Anita Lorentzen, English lecturer, 308.865.8936
While many college students spend their Spring Break resting, skiing or lying on the beach, a group of 19 University of Nebraska at Kearney students will be traversing the Amazon River, working in health clinics in remote indigenous villages in Colombia, Brazil and Peru.
Led by English lecturer Anita Lorentzen and spearheaded by health sciences major Brittany Forbes of Kearney, the students will leave March 15 for an eight-day trip to Leticia, Colombia, working for the Amazon Medical Project, one of Medical Mission International’s health outreach programs.
The majority of the UNK students are health science majors, while a few are joining the mission because they are service-driven, an important facet of health care. For most of the people who live in this area, this project is the only medical treatment they receive.
Since 2005, the project coordinator and team have worked with community leaders in a 200-km radius around Leticia, traveling down the river and setting up clinics in rural villages in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia.
Among the UNK students there are three native Spanish speakers and some Spanish majors who will be an asset with translation, Lorentzen said.
Last year Forbes completed a two-week MMI project in Sabana Grande, Dominican Republic, with a group of 30 UNK students. After brainstorming service-related endeavors for her Thompson Scholars Creative Project, she decided to extend the educational, personal and future professional benefits of her experience to other students who might not undertake make a trip on their own.
“I was impressed the students chose this project over the other options with all the hotel amenities because they will give up hot water, electricity, cell phones, internet access, even beds,” Lorentzen said. “Tents are put up and torn down each day as we travel to each site.”
In addition to the service component, an incentive for health majors is the exposure to working alongside licensed U.S. practitioners and acquiring valuable hands-on experiences much earlier in their course of study, Lorentzen said.
Because the Amazon expedition extends into three different countries, students will interact personally with remote and indigenous Colombian, Peruvian, and Brazilian cultures.
“Exposure to the impoverished conditions and lack of access to professional health care will expand students’ critical thinking horizons and abilities to consider various ways of interacting with and caring for people as valuable patients,” Lorentzen said.
Juan Munoz, an Amazon Medical Project leader, said this is one of the most difficult projects because of the physical conditions — but also the most rewarding.
This is also the first time that a “community” of students has signed on to his project, and Munoz expressed gratitude and enthusiasm for the UNK group’s arrival, believing it will be the most productive project to date.
The students did fund-raising to help offset their personal costs, and are still seeking donations. A portion of their donations is designated to the Leticia clinic itself for supplies and administrative maintenance. Amy Gugel, a UNK graphic arts student from Amherst, created a UNK/Amazon Project T-Shirt design that the group has worn during fundraising activities and on the trip. Local health care providers who contributed to those costs are advertised on the back of the shirts.
Lorentzen said the students would have time in Bogota, Colombia on March 16 prior to their flight to Leticia where an MMI representative will take the group on a city tour. One of Lorentzen’s former Colombian police officer students, plans to be in the city to give us a tour of the National Police Headquarters. Other past and present UNK Colombian students and their families may be joining them for the city tour.
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