Four cement walls with holes cut into the sides were transformed into a stage for a performance put on by school children in Malawi, Africa. Seven Ithaca College students watched as the children laughed and sang in the village of Cholondi in 2011 — a carefree moment in a rural area of one of the world’s least-developed countries.
Through Healthcare and Culture: An International Field Experience, a two-credit course taught by Mary Taylor, a registered nurse at the Hammond Health Center, students travel to Malawi to help its hospitals and citizens. The trip did not happen in 2012 because of gas shortages across Malawi, however Taylor is beginning to promote another trip in June.
Many Malawians are currently suffering from the AIDS epidemic. Out of 14 million citizens, an estimated 900,000 are living with AIDS, according to HelpChildren.org, and one million are orphaned as a result of the disease, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Taylor said students will broaden their knowledge of the country by working alongside the Malawian citizens. She said they will be collecting supplies and volunteering in mobile medical clinics, crisis care nurseries, a widows’ village, a school and an orphanage.
The students help the Malawians by donating money to the medical clinics through the trip fee. This money supports the cost of medicine, lab tests, the salaries of the workers and the general yearly function of the clinic workers. It also pays for the vans needed to transport volunteers to the rural clinics.
“If they didn’t go, [the Malawian people] wouldn’t have these medical clinics,” Taylor said. “Each clinic costs $500, so by us bringing the cash, they get medical treatment.”
Taylor said the nurses and students also help run mobile medical clinics in rural areas, organized by the Ministry of Hope, where they are able to help take vital signs and package medications.
“We’ll treat between 200 and 300 people,” Taylor said. “The majority [of illnesses are] muscular-skeletal pain, fever and malaria.”
Students also visit the University of Malawi and talk to Malawian students — especially those studying health sciences, though Taylor said she encourages students from all schools to visit too.
For senior Madeline Apuzzo, a public community health major, the trip made for an eye-opening experience, she said.
“I’ve been out of the country before but never to a third world country,” Apuzzo said. “It makes me appreciate what I have so much more.”
Taylor launched the course in 2009. She said her fascination with Malawi began after reading an article written by Fred Garry, a minister in Watertown, N.Y., about his experience in the country. She then contacted him about traveling together to Malawi.
Upon arriving at a health clinic in 2009, two hours outside the capital city of Mzuzu, Taylor and the students were greeted by Malawian village chiefs.
“I’ve never seen such warm hearts and gentle spirits,” Taylor said. “The people are genuine, caring and simple.”
Before she started going to Malawi with the students, Taylor had already begun helping the Malawian citizens on her own. She helped raise money to help Malawian widows and opened a crisis-care nursery for abandoned babies and toddlers. After returning to Ithaca, Linda Petrosino, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance, asked her to take students on the trip.
“The dean asked me if I would take students, and I said ‘Absolutely,’” Taylor said. “I love Malawi, and I love students.”
Senior Kelsey Johnston, who went on the trip in 2011, said experiencing poverty first hand is the key to understanding it.
“You always see things about poverty online and in the news,” Johnston said. “But seeing it in real life is just a completely different experience, and it really affects you.”
Apuzzo, having experienced the powerful interactions with the Malawian children and adults, she said, encourages all students to apply.
“If you have the means and desire to help others that really need it, then why not?” Apuzzo said. “It could change your life, and it could change their lives.”
Applications for the program can be found at http://www.ithaca.edu/oip/study_abroad/