There were no mai tai cocktails, no lounging by the beach at a swanky resort, and certainly no sleeping in late. Immaculata alumna Christine Kinslow’s trip to Belize in Central America was not that kind of trip—but something much more valuable. As a team leader of a seven-member nursing medical mission trip, organized through International Service Learning (ISL) and sponsored by Good Samaritan Missions, she and the other nurses helped over 200 villagers during their 10-day trip. Only on their last day were they able to enjoy the beauty of Belize in style and comfort.
Concentrating their efforts in two villages in poverty-stricken northern Belize, the nurses went door-to-door informing the residents that there would be a clinic available to them the next day. Villagers were lined up the next morning at the make-shift clinic, operating out of an abandoned community center. Kinslow and some of the other nurses gave the patients a head-to-toe assessment before they saw the doctor. When Kinslow brought the patients in, the doctor wanted to know what Kinslow’s thoughts were on the diagnosis and her suggested plan of care. Kinslow explains, “We were not only providing a service but we were getting on-the
-spot training. That’s why it is called ISL.”
Kinslow and the others will not forget what they learned and experienced. Walking through the streets of the villages, Kinslow saw that many of the homes were made from palm sticks with no running water; bathroom facilities were behind the houses. Stagnant water and malnourished animals were everywhere. As part of their visits, the nurses trained the villagers on sanitation. One simple but effective way to keep disease at bay was explaining to families the need to install a lid on their latrine.
One afternoon, the nurses had an opportunity to visit a school. During their time with the children, they taught them how to brush their teeth and provided them with new toothbrushes and toothpaste. Kinslow states that most boys stop attending school by the age of 9 so that they can work in the sugar cane fields, which are the predominant industry in the region.
“The local hospital was very small and primitive,” states Kinslow. There were different wards for men, women, children, trauma, and OB/GYN, she explains. Making only $12,000 a year, nurses in Belize rotate between the wards and need a broad understanding of all medical conditions and procedures.
“I would love to be a nurse at that hospital, because one day you can work in the ER and the next, you’ll be delivering a baby,” she says. “You need to know how to do everything.”
Certain conditions are rampant in Belize. Kinslow states that one in four women has HIV and most deliver babies at home with no medication or other medical support, often losing their infants during delivery. She also notes that the most common ailments for the local villagers are allergies, asthma, and skin issues arising from the poor air quality that results from the constant burning of the sugar cane fields in preparation for harvesting.
One young boy that they treated was born with his heart on the right side of his chest and was diagnosed to have only a short time to live. However, he defied the odds and made it to his 14th birthday. When Kinslow saw him, he had had bronchitis and was running a high fever, and the family did not have the two-dollar fare for the 10-minute ride to the hospital. Kinslow and another nurse took the boy and his mother to the hospital and also gave her money for future transportation needs.
Though she downplays her generosity, Kinslow truly made a difference beyond medical treatment. “I brought a huge suitcase and duffle bag with me and loaded them with extra clothes, coloring books, bubbles,” she stated. “I came home with a backpack.”
When the children received medical care, Kinslow gave them a little treat, such as bubbles to play with. “You would have thought that we gave them a million dollars. They were running up and hugging us,” she remembers.
She remembers a particular female patient as well. When the doctor lifted her skirt to do an examination, Kinslow noticed that her undergarments were in shreds, dirty, and barely holding up. Another nurse had brought extra undergarments and gave the woman several new pairs.
Kinslow states that the villagers were thankful for everything. “They were happy and smiling. They don’t know what they don’t know.” She explains that they are born and stay in the same village for their entire lives and only know that lifestyle. The villagers’ lives are very community-based. When someone dies, a neighbor takes care of the family—no questions asked.
Kinslow experienced one other medical mission trip in 2009 to Costa Rica while she was still a student at Immaculata taking classes at the Dixon School of Nursing at Abington Hospital. She works as a nurse supervisor for Visiting Angels of Jenkintown, PA and hopes to coordinate a medical mission trip to Cuba in two years.