Global Service Learning in Guatemala: Putting the 1st in First Aid

Global Service Learning in Guatemala: Putting the 1st in First Aid

Steve St. Angelo
By Steve St. Angelo  | 
Spring 2024 As Seen in Our Spring 2024 Issue

In a community like San Martin in rural Guatemala, an ambulance might be several hours away, the nearest hospital many miles off. And there is little money for emergency care anyway. So, if a loved one has chest pains and collapses …

“Too often, that’s kind of their end,” explains Mashuda Aly of the MSN (Entry into Nursing) program and a member of the recent Johns Hopkins School of Nursing cohort in Guatemala. There is, on average, one nurse per 10,000 Guatemalans, the group was told by its hosts from Nursing Heart, Inc./Asociación Corazón de Enfermería (NHI/ACE), and health education is just as scarce. “The concept of CPR is little known. This is Level 1 first aid.”

Of all that she learned from what she calls an amazing Guatemala experience, this knowledge has been among the most challenging for Aly to process, because so much suffering—and death—is so preventable. That does not mean the situation is hopeless, at least not for long. “I want to come back here [to Guatemala],” she insists.

“I want to enable them to help themselves.”

Already she has been hatching a plan with classmate Lindsey Fajardo-Morales (a native of Guatemala and part of the service-learning cohort) for a potential post-graduation mission. “Once we have our nursing licenses, we’ll be able to do much more in the community,” Aly says, adding that they’ll have backup: “I’ll bring a few CPR manikins with me in my duffel bag!”

Her feeling of kinship with the Guatemalan community was immediate, from the first steps on the cobblestone streets of Antigua, with its rumbling parade of coffee-delivery trucks in the morning, the scent and feel of locally hand-woven cloth during a daytime hug, and rollicking street life as the heat of the day fades into night; to the road dust, chickens, open arms, and endless green canopy of trees and volcanic landscapes that greet a visitor to San Martin. In everything, beauty.

It was also in the fellow-feeling with rural Guatemalan mothers who’d given birth as Aly’s own mom had in Bangladesh—outside a hospital, without the pre- and post-natal care that accompanies pregnancy in the world’s wealthier nations. Aly, who lived in Paterson NJ before moving to Baltimore and JHSON, has family spread across the globe and has dreams of becoming a nurse to the world, specifically in surgery. “This is the career path that I want to take, to be trained by the best of the best and use that training for the people who need it the most.”

That could very well begin in both the cities and rural areas of Guatemala. “I want to do education,” she explains. “With education, it’s not like you are coming, you’re helping someone, you’re leaving, and now they are helpless. I want to enable them to help themselves.” 

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