Beyond the Classroom WWU Nursing Professor Teaches Health in Guatemala

December 01, 2007

Last spring, Walla Walla University (WWU) associate professor of nursing Sallieanne Brewer got an unexpected phone call. Her cousin, a member of the United Methodist Church of Ocala, Fla., had learned that the focus of an upcoming church mission trip was women's health issues. She thought Brewer would be interested. She was right.

Brewer spent nearly two weeks providing health education to women near the city of Chichicatenango, Guatemala, a country where most people have little to no access to health care services or information. Although public spending has shifted more toward preventive care, diseases such as AIDS continue to spread.

"When people are challenged just to survive and feed their young," explains Brewer, "issues of health education and preventive medicine are not viewed as vital."

Before arriving in the villages, the team was able to discuss women's health issues with a young local woman who had been hired to provide health education to other local women.

In talking with the young woman, the team learned that the women in the villages used no protective garments during their menstrual cycles.

"We had purchased hundreds of cloth diapers and diaper pins for the babies in the villages," says Brewer," but I guess God had another idea."

A portion of the diapers and pins were handed out to the local women, and a pair of underwear was given to each woman. The diapers became sanitary garments, and the team showed the women how to pin the diapers into the underwear.

Knowing that many of the women had not seen underwear before, Brewer took it upon herself to demonstrate their function by pulling a bright pink pair of panties on over her clothing.

"Some things do not need any interpretation!" says Brewer. "The women broke out into a round of laughter. I am fortunate we did not get a picture of that event!"

Brewer and the team of nurses continued their educational series on topics such as breastfeeding, menopause, hygiene and nutrition. They distributed boxes of clothing, baby formula, bottles, vitamins, shampoo, soap, and toothbrushes and toothpaste. Most of the items had been donated by people in the Walla Walla and College Place communities.

This is not the first trip of its kind for Brewer. Several years ago she coordinated a medical mission trip to El Salvador, where she provided care as a nurse practitioner.

In 2005, Brewer, along with WWU assistant professor of nursing Trudy Klein, developed a missions nursing course now offered at WWU. In the spring of 2007, Klein had the opportunity to take a group of nursing students to Jamaica, where they provided health education for the locals. Brewer and Klein are currently planning a similar trip to Thailand in conjunction with WWU.

For information on how you can help further the efforts Brewer and others are making in women's health education around the globe, contact the WWU nursing department at (509) 527-2461.