News Release

For Immediate Release

Contact: Katie Glass, Marketing Manager and Public Information Officer
Phone: 608.822.2411
Mail: 1800 Bronson Blvd., Fennimore, WI 53809
Date: February 5, 2018

Southwest Tech Nurses and Students in Haiti

Fennimore, Wisconsin -

SHE, The Women of Southwest Wisconsin
Nurses in Haiti
Unique program integrates Haitian mobile clinics into curriculum

By ERIN MARTIN, Fennimore Times

“It is probably one of the hardest experiences I have had and to walk away from it and know that I would do this again…it is a real gift.”

Amanda Linscheid traveled to Haiti last spring as part of the RN nursing program at Southwest Technical College. What she gained from this somewhat unusual technical college opportunity is everything the program – and school – hope for.

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College began integrating a Haitian mobile clinic into the nursing program four years ago. Not every student in the program goes. Only seven or eight go each year, says Penny Neal, the nursing instructor who started the trip and organizes it each year. Students need to apply for a position and pay for expenses themselves.

Those who go will see things they are unlikely to witness close to home. Haiti has suffered an endemic poverty that can be traced back to its birth as a nation. The country’s slave roses up and successfully threw of the yoke off oppression in 1804. Then, to stave off further bloodshed, spent the following century paying 150 million gold francs to French landowners in compensation for their own freedom, incurring debt that effectively has kept the country a third-world nation.

Students who go will see real hardship. They will see children with so little, that rocks and mangoes are stand-ins for soccer balls. They will meet children who walk miles of rough country each day for an education. They will meet children who have never seen a doctor.

These students will also see the grace and beauty of Haitian culture, the kindness and expansive spirits of Haitian people.

Penny’s family has a long connection to the country. They have a foundation there and she had made many trips to the country. It was students asking that prompted her to take four students in 2014. They had the college’s blessing, though the trip would not count toward the students’ degrees.

She and fellow instructor Colleen Watters took the four student nurses, “on a test run to see how it would work,” Neal says. “We made it part of the last clinical of the program the following year.”

Krystal Kischbaum is one of the students who will travel to Haiti with Penny this spring. The trip will count as her final intensive clinical before receiving her degree as a registered nurse. When the trip is done, Penny can expect that Krystal will have learned to be more independent, more assured in her abilities, and to have learned better leadership skills.

To get to this opportunity, Krystal had to fill out an application, seek recommendations, and then write a letter convincing her instructors that she understood the benefit of participating and would also be a benefit to the team.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Krystal says.

For her, this trip is about the children she will be able to help.

For now,  she and the rest of the team are collecting supplies and readying themselves. She has had injections for infectious diseases. And soon, she and the other students will help pack large suitcases with clinic supplies, medicines, nutritious snacks and small gifts. Everything single item they will need to conduct clinics they will carry with them when they board the plane to head for Haiti.

The mobile clinics will travel with a nurse practitioner to four schools, spending two days at each. They will conduct assessments on around 800 children, each student performing around 100. They will inspect skin, examine bellies, listen to lungs, look in ears, check feet for fungal infections. And they will teach. For younger children, simple self-care. With junior and senior high school students, they will delve into the issues that arise in maturing bodies.

Every word they speak must be translated into Haitian Creole by an interpreter. Responses will be translated into English.

And they will need to dress differently. Haitian culture expects these women to be dressed in skirts and blouses.

“This isn’t a vacation,” Penny says. “It’s work.”

Two of the schools have children’s homes attached. They will see better nutrition among students there. The others, they can expect to see even greater needs.

It isn’t unusual to see children with terrible fungal infections, Penny says. They often wade through streams walking the miles to school, leaving them with wet socks leading to serious skin problems. And lacking dental care, there will be abcesses. Lots of them, she says.

“They will learn how to teach without the things we consider necessities here,” Penny says.

There will be no projectors, no white boards.

“My husband is a little apprehensive about safety,” says Krystal. “My older children (16 and eight) will be fine. They are busy with school. But my youngest (six years old), she will miss me. She’ll be the hard one to leave for the trip.”

In many ways, Krystal is typical of the women heading on the trip this year with Penny Neal. At 34, she has experience and a busy life. She has worked as a Licensed Practical Nurse for nine years. She has worked hard to get through this program.

“When would I get this opportunity again?” she asks. “It’s a life-changing experience.”

She is right. The trip will change her.

“I did a lot of research before going,” says Amanda, the student at the beginning of the story. “I tried to be aware of what I was about to walk into. None of that mattered. It ended up being about the people. No matter what I thought I knew, I wasn’t prepared for the beauty.

“I thought I was going there to help them. I know it’s kind of cliché, but I took away more than I could ever give.”

She recounts how the students quickly learned the routine of setting up clinics. They would drive to a school. With six suitcases of supplies, they would se up the clinic. Then, rotating jobs each day, they would perform assessments, looking in every ear, every throat, at every foot. They would send concerns to the practitioner accompanying them for more serious issues. They would instruct the children in self-care and then feed them a small snack and offer each a small gift. A gift that may have been the only gift the child had ever received.

“It was amazing how much better we were by the third day or so,” Amanda says with a laugh. “We were so bad at it the first day.”

Like Krystal, she too was a non-traditional student. A woman with a career, a family and a home to care for.

She looks back at this experience and sees in it nothing but growth and opportunity.

“I know I can roll with the punches because I had to learn about adapting,” Amanda says.

She faces life with more confidence because the mobile clinic allowed her test her abilities and push her boundaries.

A program like this is unusual in a technical college setting, Penny says. She knows of no other. While the fact that the opportunity for students to travel to Haiti can be attributed to her organization efforts and contacts, it was the support of the college that made it possible to integrate it into these students education.

“They have never questioned supporting us,” Penny says.

The students at the Haitian schools benefit from this support. The improvements may be small, says Penny, but they are there.

“We can see things getting better,” Penny says.

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