BISLE is part of the U of A College of Public Health’s Rural Health Professions Program, a partnership with Arizona AHEC Program.
By Gail Emrick
During a weekend in August, a unique group of dedicated health professions students gathered in Ambos Nogales to learn about community health issues, provide needed services, and work together in an interprofessional manner. The thematic focus of this years’ service learning was special needs populations and agencies that address special needs in the border region. The first day’s events were held in Nogales AZ, where 30 students and 9 faculty from Arizona and Sonora, gathered to receive an overview of US/Latin American relations, a historical political context of immigration and health outcomes at the border provided by SEAHEC Director, Gail Emrick. Then a panel of health professionals from both Nogales Arizona and Sonora presented on their chosen professions and the particular challenges and benefits of serving as health professionals in the border region.
Students organized into interprofessional binational teams – this format encouraged learning about diverse professional skills and qualities and perspectives from both U.S. and Mexican health systems. Students were assigned activities that the partner agencies had identified – including building a wheelchair accessible walking path, preparing a greenhouse, painting a resource center, helping apply a survey to parents for building awareness of developmental delays, and facilitating a stress management workshop for adolescents in the criminal justice system.
Arizona Partner agencies included: Santa Cruz Training Programs for people with disabilities; Santa Fe Ranch, a foundation providing hands on educational outdoor opportunities to community members, including those with special needs; Mariposa Community Health Center; and Southern Arizona Autism Association.
Nogales Sonora partner agencies included Asociacion Downs Nogales, Grupos de Ayuda Mutua para Diabetecos, (support Group for Diabetics); ITAMA, the Intituto Tratamient y Aplicacion de Medidas para Adolescentes, (services to adolescents in the justice system); and ARSOBO, Arizona Sonora Border Projects for Inclusions, (trains and employs individuals with disabilities).
On day two, students held activities in Nogales, Sonora. These included a Special Olympics, held at the Universidad del Valle de Mexico gymnasium and attended by parents and children. Health professions student teams organized engaging activities including having children toss colored rings onto colored cones, as well as other interactive activities. Songs were sung, students and children danced, and prizes were awarded during the festivities. Simultaneously, health professions students provided a “Foot care” clinic for people with diabetes. After receiving training, students conducted foot checks and provide needed care and education to patients.
The second day’s events ended with a tour of ARSOBO’s wheelchair factory. Executive Director Kiko, Francisco Trujillo, provided an inspirational overview of ARSOBO and the services provided. Students were visibly moved by the explanation of how people in wheelchairs are able to make wheelchairs for others and how this has transformed so many lives.
As part of service learning, students participate in reflection. When asked “How did working in a binational interdisciplinary team change the way you perceived the issues faced by communities?” Janay Young, a doctoral student in Nursing Practice shared:
“My BISLE experience….allowed me to witness firsthand the unique challenges that a rural border community faces when providing health care to its citizens, especially those with special needs or disabilities.”
The presentations given by each student group on the last day included bilingual skits, monologues, an original song and an interactive game – reflections of their experiences.
Janay’s group chose to do a skit that answered, “What did you learn?” and “What will you do with the information when you return home?” She replied…I was struck by the success that motivated…individuals had; those who crossed political and cultural barriers to create networks and collaborative relationships to solve daunting problems…working to solve these complex issues demands teamwork; no one discipline or organization has the ability to assist an entire community to bring about lasting change. BISLE certainly influenced the way I will provide care as a nurse practitioner to individuals in rural border communities.