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Nursing Students Without Borders (NSWB) at Virginia Commonwealth University took their medical knowledge and services to Guatemala earlier this month to help improve health and the lifestyle of indigenous Mayans. Nursing Students without Borders is a non-profit organization created with the vision of promoting public health both in the community and on an international level. The students focus on communities throughout the Greater Richmond area and once a year take a trip abroad.

Ten NSWB members and Fay Parpart, M.S., RN, ANP-BS, AACRN, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Health Nursing, traveled to Guatemala with the Highland Support Project. The students joined AMA, the Guatemalan branch of the Highland Support Project, to help an indigenous women’s circle of three Mayan villages.

The students held three health screening events for glucose, height, weight, and blood pressure, as well as educated the women about maintaining a healthy diet to prevent diabetes, a growing disease in these communities due to the recent building of fast food chains and snack shops in Guatemala.

Students also worked in five homes, building stoves to replace the open fires used often by villagers for cooking. The open fires are a health risk because they lead to respiratory damage, as well as risk of home fires.

Located 11,000 feet above sea level in an isolated area of Guatemala, the villagers were open and eager to share their culture with the students. The students met with a midwife, bonesetter and priest, all highly important individuals in these communities.

Students not only delivered knowledge, but gained knowledge about Mayan health beliefs and spirituality, which helps in taking care of the whole person, said Parpart. Students learned how an understanding of western health care and other belief systems can be used together for health education and promotion.

NSWB members who traveled to Guatemala this year include:

Kimberly Acker- Traditional Junior
Gwendolyn Edwards- Traditional Junior
Mary Niederlehner- Accelerated Junior
Morgan Webb- Traditional Junior
Jennah Faulkner- Traditional Junior
May Fakhriyazdi- Traditional Junior
Meghan Shalvoy- Accelerated Junior
Jordan Fish- Accelerated Junior
Claire Hahn- Accelerated Junior
Danielle Viggiani- Traditional Junior


Mary Niederlehner helps a child listen to his heart rate.
NSWB members join the women of Guatemala prior to a Mayan ceremony celebrating the students’ work.
Danielle Viggiani and Gwen Edwards show off the nearly finished stove they built.
Meghan Shalvoy takes a woman’s blood pressure during a health screening clinic.
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