Spending time in another country is an excellent way to broaden skills, strengthen understanding of other cultures, and see the world. Carmen Boyd, MS, LPC, RD/LD, is Director of the Dietetics Program at Missouri State and during spring break, she takes a group of students to El Salvator to gain hands-on experience. Below is a summary of the trip. Consider going next time, you won’t regret it.
Volcanoes, beautiful beaches, gorgeous scenery, friendly people, a modern city and chronic malnutrition. That is what seven BMS students and one education major saw on their international service learning trip to El Salvador during spring break 2011. The third poorest country in the western hemisphere, El Salvador is a country of contrasts. In our upscale hotel in San Salvador, we could have been in any modern city in the world. But outside the hotel’s armed, guarded and fortified fence, the poverty and malnutrition are readily evident.
Stunted growth, low weight for height, hair changes and a host of other problems occur with chronic malnutrition which these students were able to see firsthand in the rural areas that we visited as well as throughout the city as we traveled out each day. Thanks to our host agency, Convoy of Hope, these eight students were able to visit facilities that Convoy provides assistance to with food and other aide. Along with our Salvadoran nutritionist, Winnie Menendez and assistant Areley Hernandez, students were able to see and assist with the feeding programs in four rural schools, an orphanage, senior citizens home and a homeless shelter. Other interesting visits were with the World Food Program, the El Salvadoran Agricultural Department (CENTA), the El Salvadoran version of Women, Infants and Children (WIC) called Libres de Amor (Pounds of Love), a home for malnourished children and an emergency HIV/AIDS home for children.
We had some spring break fun, too. A day at the beautiful beach, a fun stop in coffee country for a great lunch and visit to an artist colony, lots of great food and pupusas at the Oloquilta Pupuseria! What’s a pupusa? Well, it is a traditional Salvadoran dish that is made with a rice flour tortilla (sometimes corn) and stuffed with a variety of fillings such as beans, cheese or spinach. YUM!
Thanks to many generous donations through the tireless work of our students, we were able to provide a variety of schools supplies to the schools we visited, hygiene products, baby clothing and other items to many people in those rural areas. In addition, students took anthropometric measurements of the school children to assist Convoy of Hope in their research data on the effectiveness of their feeding programs and provided basic health education on the importance of brushing your teeth correctly and hand washing. We are so grateful to Convoy of Hope for allowing us to have this experience and we are looking forward to next year!