Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by Tonya Hawk, the Northeast Ohio Region District Representative and a student at the Aultman College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” — Nelson Mandela
My natural passion for learning and academic success took me across the globe to South Africa in May 2017 as a Nursing and Healthcare Delegate for the International Scholar Laureate Program (ISLP). This opportunity opened my eyes to a bigger world, and I hope to inspire others to broaden their horizons to possibilities the world has to offer.
In the classroom, there are lessons throughout an educational career that discuss cultural differences, politics, and religion; however, experiencing life in other parts of the world firsthand is the most effective way to gain a better understanding of how the world works.
I was initially skeptical of the invitation, but I investigated the information and discovered that it was a real opportunity. I had the option to choose between Australia or South Africa — I chose South Africa because I was working on a research project for HIV/AIDS in a public health course at the time, and South Africa has one of the world’s largest HIV/AIDS populations.
Before I began nursing school at Aultman College, I became interested in epidemiology and global health. I initially pursued a degree in public health at another university, however, life situations prompted me to put the degree on hold. The ISLP experience reawakened those ideas I thought were only a dream, and made my desire to gain a global perspective on health a reality.
Some things I want to emphasize about my experience are the incredibly strong believers and amazing people I was surrounded by during my time in South Africa. Being with people who had similar interests and passions that I do was rewarding.
Also, as a Nursing and Healthcare Delegate in ISLP, I was amazed at the nursing skill level in South Africa. Nursing students there are delivering babies and suturing as students. In the U.S., these are skills are practiced by doctors and advanced nurse practitioners/prescribers and are considered out of the scope of practice for ASN or BSN nursing students.
I had a moment of awakening as I realized the basic privileges we take for granted here in the U.S. They lack basic resources such as clean water and medical supplies. Healthcare professionals in South Africa call themselves “slaves to the patients” due to working 30-hour shifts three days a week and having to volunteer their time after they reach the maximum hours of payment. These working conditions are illegal in the U.S.
The strong faith in the culture of South Africa is incredible. When people are sick, they seek advice from the pastor or priest first. In the U.S. we go to a doctor or hospital. Healthcare professionals educate pastors and priests in order to relay medical education to the community in South Africa. Spiritual healers were unique to the villages of South Africa, which was interesting.
My life truly was transformed from this experience, and I hope to encourage others to take the opportunity of ISLP if it is offered. The experience is costly; however, reaching out to the community and the organizations I actively participate and engage in helped supply the means for me to afford to go.
I did a fundraiser on my own by making and raffling off a basket. I worked two jobs to bring in more income. The church I belong to helped sponsor me. I reached out to alumni of the Aultman College of Nursing and Health Sciences, where I am studying for my nursing degree.
ISLP has a scholarship available that I encourage students to apply for. I am a single mother, and I found a way to make it happen. I have an excellent support system of family, friends, and community that helped to make everything possible. When you want something, you have to work for it. Go make it happen — opportunities and possibilities are waiting on you!