Project Belize is rich training ground for East Texas nursing students

Jul 23, 2015

Fall classes at Panola College are another month away, but Chandler Brooks, 22, of Carthage, Texas, is eager to get back into the classroom to finish up her final year of nursing school. Earlier this summer, she spent a week in the remote villages of Belize delivering basic medical care through the Nacogdoches-based Project Belize. Her group saw almost 1,000 patients.

Panola College nursing student Chelsea Salas of Carthage, Texas, helps villagers in Belize.
Credit Panola College submitted

“Getting to see all the kids, I feel a lot more comfortable with my pediatric patients that I’ll see in this semester and forever in my career. I feel so much more confident in the cultures, medically, and getting to see firsthand how it really works in a facility like that,” Brooks said, who learned about Project Belize before entering nursing school.

Panola College’s dean of nursing and health sciences Barbara Cordell has gone on Project Belize mission trips for 20 years. Cordell says the nonprofit is especially in need of a dentist who’s willing to trek through the rainforest for hours to get to patients. In addition, it’s always in need of donated medical supplies and vitamins. The nearest hospital could be 50 miles away.

“Of course, we don’t have sterile conditions, but we do the best we can to treat what we find. A lot of times we’ll see someone who has cut themselves with a machete and it’s become very infected. We’ll debride that wound and give them antibiotics,” Cordell said.

The medical team bathes in a river using biodegradable soap, sleeps in bunks sheltered by mosquito nets, and hikes two to four hours a day to get to villages far off the grid. Brooks doesn’t mince words.

Chandler Brooks (from left) of Carthage, Texas; Susan Hardy of Shreveport, La.; Christina Caudle of Shreveport, La.; nursing instructor Amanda Bickham and Panola Dean of Nursing Barbara Cordell stand outside Laugh Out Loud Ministry in Belize's Toledo Bend district.
Credit Panola College submitted

“Sweating with our packs, muddy, mosquitoes, trees with spines -- it was just crazy to get there. You finally get there and meet these people and you come to this paradise of a village of grass huts with dirt bottoms and these amazing kids,” Brooks said.

Four Panola College nursing students went on the mission this year. Cordell wishes all nursing students could have this experience.

“We don’t have any high-tech equipment in Belize. They have to use their basic assessment skills -- eyes, ears, hands -- to assess these people. It’s just wonderful to watch them blossom, become more confident and hear from them when they come back that this is a life-changing experience,” Cordell said.

Planning is underway for next year’s trip that is set for May 22 to June 2. Project Belize has been in existence for nearly 30 years.