When I first found out I was accepted onto the Texas State Global News Team and was going to Guyana my first thoughts revolved around shear happiness and excitement.
My second thoughts?
I’m leaving the country for twelve days without my mom?!
I put on my big girl pants and pretended I could handle this, that people have gone farther and longer without being by their mom 24/7, because I wanted so much to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It soon became clear that I hadn’t so much left a mom behind as I had gained two surrogate moms (whether they intended it or not).
My first surrogate mom was my instructor Holly Lynn Wise.
I first took her class in spring 2017, and that’s when she changed me as a journalist. She taught me about the confidence needed to be a journalist. She’s 100 percent the reason I put my big girl pants on and pretended I could handle this – because she believed in me.
In Guyana, she took on a role of more than just a mentor.
She was the one who asked me every.single.day how I was feeling because she knew I had caught a bug. She’s the one who carried around Advil for me, who ran upstairs at the last minute before the van rolled out for the day to grab medicine for me.
When my imaginary big girl pants had fallen down and I was feeling unsure of myself as a journalist, she approached me every few minutes and coaxed me until I pulled them right back up.
When the days were long and our stomaches were rumbling, she would pull out a bag of trail mix to hold us over. When we needed an ‘American night’ in, she grabbed spaghetti and garlic bread ingredients to help our homesickness.
She was there for me, with me, when I faced my fear of heights and conquered the clocktower in Stabroek Market.
She was so important to the stability I needed while I was miles away from my biological mom.
My other surrogate mom, Sharon Armstead, I didn’t meet until the pre-departure meetings got into full swing in fall 2017. I fully experienced the Armstead love on one of our recreation days in Guyana.
We were on a small speedboat, filled to capacity with roughly 20 people. I’d never been afraid of boat rides, in fact I’d always enjoyed them, and I did for the ride out to Baganara Island Resort.
On the ride back, however, the tide in the Demerara River had changed and the boat ride became one of horror for me. I was sat in the second row, meaning the ride for me was bumpier than it was for most. I was silently trying to conceal my panic attack, embarrassed beyond belief.
Nothing could get by Sharon, who was sat in the first row and caught sight of my silent tears.
Without hesitation, she immediately turned in her seat and grabbed my hand. She leaned in to keep our moment private, and whispered reassuring words in my ear.
She hugged me. She held my hand. She whispered to me. She shared her own experience on this river a year prior that was similar to mine.
For twenty minutes she did this, until we had to stop the boat at an island to get gas and I assured her I was calmed down.
That day, without her love, would have been one I looked back on with pain.
Now, I look back on it with so much happiness in my heart because I know she was there to make sure I was ok, not only because my biological mom couldn’t, but because she truly cared.
Sharon and Holly, my forever surrogate moms: thank you, for so much more than you will ever realize.
It’s Jan. 6 and we’re exploring Stabroek Market in Georgetown. I’m following our group, lead by Denroy Tudor who works for the Ministry of Public Health, taking in the crowded and packed market. It soon becomes clear that Tudor is working on gaining us access to the clock tower that stands high above the market.
In my head, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, what an experience! We’re going to get to do something that not even all the locals do.’
It never occurred to me, that we would have to climb to the top …
… on winding staircases that aren’t completely closed off…
…that you can see straight through.
Back in Texas, my mom can’t even get me up more than one ladder step because of my fear of heights. Now, here in Guyana, I’m hurriedly following my group and trying not to get lost in the throng of people and products.
Before I know it, before I can process it, I’m ascending the steps.
I grip the handrail as my heart pounds against my chest and I’m trying to keep my emotions in control.
‘I want my mom. Right now. I need her,’ plays on repeat in my mind.
I make it half way, I’m told.
There’s only one more winding staircase between me and the top of this clock tower. I mindlessly trudge on, determined to take step after step and only think about that.
I can’t turn around, not really, because there’s the rest of my group behind me on this tiny, winding, hole-filled staircase. I shift my gaze from the market below me when sunlight begins to infiltrate my peripheral vision.
I emerge onto a patio of sorts, with a 360-degree view of the market. Bright buildings, cars and umbrellas are visible in every direction, except for the side with a gorgeous view of the Demerara River.
For a moment, I forget about the internal struggle I faced to get myself up the clock tower. I forget about the fact that I will have to go back down the tiny, winding, hole-filled staircases.
I look around at the city that has been my home for the past four days. The city that has welcomed me with open arms. This beautiful city filled with beautiful souls.
Before I came to Guyana, I was filled with so much anxiety about being away from my mom, my lack of respiratory therapy knowledge and my skills as a reporter.
As I’m staring at the people and cars below me, I’m also taking in the people surrounding me. My instructor who brought me here, my teammates who never fail to make me laugh and the respiratory therapy students who happily teach me about their work.
I’m realizing that I have it within myself to try new things, to accomplish things no matter how much they scare me. And, just as importantly, I have people in my life to help me along the way.
I go down the stairs with an adrenaline high. I don’t see the holes below me, I don’t trip over myself as much on the tiny steps and this time…
Study abroad students dedicated a day to touring in Guyana in between their time working in hospitals and schools.
The Texas State respiratory care students and Global News Team visited a museum, church and historical landmarks in and near Georgetown, Guyana on Jan. 6, the 5th day of their trip. The students traveled by van to markets for souvenir shopping and views from a clock tower.
Claudette Heyliger-Thomas, medical director of Bridges Global Medical Missions, first visited Sophia Care Center in September 2016 to administer general medical examinations on the children.
After seeing some of the center’s other needs, she decided to go back in January 2018. Along with donations, she brought with her 10 Texas State students who had been in Guyana for two weeks working with Bridges in a study abroad program.
