NAFSA: the Association of International Educators recently presented Fairfield University with an award for an initiative involving nursing students working with an urban community in Nicaragua.
Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., president of Fairfield University, and Lydia Greiner, MSN, APRN, a faculty member in Fairfield University's School of Nursing, accepted the honor at an event in Washington, D.C. "It felt good to be recognized for our work, along with other very impressive programs," said Greiner, who has been central to 'Cuidemos Nuestra Salud,' an academic-community partnership to promote health.
The endeavor springs from a collaborative agreement signed in 2004 between Fairfield University and Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), a Jesuit school in Managua, Nicaragua.
Greiner and Jessica Planas, PhD, assistant professor of nursing, take about a dozen undergraduate and second degree in nursing students at a time to the Barrio Ayapal neighborhood of Managua to do health assessments and work on community health projects with UCA social work students and students in the Teaching English as a Second Language program.
The students and faculty work with community partners to address public health issues, including HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular health and hygiene.
Fairfield's nursing students participate as part of their clinical experience for the Public Health Nursing course, a service-learning course. Each year, the efforts are directed to health issues identified by the community, and have been targeted to reach both adults and children. In 2009, the first group of students went door-to-door, interviewing families to determine their most pressing health concerns. In discussion with the community, they discovered that HIV/AIDS education was a top priority.
Community partners requested an educational DVD to watch privately. "There is too much stigma attached to the disease for them to be comfortable watching a film or hearing a lecture in a community setting," said Greiner.
Subsequently, a DVD was produced with community members and hundreds have been distributed to local residents. Before and after distribution of the video, groups of students assessed knowledge in the community and results indicated a significant increase in knowledge about disease transmission.
In a letter to Fairfield, NAFSA leaders wrote: "You can take pride in the innovative ways that Fairfield University educates its students for a world where cross-cultural knowledge and understanding grows increasingly important."
The late Senator Paul Simon of Illinois was a life-long advocate for international education and exchange as a powerful tool for promoting international understanding and a more just and peaceful world.