Ethiopia 2012

Corrine Majczan, Student Nurse

Learning is fostered and reinforced though experiences. As nursing students, we learn skills from lectures and clinical rotations. We apply our nursing skills in a structured setting, and received a grade based on our level of knowledge. With our attention focused on the grade, it is easy to lose sight of the most important aspects of being a nurse. Understanding disease process, passing medications, and hanging IV bags are general nursing skills that will be learned. But having compassion for people, taking a true interest in every patient, and devoting your time to not just listen but truly hear an individual's concerns, that is where the true spirit of nursing lies.

I wanted to travel abroad at least once during my time as a student so that I could experience people from a different culture and discover their understanding of health and wellness. During my junior year at York College, I met a doctor who led the medical team of a mission group that traveled to Ethiopia. I was blessed. The team traveled to a small village about an hour outside of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and set up clinic for about a week every summer. I couldnít pass up such an amazing opportunity: to be part of a group of people who combined the care of patients with spreading the word of God.

By the end of June 2012, I found myself in an airport, with about forty people that I didnít know, getting ready to board a plane to Ethiopia. You know you are headed down the right path in life if you can feel comfortable traveling thirteen hours around the world with a group of strangers. I definitely felt like I was heading down the path that God had planned for me. It is crazy to think that my trip started off this way, and by the flight home I felt a kinship with every single person in our group.

Our first day in Addis consisted of a lot of sleep, a tour of the city, and a delicious traditional Ethiopian dinner. Our second day in Ethiopia began with a long road trip to the village of Sendafa, where we would set up the medical clinic. Everyone worked tirelessly to unpack the medicine and supplies and to create several different areas of treatment that included a primary care triage area, two primary care treatment rooms, a room for the dentist, a room for the ophthalmologist, an operating room, an ophthalmology surgery room, a pharmacy, and a recovery room. It was incredible to see the transformation that took place in each of these rooms, to allow them to fulfill their purpose.

The next days were spent working in the clinic. From about 9am to 5pm, we opened our clinic to the people of Ethiopia, some of whom had traveled days to see us. I have never seen so many people who needed to be cared for, in such a short period of time. The line of people waiting to be seen was endless. The trend in health concerns was digestive complications. Many individuals had abdominal pain, with diarrhea or vomiting. These problems resulted from the unsanitary conditions of their drinking water. Something as simple as clean water would increase the well-being of more than half of the people I saw. Clean water is something we take for granted in the United States. We have laws to promote clean water, and the Department of Health enforces those laws to protect its people. But who is going to advocate for the people in rural Ethiopia?

In the evenings, our group would either go out to a local restaurant in the city, or eat at the hotelís buffet. Both of these options were appealing to me because I found that I really enjoyed eating Ethiopian food. My absolute favorite had to be the shiro with that spongy bread that unrolled. I was shocked that I avoided falling ill because I kept forgetting the rules about not eating raw food or cheese. Even after we left the clinic, I would find myself thinking about all the people we had seen, and what they were doing that night. I wondered if they had food to eat, and then felt guilty at the huge feast I took part in every night. Now I understood why my parents made me clean my plate at dinner, and did not allow me to take more than I could eat.

I was just as grateful to have had a chance to meet these people, as they were to have a chance to speak with us. The healing power of human interaction and touch is truly amazing. If nothing else, getting the chance to just speak with a doctor or a nurse was comforting. I found myself comparing my patients here to my patients in the United States. There are many differences between the two cultures, and I think that being part of such an advanced country such as the United States can mask how truly lucky we are to have access to so many hospitals and healthcare workers. Sadly, the day had to end at some point, and it was almost painful to say ďno moreĒ. But instead of complaining and becoming angry with us for saying that we were done for the day, those waiting to be seen just asked if they could come back tomorrow. I think that was the most heart-breaking part. There are only 24 hours in a day, and suddenly our days seemed to be very limited, for the amount of things we wanted to accomplish.

Prior to leaving for the trip, the most common comment I received was that this was going to be a life changing experience for me. Now that I have had time to reflect, I donít think my life has changed, but I am so much more aware of other cultures, living conditions in third world countries and the impact that one small group of individuals with good intentions can have on such a large amount of people. I was fortunate enough to experience a trip that most people will never have the opportunity to be a part of. I would go back again and again, every year if my budget allowed. I am forever grateful to have been a part of such a caring people, and I know that these memories will be with me for a lifetime.

This page was updated on March 12, 2013.