OkaZHI: Okanagan-Zambia Health Initiative

Zambia – The REAL Africa!

Hello to family and friends following our journey,

Jackie and myself have the privilege to share and guide the journey of 12 young women through this international clinical experience in Zambia. To introduce myself, my name is Jessica Barker – the reason that some of you may not have met me face to face is that I am currently living in Cape Town, South Africa and pursuing my Masters of Public Health at the University of Cape Town. I am also a graduate of UBCO School of Nursing, and was one of the first groups to head to Ghana in my 4thyear of nursing in 2007. As you can see from the blog entries, an international nursing practicum can be a challenging yet life-changing experience. I very much resonate with the student experience, because six years ago… that was me! At the time in 2007, I had never been out of North America, and this was my chance to see another part of the world and grow my nursing practice. In Ghana, I encountered many of the same experiences our students discuss in this blog. I fell in love with the continent, the people, the culture -all of it. What an experience and it totally changed my life path.


Jackie and Jess enjoying some down time in Mongu

Since graduating from UBCO, I have actively pursued my love of teaching, and expanded my global nursing experiences to other countries including: Nicaragua, Zambia and South Africa. The opportunity for Zambia came in 2008, and for six months I came to Mongu, Western Province and volunteered as a nursing instructor at Lewanika School of Nursing. At the time, we were not bringing UBCO nursing students, but the interest in global health and international experiences within the program was growing. I called up my colleague Fay Karp, who as Associate Professor within the School of Nursing, and said ‘Come to Zambia..it would be perfect for nursing students!’ Guess what? She came only a couple months later to assess the site. Our first group of UBCO nursing students came to Zambia in 2010, and since that time we have supervised over 75 students in Zambia. In my view it is a wonderful opportunity to engage with our Zambian colleagues and an opportunity to develop a collaborative exchange between Canadian and Zambian partners. At the core of this program are values of community development, empowerment, capacity building- which translates to truly listening and valuing others’ contributions from a grassroots perspective. In my Masters program, I have been consolidating my learning on population health, primary health care, epidemiology, health policy, health system strengthening, and advocacy – with a goal of improving health care in a limited resource setting. I thread this new found knowledge into the curriculum for our UBCO nursing students. These are all issues that are at the forefront of practice in Zambia, and as you can see from our student blogs, are often issues that challenge nurses coming from a Canadian context.

Health care and health care delivery in Canada is not perfect- but the beauty of global healthis how the issues that challenge us as a country, can also be relevant in Zambia. It allows students the opportunity to merge and/or draw parallels from experiencing two very different health system settings. The beauty of this practicumis that it allows students (maybe for the first time in their life), to really think about life for people in other parts of the world. These are no longer pictures that you are seeing on a TV from your home in Canada, but these patients and people are now right in front of you. Finally HIV has a face, a story. You realize these people have families, a career, and a life that matters. You are frustrated knowing that their life will be shorter now, because of the constraints facing the health system in Zambia. You are hit hard when you realize the only difference between us and them, is where you are born. Then you think, wow this 31 year old patient that just tested positive for HIV could have been me.

I admire my Zambian colleagues, they are constantly having to adapt in these limited resourced settings. Their ingenuity and drive to advocate for the health of their people is inspiring. They are trying hard and often it is an uphill battle -but they are doing their best with what they have. Many ask me why I continue to come back to Zambia, and my answer is always because of the people, my colleagues. It is also selfish, because as much as people think I come over here to ‘help’, the reality is…I’m the one who is changed. The Zambians are the ones ‘helping’ me. They are constantly teaching and growing my nursing practice and they challenge me to be a better teacher.

I am proud of how this program continues to grow and proud of each one of our twelve nursing students that have taken on this Zambian experience. To their loved ones back home, you should all be beaming ear-to-ear knowing how they are representing themselves, our school of nursing, and our country. Thanks to all for reading this blog and being our constant sources of support!

~Jessica (+ Jackie!)

One Response to “Zambia – The REAL Africa!”

  1. Unknown

    Dear Jess, Jackie, and all of our UBCO Zambia Team,

    It has become my regular Saturday morning treat to read this blog and catch up on all of your rich stories and deep reflections about your latest week in Mongu and Western Province. Having read them all, so many thoughts flood my mind. Ali & Savannah, your posting about working with the Kukoos at Lihana’s center, and the vivid realization of their situations raising orphan granchildren of AIDS – certainly does illustrate first hand the links between poverty, risky behaviors (to survive), health equity, and HIV/AIDS. Lauren, Shawnel, Caitlin, Leah, and Caitlin, you have given us your stark examples of the overwhelming burden of care that can be placed on one nurse in a village or Mongu ART clinic, or in any kind of clinic. But you have also seen first hand how family step up for each other in ways we could learn from, when they can. Aileen, you have had to experience how that’s not always possible with your story about orphaned children having to manage their own ART and even more heartbreaking, their own lives. All of you have conveyed appreciation for the Zambian colleagues you are working with and learning from – and it is good to know, Aryn and Darien, that you can see like Jess and Jackie the value of what we learn from them. Sarah and Robyn, I could feel your own inspiration in your story of developing IP collaboration with the Zambia physicians. As Jackie might say, keep asking yourself: what is culture? what is context (historical, political, economic, etc) – and how do the two interact to contribute to the realities you are now seeing with your own eyes? To borrow from your great story Aryn, Darien, maybe “it is just a matter of looking”. and (to paraphrase Jess), realizing that while you are striving every day to contribute to change for the better, you are the ones who are changed – being helped into becoming the best nurses and people you can be. Lucky you, lucky all of your future patients.

    Enjoy your hard earned weekend all – and keep writing,

    Tricia Marck

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