By Phillip Milano

It was a 19-year-old boy known as a “Head of Household Child” who really got to Jacksonville University nursing professor Michelle Edmonds and her students.

southafrica5.jpgDuring their recent Study Abroad trip to South Africa, they came upon him at a community water spigot in a poor township near Jacksonville sister city Port Elizabeth, filling a five-gallon bucket for his family.

Even though both his parents were gone and he was doing all he could to help his siblings survive, he still had dreams of a better life. A better education. A better job.

“He was basically an orphan and on his own. And you wonder, how does he survive?” said Edmonds, Director of Graduate Programs in JU’s School of Nursing. “But the people in the village just give of themselves and take care of him. They feed him. Clothe him. It’s a human struggle we take for granted.”

Janet Hester, an online MSN Education student at JU who took the trip, was equally impressed with how the boy and village responded to his plight.

“Here was this young boy, living in a shack, trying to put himself through school, and it was so sad to see,” she said. “All he had were his clothes. But it doesn’t matter how little they have, they all share. It was a really nice concept. They have nothing, but will share their food or whatever else is needed.”southafrica4.jpg

The way in which the concerted community outreach to care for one person contrasted with the lack of government organization and infrastructure to confront overall health needs shone through for Edmonds and the students. 

“You still need education, government supplies and resources, training and more,” said Edmonds, whose graduate and undergraduate nursing students took the trip in August to learn South Africa’s health care system, see how nurses are educated there and gauge differences in health care practices.
“Even though people care, that’s not enough. The infrastructure is just not there yet. The medication doesn’t come when it needs to into the clinics, for example. People with tuberculosis, or HIV, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, they are just told, ‘Sorry, no meds today.’ For us, if there are no meds at Walgreens, we know there are 12 other places nearby where we can go to find them. Not so here.”
southafrica2.jpgThe two-week trip to Jacksonville sister city Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, hosted by the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Department of Nursing, was eye-opening for the students, who included Kathryn Allen, Denice McKie, Adrian Rowda, Hester, Brenda Kennedy and Emily Gonzalez, said Edmonds.
Among other things, they took part in home visits with St. Francis Hospice Nurses, visited two orphanages, toured the Qbera Community Health Center in Walmer Township, visited several public hospitals and met with South African graduate nursing students.
“We went into the poorest shacks, with no water or toilets or just using open latrines,” Edmonds said. “We went with hospice nurses to help people with cancer or HIV. We were providing education and checking on their meds and more. Some of the JU students went on the rounds with other South African students.”
They also passed out condoms to help with the spread of HIV. There are reports that as much as 40 percent of the population is infected – almost every other house seems to be affected, she said.
“And a lot of the people aren’t faring very well because they didn’t get medication early enough. Some are very young, too.”
The biggest surprise for the JU group? The stark difference in those of little means compared to those with wealth.southafrica1.jpg

“It’s a First World country and a Third World country in one. There are shacks, and then a half mile away there are multi-million-dollar homes. They are extremely close together.”
Hester noted the wealth differences, too, and called the trip eye-opening and “the best thing I could have done.” She came away impressed with the intensity and level of responsibility handled by the advanced nurses there, called “Sisters.”
“Over there, what they are able to do coming out of school is different. When they come out, they can practice like an advanced nurse practitioner, right away, doing primary nursing, family practice, prescribing meds, doing psychiatry and more,” she noted. “Because there are fewer physicians, the Sisters are given more duties. That’s how their country is set up, where they don’t have to go back for more training but can just step up and take care of just about everything. It’s amazing.”
The trip was a chance for Edmonds’ graduate students to recharge their batteries and also do some front-line work, Edmonds said. Three of the six had never been out of the country and had their eyes opened.
“I’ve traveled a lot, but this country always affects me. The extreme poverty. The nurses are really trying to make a difference. In the end, the only way people can prosper and be productive is if they’re healthy.”