The Texas State team left Guyana the following day, returning to Texas to start their spring 2018 semester.
Photos and videos by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.
Desiree Davis was sitting in the window seat of the 28th row on the plane headed for Managua, Nicaragua, that would take off Jan. 2. Her pink neck pillow hugged her neck as she quietly waited for the plane to take off.
When the plane lifted off from Austin, Texas, she let out a small scream as the air pressure popped her ears.
A team of 24 students from the Texas State University College of Health Professions was on its way to collaborate with the International Service Learning organization in Nicaragua to set up free medical clinics in small villages outside of Masaya.
When Davis found out about the trip last year, she didn’t hesitate to apply.
“We’re so used to being in America, it’s forcing us to have to embrace a new culture we’re not used to,” said Davis after spending a day seeing patients in La Borgoña. “It is important to connect with people who are not like me.”
Davis’ determination to get outside her comfort zone caught the attention of her friends and colleagues.
“She’ll take the opportunity that’s most challenging,” said Madeline Longtin, a senior in the nursing program. “Even if she’s scared, she likes to push her boundaries to see where her limits are.”
Davis does not speak Spanish, but was called on to communicate with patients in their native language. Her nervousness was evident, but she overcame that obstacle and looked people in the eye and nodded her head in understanding.
A Life-Long Dream
Healthcare has always been important to Davis.
During her senior year of high school, she participated in a certified nursing internship at local hospitals and in nursing homes. Her dream job is to be a pediatrician.
“I love working at the bedside with patients,” Davis said. “I love to be there for people and to take care of them.”
Davis has a strong will for taking care of people. When she graduates college, she wants to work at Brackenridge, a level-one trauma center, in Austin, Texas. She ultimately wants to work in an intensive care unit.
“Level one is when you get the most critical patients, like from air support,” Davis explained.
Davis’ love and compassion for patient care have not gone unnoticed from her peers.
“She has so much joy,” said Longtin. “She cares so much, beyond words.”
Davis’ joyful attitude and pleasant demeanor makes her patients feel comfortable and at ease.
“She’ll help you out before she takes care of herself,” said Rebecca Duffy, a senior in the nursing program.
How the Clinics Worked
On Jan. 4, the health professions team was split into three groups and named themselves: Group Peanut, Group Butter and Group Jelly. Each group followed a community leader into the villages to visit residents in their homes and take a medical census. They used this opportunity to invite community members to the clinics, which were held in local churches.
Davis’ group – Jelly – went to La Borgoña, a community near Masaya that received three free clinic days.
“There was a reason why we were there,” said Davis. “We were there to show them love.”
The local residents attended the clinics to receive care for illnesses ranging from diabetes to allergies.
During the operation of the clinic, the health professions students split into groups of two and, with a translator next to them, conducted focused assessments on the patients who had lined up outside the church to be seen.
Davis exuded confidence expected from a seasoned professional. A curious fire raged in her eyes when she consulted with patients.
“You start to see the same illnesses and know the right questions,” said Davis. “It gives you a lot of confidence.”
By the third day of the medical clinics, the previously nervous students grew confident and eager. Their confidence was built, in part, by consulting with the Nicaraguan physicians who pushed the students to utilize the knowledge and skills they learned in nursing school.
“You’re able to sit down with the doctor, tell them what is going on with the patient and you’re able to give your own assessment,” said Davis.
Some students began to assess patients without one of their colleagues by the third day of clinics.
“I was by myself the rest of the day,” said Davis. “I began to ask questions like ‘Has anything changed in the last 6 months?’ A lot of education went into finding out what happened to some patients.”
One patient stood out to Davis. The woman they were performing an assessment on who already knew what was going on with her health.
“We had a 47-year-old woman that was diabetic who was diagnosed 13 years ago,” explained Davis. “When we took her blood sugar, it was 448. In that moment, she automatically knew it was high when we showed her. She started to tell us how stressed she was. Her son had just gone to jail. While my partner, Mady, was taking her blood pressure, we started hugging her and holding her. You could tell she was just so stressed out. We asked Harold, our translator and ISL assistant team leader, to take her to the hospital with one of the buses.”
After the three days of clinics ended, the health professions team returned to the village, Chocoyera, to give back to their community. Everyone in the team went to the store earlier in the week and bought things for the children to play with.
“There were tons of kids,” said Davis. “Everyone was so comfortable with each other. Some of us started blowing up balloons inside (the church) and others set up the health fair outside when we arrived.”
Some students played with children from the community while other health profession students set up a couple of tables outside the front of the church. These students would continue to take blood pressures for local residents and give smaller focused assessments.
“I played with a little girl named Carmen,” said Davis. “She was teaching me little words (in Spanish) the whole time. I asked her what she wanted to be when she gets older and she said ‘doctor.’ I had brought a doctor play set with me and I decided to give her the doctor set. The smile on her face was so breathtaking.”
Davis special moment with the little girl, Carmen, is a small reflection of the experiences many of the other students had that day.
The study abroad to Nicaragua was brief. The health professions team flew out of Austin, Texas, on Jan. 2 only to return on Jan 13. In that time, the students traveled to small villages outside Masaya, a nursing home and to a children’s home. Throughout their time abroad, they performed hundreds of focused assessments and impacted many lives.
“We’re walking into a place where people didn’t choose that lifestyle,” said Davis. “It’s important to count your blessings because you don’t know what that person is going through.”
Davis went on the trip not knowing what was going to happen but she returned home with a bigger understanding of the world, healthcare and the knowledge that she made an impact in so many people’s lives.
“It is impressive to see the locals have so much joy in them even though their situation might not be the best,” said Davis.
An immersive study abroad program in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication