Eleven students traveled to Belize in May on a medical mission trip that helped change the lives of countless members in one large community of that country.International Service Learning, a nationwide organization that was introduced to UT’s campus last fall, organized the 12-day venture that departed May 5.
“This is a great new organization,” said Hannah Kissel, a senior pre-med biology and German major, who participated in the mission. “We’re really excited to spread the word about it and get more people involved.”
The students, along with several local doctors, set up four health clinics during their time in Belize. Each clinic admitted patients for a day and gave free medical exams, as well as any medications the patients needed. Additionally, each patient was referred to local doctors for continued treatment if needed.
Kissel, who will take over as president of the organization this fall, explained that the day before each of the clinics opened, the group traveled to rural villages. They would meet and invite the villagers to visit the clinic for free treatments.
While the mission trip had many medical factors, you don’t have to be a medical student to participate, Kissel said. The experience is open to many different areas of learning, and everyone can help, she said.
Reaching out to the villagers was rewarding, Kissel said, recalling helping a woman.
“She wasn’t sick or anything, she just wanted to have a blood glucose test because she was diabetic,” Kissel said. “She came up and she was so excited to have that done that she just hugged me afterward. I really hadn’t done anything, but seeing that was so rewarding. You don’t feel like you’re doing a ton because it’s more of a learning experience for us. She was so happy that someone was there to do that for free, and she didn’t have to worry about anything.”Brandon Stewart, a senior health-care administration major, recalled the hospitality of the people he worked with in Belize. The first clinical site the group set up was at a church; Stewart said the pastor and his family were so grateful for the aid received that they made the International Service Learning group a baked chicken lunch.
“That experience alone was truly humbling to me,” he said. “General access to health care is an aspect of our culture here in the States that we take for granted daily. I really enjoyed getting to meet the different villages of the Cayo District, [immersing] myself into their culture.”
Jessica Schulte, who will be a first-year graduate student majoring in epidemiology this fall, agreed that the Belizean people were kind and appreciative of her work, which she found very gratifying.
“Seeing the smiles and appreciation on the patients’ faces was the most rewarding part of this trip,” Schulte said. “No matter the living conditions or health status, the Belizean people lead happy lives and do not feel like they need more.”
The organization also collected suitcases full of donations, including ibuprofen, Tylenol, allergy medication and syringes.
Kissel said she learned a lot about herself and how to communicate with others on this trip, which she believes she’ll use in the future, particularly in preparing for medical school.
“I’ve kind of affirmed this passion for medicine,” she said. “I feel more driven to finish up my last [undergraduate] year, and I’m super-excited to start medical school, especially with going into patient interaction, those hard situations where you don’t know how to communicate with them; I’m definitely going to take that away as well as the thought process you develop working with a diagnosis.”
Some of Kissel’s plans for the upcoming year as president include offering more mission trips, including one that focuses on pharmacy students. However, she said she also would like to reach out to the Toledo community.
“One of things I realized while I was there was that I don’t even know how to take a blood pressure,” she said. “That’s not something that’s hard to do, but I think it’d be really easy to teach people in schools and get them interested, not only in the medical field, but also in service learning.”
Kissel said she would like to start an after-school program where she could share her service-learning experiences with others and promote it throughout the community.
For more information about International Service Learning, visit islonline.org.