BY JESSICA BLACKBURN | PHOTO BY SYDNEY GIFFORD
Edgewood College’s Cambodia Service Learning project is trying to recruit more non-nursing majors for the January 2018 and May/June 2018 trips.
The program has always been open for other majors, but 95 percent of the students who attend are nursing majors. Claude Rochon, certified pediatric nurse and assistant professor at Edgewood’s School of Nursing, has been traveling to Cambodia since 2007 and started the service learning program in 2013.
“I truly believe it doesn’t matter what kind of student they are, there is a benefit in going,” he said.
Rochon quit recruiting after the first few trips because the numbers were so high, but he has always wanted more non-nursing students to experience this type of cultural service project. Rochon said that now Edgewood has a paper copy of the newspaper again, this is a nice way to spread the word and recruit students who aren’t part of the nursing program and haven’t heard about this travel and service option.
Registered Pediatric Nurse and former Edgewood College student Loriell Johnson said, “It was an eye-opening, amazing experience and I think nursing majors benefit more from it, but it’s an experience for everyone.”
Nursing students practice medical assessments in Cambodia within the scope of practice and licensure as they would in the United States, but there are also opportunities to make a difference for non-nursing students.
Rochon said a business major could use it as a senior project and run the budget. Women and gender studies majors could develop programs like a feminine hygiene project for women and girls since developing countries don’t often have access to these products or knowledge.
Religious studies majors could study at the largest temple in the world, which is located in Cambodia. Science majors could create water purifying filters among other projects, and English and education majors have opportunities to teach English pronunciation in schools. Rochon said, “Service learning is supposed to be a true partnership meaning the host countries gain as much as you do.”
The trip is expensive, but Rochon said compared to taking a vacation for the amount of days that the trip lasts, this opportunity is much cheaper. Last year attendees paid $2,100 plus plane fare. The trip cost $3,150 total for the 18 days spent in Cambodia. The rate covers 95-99 percent of the expenses.
Tim Abendroth, a Marriage and Family Therapy, Substance Abuse Counseling Master’s Program student, said both times he was able to have his expenses paid through his ability to fundraise.
“My hometown community was a tremendous help in that front. I was also able to utilize resources here in Madison as well. It seems daunting at the time, but if you put some time and effort into reaching out and participating in some events, you can make these trips very possible and affordable.”
Rochon said some students receive donations from their churches, friends and families, doctors and dentists. Some have received the money as graduation gifts. Amber Smid, registered nurse and former Edgewood College student, has gone on the trip several times.
“The first two trips, I was able to fundraise most of the cost for each of them,” Smid said. “$3,000-4,000 is a lot of money for anyone—especially for a college student. It is amazing how much the community will support you if you let your mission be known. I wrote letters to family and friends and also presented at a couple community organizations (such as Rotary) and also at some of my hometown churches.”
Recruiting students who aren’t nursing majors opens up new ways of providing service. “Involving students of other majors is beneficial because it brings other perspectives to the trip,” Abendroth said. “Not only from their respective majors, but how they can contribute and improve these service trips that wasn’t made known before. It can add onto our impact over in Cambodia, and that is the ultimate goal—to have the biggest positive impact that we can possibly have.”
The program focuses on introducing Cambodian culture to students. The required Fall semester class provides opportunities to read about and study the culture, as well as, meet with guest speakers from Cambodia who are brought in for discussions.
There is at least one nurse, faculty member, or somebody who has gone before for every five students. According to Rochon, there are very few safety concerns, and Cambodia was recently voted the #1 friendliest country to travel to.
Abendroth said he felt nothing but acceptance and a welcoming presence. “If you go there with an open mind and aren’t afraid to step out of your comfort zone, you’ll truly have a great time,” he said. “If you want to see a very humbling yet beautiful culture and escape the cold for a few weeks [in January], this trip is quite honestly a trip of a lifetime.”
The service learning project was honored once by the Anchor Hospital in Siem Reap, Cambodia, because Edgewood was one of the few organizations that provided more to Cambodia than Cambodia did for Edgewood.The Cambodian government also honored Edgewood for its service to children.
Students who are interested should contact Rochon with questions, and students who are graduating in May 2017 are still welcome to attend the 2018 trips. Edgewood allows graduated students to go on the trip as a student and allows coverage under the Edgewood College policy.
Smid said anyone would benefit from the experience, no matter the major. “They may not have the assessment skills that nursing students are learning, but they will be able to utilize many of their other unique qualities that each individual carries. They will able be able to learn and see things that many people never get to experience in a lifetime.”