UNM nursing student at work in Kenya clinic
UNM nursing student Shelby Thomas treats a patient at a clinic in Western Kenya.

On a hot summer day in Albuquerque a cold treat can go a long way. All the way to Africa, in the case of eight University of New Mexico nursing students.

“Little things make the biggest difference,” said one of those students, Nicole Elliott.

She and the others will be selling ice cream as part of a July 25 fundraiser  - one that will help pay for an upcoming medical trip to Western Kenya. The fundraiser will take place in front of the UNM Health Sciences Library and Informatics Center from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

“I’d like to see how on an individual basis I could connect with somebody and change their life for the better,” said Elliott, who is passionate about educating African girls and women on health issues.

The trip is an annual mission for Judith Harris, a UNM assistant professor of nursing. For the past three years she’s taken students to a rural clinic outside the town of Oyugis.

That clinic - started by some African widows who lost their families to HIV and AIDS - is now a health care mecca for thousands of ailing Africans. “Emotionally it can be very hard for me,” Harris said as she fought back tears. “We see lots of orphans.”

Harris says the lack of access to affordable health care draws patients from neighboring communities who are looking for free or low- cost health care. “They line up early in the morning outside the clinic. They are the most patient people I have ever met in my life.”

Harris and her students will walk three miles each way to and from the clinic to treat 2,200 Africans suffering from fractured limbs, infected wounds, ear infections and a host of other conditions and diseases. “It is so intensive," Harris said of the eight days of clinical experience her nursing students will get. "They become very skilled at doing (clinical work)."

In addition to medical care, the Albuquerque team will also provide education on a myriad of health issues including nutrition, dental hygiene, infection prevention and HIV/AIDS.

Many of these patients have never seen a doctor, according to Harris.  “Older people especially are very stalwart about their health care so they buck up and deal with it,” she said.

Students have held several fundraisers to offset the cost of the trip - $4,000 per student. As they prepare for their journey to Kenya they are also learning about the challenges that come with fundraising for a cause, according to Harris. They’ve been raising money from bake sales, car washes and raffles. “These are simple ways of trying to earn money," she said. "But it’s difficult. It’s very difficult.”

Most of these students are also using personal funds, along with money from family and friends to make the trip a reality. “You've got to have some good connections. It's all about networking," said Elliott, adding that some local businesses have donated to the cause. "It’s really nice to see that side of businesses."

“The best part of fundraising is when I can explain to people why we are doing what we are doing,” says Yeshemabet Turner, an African American student whose life has been influenced by African education and experiences from her travels to Africa. “I just want to help my people.”

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal, because you never know when you're going to get a chance to go back," added nursing student Matthew Grindstaff.

Those who visit the student's fundraising table on July 25 can purchase an ice cream for a three dollar donation. They can also provide medical supplies including over the counter pain medications, bandages, adhesive tape, gauze, toothpaste and toothbrushes.

The trip is a collaboration with Project Helping Hands, a U.S based non-profit that provides medical care and health education to people in developing countries.

To donate medical supplies contact Judith Harris at 505-272-5948. You can also support future trips by donating to the Judith Harris Global Health Fund at UNM Foundation.