderly in Chinchiná with a doctor and friend from the United States. I trimmed finger nails and toe nails as well as gave massages to some of the residents. My colleague was able to do some physiotherapy and go for a walk with another resident. These casual interactions unearthed various other needs that needed attention. For example, the resident wore a pair of shoes a few sizes too big and the doctor was burdened by the need to get him a new pair of shoes. While it was a relaxed environment, the background story of the home and the man who runs it did nothing to relax me. The man who is in his sixties is a geriatric nurse who singlehandedly takes care of 14 other elderly individuals in his own home. He has done this for over three decades amidst periods of abject adversity. He cooks and cleans for them while working full time with the occasional help of his sister. The elderly individuals, whom he lovingly calls his ‘kids’, are either palliative or living with one chronic condition or other and have no pension or source of income. He told us that the hospitals usually call him and ask him to take a patient who is palliative without additional means or resources. Close to his place is a government funded facility for the elderly that is only accessible to the wealthy. The paradox.
This man has his own health issues that make him anxious about where his kids would go if he was unable to care for them. I got wind of the news that he has almost been evicted thrice in the last year alone when he is unable to come up with rent. I cannot imagine the emotional burden that he has to go through when he is unable to come up with rent money while taking care of 14 sick individuals. The thought of it makes me nauseous. Talks are underway to eliminate this anxiety and improve his quality of life so that he can effectively care for his kids – something he is passionate about. If anyone would like to know more, I am open to sharing about him and what he does as well as how my heart strings have been pulled towards facilitating his passion while eliminating stressors. I will share more as various other details come to light.
My time in Colombia was more than amazing. My experience will stay with me for a very long time. I was able to do things I did not think I could and it was highly rewarding. There is no stopping me now.