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Selkirk College Closes Chapter on Guatemala Practice Experience

Students in the Selkirk College Nursing Program have been taking part in a practice experience in Guatemala since 2005. This group of third-year students took part in the program in 2014 where they were photographed with some of the supplies they packed to the Central American country, including 42 quilts that were made by the local Doukhobor community.

With a shifting focus northward, third-year Selkirk College Nursing Program students will make their final trip to Guatemala later this spring.

Since 2005, students in the four-year Bachelor of Science program have been able to complement their education with a Guatemala practice placement that provides participants the opportunity to work with local grassroots organizations to promote health and well-being in the Central American nation. A shift in faculty at the Castlegar Campus-based program now requires the focus to turn to other off-campus study avenues.

“The Guatemalan component to the Nursing Program has done really amazing work over the last 13 years and provided exceptional learning experiences,” says Selkirk College Vice President of Education Rhys Andrews. “The amount of support the practice placement has received within the college, in our community and in Guatemala itself has been vital to its success. Change is inevitable and though we will not be sending students south in the coming years, there will be new opportunities for future students to get this type of rewarding and enlightening experience.”

The program started in 2005 with leadership from instructor Mary-Ann Morris who has strong relationships to health care organizations and professionals in Guatemala. Though several other faculty and staff have helped maintain the practice placement outlet for students, Morris is set to retire from teaching after the last cohort of students returns this May.

“Mary-Ann has been the foundation of this placement since it began and we are grateful for the experiences she has provided both students and staff over the years,” says Andrews, who traveled to Guatemala with the group in 2009. “It would be impossible to replace her knowledge and expertise in this capacity, so we have decided to look for different opportunities for students where some of our current instructors have similar ties to organizations.”

Students volunteer to take part in the Guatemala program and fundraise for the three-week practice experience.

Working in collaboration with longstanding partners, students learn about the underlying causes of widening social disparities in countries such as Canada and Guatemala. Learners get a closer look how these disparities influence the social determinants of health such as education, employment, inclusion and housing. Students learn about ways to address social barriers to health from people at the community level whose resilience, capacity and vision for more just and equitable work has enabled them to actively address the formidable challenges to health that they face.

The annual trip to Guatemala has been made possible by community support over the years that includes popular rice-and-bean dinners, scholarships from private donors, contributions from businesses and other partnerships that enable students to raise funds for both their own travel, and resources to help the rural communities where they spend their three weeks.

“It’s really incredible how much the people in our region support our students and they care so deeply about the underlying reason for this practice experience,” says Teresa Petrick, the Dean of Selkirk College’s School of Health & Human Services and a former Nursing Program instructor. “We are very grateful to all those in our communities who have helped make this possible over the years. Without that support this would have never been able to happen.”

The Nursing Program is currently looking at partnerships with communities and organizations in the northern reaches of Canada that will be able to provide a similar experience for third-year students.