Orland Park nurse developing health curriculum for Haiti schools
BY DONNA VICKROY email@example.com March 9, 2012 10:40PM
Donna Rehm, a nurse at High Point School, shows off a language translator on her phone which she used while in Haiti, while talking about her trip at the school in Orland Park, Ill., on Friday March 2, 2012. She was helping to develop a health curriculum in the schools there. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 12, 2012 9:47AM
Donna Rehm quickly learned that one person may not be able to directly help a country full of poor, malnourished people. But through education, one person can help all of those people help themselves.
Rehm, team leader of nursing services for Orland School District 135 and a nurse at High Point School in Orland Park, recently spent four days in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, gathering information for a disease-prevention health curriculum project, organized by the American Federation of Teachers.
“This curriculum is something I can give the Haitians that is more valuable than a dollar here or a dollar there,” she said.
There is very little discussion of health topics in Haitian classrooms, she said.
“Sure, people know to wash their hands, but there is no follow-through,” she said. “When a case of cholera is discovered, government officials come in once to explain things, but that’s it. They don’t come back to see how the students are doing.”
Rehm said she and a school nurse from Cleveland have been assigned to develop an ongoing health curriculum that focuses on disease prevention and personal hygiene and that spans multiple grade levels.
On their fact-finding mission from Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, they met with teachers, students and health officials.
“The kids were just delightful; they treated us like celebrities,” she said. “They had so much energy and were so happy to be at school, where they got a meal and there were bathrooms. They really like school. That gave me so much hope for Haiti.”
Rehm and her partner are working the information they culled into lesson plans. They will return to Haiti in June to present their curriculum to teachers from different regions of the country.
They plan to address disease issues specific to Haiti, such as cholera, tuberculosis, typhoid and malaria. The World Health Organization and several nongovernmental organizations already have provided some information regarding these illnesses, but the nurses plan to work it into the school curriculum, Rehm said.
They also plan to use lots of graphics to make the information reader-friendly and age-appropriate.
“We understand that there are limited resources,” said Rehm, who is married and has two children. “We can’t always give the teachers the resources they need but we can give them the knowledge and show them how to be better advocates for their own health care.
“Knowing what you need and what you need to advocate for is a start,” she said.
The project will include making brochures that can be sent home to parents.
Knowing she is helping for the long term takes some of the sting out of having to walk away from the many people who approached her during her stay.
“It was overwhelming,” she said.
At one point, she was snapping pictures in the downtown area when a man approached carrying a little girl who bore some serious scars. She was about to hand him some money when she suddenly found herself surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of people, all wanting something.
“It quickly became a mob scene, and we had to get in the car and leave,” she said. “It was very sad.”