A sense of community, family and gratitude. Those are the words that come to mind as Fresno State students and faculty reflected upon their recent service-learning trip to Fiji this past winter.
For two weeks, the 20 students and two faculty members were given the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the Fijian culture, take in new scenery, and more importantly – form bonds with the locals in their host country and expand their world view.
This particular trip was focused on exposing students to the global health care system and providing community service work in the local hospitals and rural clinics within the various villages located in Fiji.
“We had two goals in mind for this trip: learn about culturally competent care and emerging health care practices overseas,” said Dr. Kathleen Rindahl, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing and one of the faculty advisors of the trip.
The students consisted of different health, human services and science majors on campus, including nursing, social work, dietetics, chemistry and biology. In a move that differed from past years, the students separated into groups and lived in three different parts of the island – Natewa, Naboutini, and Yaroi – with their respective host families.
Senior nursing student, Courtney Brown, stayed in Yaroi, with a majority of her fellow students. She said the strong sense of community values shared by the Fijians was one of the highlights of her trip.
“They not only welcomed us into their homes, but also into their hearts,” Brown said.
As a nursing student, nearing her last and final semester in the program, Brown said the service-learning aspect was a great way to share her passion for community outreach and a valuable opportunity to expand her knowledge of rural and global nursing.
“It truly puts a lot in perspective for you on both a personal and professional level,” Brown said. “During my time at the Savusavu Hospital, I was able to rotate through their Obstetrics, Triage, and Emergency Department, as well as the Pediatric and Ante-Natal Clinics. Although it was a rural hospital with far fewer resources than we are used to seeing in the U.S., the nursing and medical care is still performed and provided in a holistic, caring, and compassionate manner. Nursing is a passion that transcends any cultural differences. In fact, it unites us.”
Social Work senior, Rosa Salmeron, also stayed in Yaroi. She felt the trip was an amazing opportunity to share her passion for community outreach.
“We were fortunate to have our family open the doors of their home and their hearts and I learned the people of Fiji are quick to love unconditionally,” Salmeron said. “They taught us how to offer medical services with limited resources. I was able to help take vital signs, assist with prenatal care, measure and weigh babies at their routine check-ups, assist with emergency room triage, and offer support in the labor and delivery ward.”
In fact, on her first day volunteering in the labor and delivery ward, Salmeron and two nursing students assisted a midwife in delivering a baby boy – a memory she considers one of the most special in her life thus far.
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in May, Salmeron will return to Fiji in the summer to serve a two-year mission with the Peace Corps.
Scott Ramirez, a senior nursing student, experienced more rural accommodations while residing in the remote area of Natewa, as evidenced by their clinical site, which was staffed by just one physician and two nurses.
“The common practice for the health care system in Fiji is to place new physicians in remote settings,” Ramirez said. “Some will stay, but most move on to specialize or move into urban areas if a position is available. Every person who came to the clinic was served according to their needs, without consideration of cost. Many were referred into the city for further tests that were necessary.”
For Ramirez, the opportunity to be of service to others was monumental.
“I have always felt that if you are able to provide for others, that you should. It does not have to be globally, but helping others is a gift for both parties involved,” Ramirez said. “Health is a universal bond and commonality among humans that is borderless. It is the ultimate service to provide for someone’s well-being and there is no higher calling.”
Ramirez said his time in the village was made all the more special and memorable because of the people he met along the way.
“The people of the village were beyond hospitable and friendly,” Ramirez said. “Word spread incredibly fast that I was there and I was being called by name by villagers I had not even met yet the second day I was there. Food was served without asking, gifts were given, and I had countless invites for dinner, lunch, grog sessions, and so many other gatherings that I could’ve stayed for a month and still not fulfilled the requests.
While the island of Fiji has a global reputation as paradise, it is the hidden village people who are the true elements of happiness.”
Across the island in Naboutini, was where another group of students and Dr. Cynthia Cavazos, resided. Considered a more traditional village, Naboutini is away from the main land and because of that, there are fewer resources, electricity is scarce and trips to the clinic are harder to come by.
Cavazos, faculty advisor for the trip and lecturer in the Department of Communicative Sciences and Deaf Studies, said the students used the lack of resources as an opportunity to grow their skills and knowledge.
“That’s something nice that I saw – the collaboration,” Cavazos said. “The students were able to apply their skill set, learn and teach fellow students – furthering both of their skills in the health care setting. Because of the lack of resources, they often had to be creative with the tools available to them.”
Cavazos’ son, Emilio – a senior nursing student – was also on the trip and as a sixth semester nursing student, he was able to teach his fellow nursing students a few things they had yet to learn.
Both Cavazos and Rindahl wanted to ensure students, who came from mixed majors, were able to get the same experiences regardless of their background.
“We made sure students were in settings we thought would facilitate their profession,” Cavazos said. “We really tried to put them in areas where they could be exposed to their particular health profession.”
With that in mind, the dietetics students were placed in hospitals working alongside the dieticians with food preparation. The science majors worked in the pharmacy or in the hospitals, as well. Nursing and social work students worked in both the clinics and hospitals, assisting postpartum moms, teaching breastfeeding techniques and breathing exercises, and supporting nursing staff in a variety of medical situations.
Rindahl said the opportunity to learn overseas offered an interesting dynamic for her students, in particular.
“Some of them had been in my community health class and learned about communicable diseases, like Typhoid fever,” Rindahl said. “It turns out that while we were in Fiji, there was an outbreak of Typhoid fever. So it was interesting that these students actually got to experience what they learned in class.”
Not only is studying abroad a wonderful opportunity to expand on world views, it is also a chance to learn about different cultures from the perspective of the host families. By immersing themselves in local food and traditions, the students learned how to best ensure their outreach is beneficial to those they are helping.
“Serving others on a global scale is helpful in overcoming the mentality of us and them,” Salmeron said. “As I experience different cultures, I realize we have more in common then we have differences.
In social work we learned about individualistic cultures, mostly found in the Western cultures like America, and collectivist cultures, found in countries like Fiji. We can read about the differences in these types of cultures and get a passing grade on an assignment. However, the difference in the cultural attitudes are best understood by experiencing both cultures. I hope to take what I learned in Fiji to enhance my personal relationships with family, friends, and the community.”
For many of the students, their brief, but meaningful, time in Fiji was simply life changing.
“Being of service to others is such an indescribable experience,” Brown said as she reflected upon her trip. “Just when you think that you are going to help or teach, you realize you have learned so much from those you wanted to give to! I think that any student, from any discipline should take the opportunity to travel and learn abroad because it strengthens your world-view exponentially. Fiji will always have a piece of my heart, and I will always carry a piece of Fiji with me.”
The project was funded by the Division of Continuing and Global Education, the Jan and Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, and the Friends for Civic Engagement. Learn more at the link.
-Written by Melissa Tav, CHHS Communication Specialist and Rebeca Flores, CHHS Communication Student Assistant