By Kristen McLaughlin

Five Texas State RRC nursing students and their professor, Dr. Lyda Arevalo-Flechas, took their skills and knowledge to Peru for two weeks this summer to benefit Operation Smile International and a rural Peruvian village still recovering from earthquakes.

“Peru was an absolutely amazing and humbling experience with exposure to different types of healthcare in other countries,” student Amanda Bazan said. “The people of Peru are truly what made this a memorable experience. Everyone was so welcoming and thankful for our presence.”

The group traveled as members of Texas Partners of The Americas, an international network promoting social and economic development  through leadership and development programs. The Partners’ motto is to “Connect – Serve – Change Lives”.

After spending two days in Lima helping Operation Smile, the team traveled to Viña Vieja, (Ica, Peru). The 150-family village was devastated by two earthquakes in 2007, and is still recovering from the natural disasters. Dr. Arevalo-Flechas has been working with this community for about four years and led a group of nursing students in the re-opening of the community’s First Aid clinic in 2010.

The nursing students who participated in this trip are Whitney Milburn, Meghann Seal, Melody Bingham, El Burley and Amanda Bazan.

“I learned about the country and how nurses can have a huge impact on others through simple care and support,” student Melody Bingham said.

What is Operation Smile International? It is a charity that provides safe, reconstructive surgery for children who were born with facial deformities, including cleft palates and cleft lips. The organization was founded in 1982. According to the website, Operation Smile has provided more than 200,000 free surgeries.

“While in Lima we were fortunate enough to be a part of Operation Smile. Personally, this experience changed my life,” student El Burley said. “After one day working with this organization and the community, it changed my perspective and reinforced my love for humanitarian aid.”

Students said this trip has renewed their desire to enter the field of nursing.

“I have returned from Peru with inspiration, motivation, and an increased passion for nursing, learning, and serving others,” student Whitney Milburn said.

Prior to the trip, Dr. Arevalo-Flechas was able to draw off of her experience as a perioperative nurse by providing intraoperative nursing training to the students. They learned skills such as scrubbing, sterile gowning and gloving. These skills were put to use while volunteering with Operation Smile and while working with a pediatric inestivist and the post-anesthesia unit. While in Viña Vieja, the team provided basic screenings and conducted a CPR class in Spanish.

Not only did the Texas State RRC group help others on this trip, but they made connections that were hard to leave. “It was truly hard to say goodbye. I have endless thanks and limitless appreciation for the experience and opportunity made available to us in Peru 2012. I hope I get the chance to do travel there again soon,” student Meghann Seal said.

Dr. Arevalo-Flechas has worked with students in Peru over the past four years. She said as always, she enjoys watching her students grow.

“For me, the highlight of the trip was watching my future nursing colleagues grow as a person and as practitioners. I am addicted to those rewarding moments,” Dr.  Arevalo-Flechas said.

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