A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
February 9, 2006 Volume 36 / Number 5

Janelle Gardner with children who came to visit one of the the clinics while it was being set up.

Service-Learning In Oaxaca, Mexico

I took eight adventurous nursing students to Mexico to participate in a healthcare service-learning project for 10 days during intersession. All the students had completed at least one year of the nursing program and were excited about providing much needed healthcare in Mexico.

I organized the trip by collaborating with a nurse practitioner who runs a healthcare clinic in Cacalote, Mexico, a small village on the Pacific coast in the southern state of Oaxaca. Other health professionals also joined the CSU, Chico group, including two physicians, the nurse practitioner, and two registered nurses. They set up their first clinic in the small seaside town of Rio Grande. A one-room open-air structure with a cement floor was used for the clinic, and more than 70 patients were seen.

The team then traveled six hours on dirt roads to the interior, rural, indigenous Mixtec region. This is one of the poorest areas of Mexico, and many Mixtecs are subsistence farmers. A large proportion of their homes are at the end of footpaths, and the lack of good roads hinders their access to markets. Most Mixtecs don’t have running water and must carry water from nearby creeks. Cooking is done outside with wood that is gathered for fuel.

We set up clinics and word spread quickly throughout the villages. Lines formed, and the healthcare team worked late into the evenings to provide care for all who sought help. Many adults and children were malnourished and dehydrated. Some conditions patients were treated for included parasites, fungal infections, amoebas, respiratory infections, pica, diarrhea, and pain and spasms in shoulders and back from repetitive use of muscles. Patients often had to wait hours to be seen but were very appreciative of the care they received.

The students made posters for teaching in the villages. Because the Mixtecs speak Mixteca, not Spanish, we used a translator. The people were receptive, asked questions, and engaged in dialogue. Topics included information on the importance of hand washing, the use of latrines to decrease the spread of infection, and the prevention of dehydration. The students taught the children how to brush their teeth and provided them with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a fluoride treatment.

Each nursing student was required to write in a journal every day describing her experience and reflecting on its meaning in her life. Now that the group has returned, I am in the process of interviewing each nursing student about her experience with this international service-learning project. The students describe this project as eye opening and life changing. They are much more appreciative of what they have been given; it has changed their perceptions of life; and they believe they will be better nurses because of this experience.

—Janelle Gardner, School of Nursing


Amanda Stade uses a translator while teaching about the importance of
good handwashing techniques.

Nursing students teach about the importance of using latrines while
patients wait to be seen at the clinic.

Children brush their teeth with new toothbrushes. Nursing students taught
them proper teeth brushing techniques.

With the assistance of Dr. Gardner, student Kennon Pyle started an I.V.
(intravenous fluids) for this dehydrated patient.

Student Caitlin Smith takes a patient's temperature.

A baby waits to be seen at the clinic.