A recent field trip for nursing students at Western Carolina University provided some heartwarming and heartbreaking moments during a day of health care outreach.
The 10 students traveled this month to assist with free dental services in Clarkston, Georgia, a small town within the greater Atlanta metro area that is home to a sizeable community of international refugees and referred to as the “Ellis Island of the South.”
This is where, more often than not, the process of assimilation begins, and the new residents learn to adjust to this melting pot of a country. Over the years, the resettlement program has accepted more than 40,000 displaced persons from some different 50 countries.
“I think one of the moments I will remember forever is the large group of children smiling, running up and hugging or holding hands with me and the other students,” said Rachael Crawford, of Winston-Salem. “The people, both children and adults, showed positivity no matter what their prior circumstances or past trauma had been.”
The WCU group came away with career experience and cultural insights, as well as experiencing some poignant moments during the visit.
“It broke my heart to see kids get excited over getting a toothbrush, a bar of soap, toothpaste, and just other things that I take for granted and do not get excited about,” said Sydney Kinter, of Rutherfordton. “These kids were fighting to get in line to be the first to learn how to properly wash their hands.
“My favorite experience while we were there was when a very cute boy around 4 years old got down on one knee and proposed to me, taking a tire from one of his toy cars,” she said. “At first, I had no idea what he was doing, but when he slipped the tire onto my finger, I knew exactly what he meant. It was honestly the sweetest thing ever.”
Cheryl Clark, an adjunct assistant professor in the School of Nursing, organized the trip through Nurses Christian Fellowship in conjunction with Envision Atlanta, a faith-based mission group. It was a combination of community service and skill building workshop, the type of activity that the School of Nursing is known for.
“There is so much incorporated into one service visit,” Clark said. “We put together hygiene kits beforehand to distribute to the children when we get there, we help with basics with adults, from filing paperwork – which can be challenging with so many different languages – recording blood pressure, weight and height and general medical assessments, to helping doctor as they process patients.
“Our students were brilliant, getting kids to help translate for parents when they could, showing kindness and going beyond the required procedures to personally reach the person and make them feel cared for,” she said.
Clark expressed appreciation to Lane Perry, executive director of WCU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, for assistance with transportation arrangements and other logistics. Future trips to the refugee community are scheduled, including several that will include nursing school alumni.
“Getting to experience the culture and being able to provide some health care and conversation with those in the area was very meaningful to me,” said Billy Pilcher, a senior who anticipates graduating in December. “I hope I am able to return in the future to Clarkston, Georgia, and be able to show the individuals there in the community how they are worthy and cared about so much.”
WCU’s School of Nursing is nationally ranked, with undergraduate and graduate programs offered at the main campus in Cullowhee, the Biltmore Park instructional site in Asheville and online. For more information, go to nursing.wcu.edu.