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A group of two WIU faculty and seven students spent their spring break week in Ecuador bringing medical services to those living in poverty.
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Spring Break Trip to Ecuador Means Educational Opportunity for WIU Students

April 29, 2019

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MACOMB, IL – An educational spring break trip to Ecuador for students from the Western Illinois University School of Nursing and Department of Social Work not only expanded their educational opportunities, but also brought much-needed health care services to an under-served area.

Seven students, six from nursing and one from social work, and two faculty members traveled to the capitol city of Quito, Ecuador in March. During the weeklong trip, the students and faculty toured private and public hospitals, a college campus and an organic farm, as well as hosted a health fair at Pan de Vida, a charity in the country started by WIU alumnus Oscar Aguirre.

WIU junior nursing student Michaela Leapley, of Liberty, IL, said the trip provided an interesting opportunity to see how the indigenous people of Ecuador treat health care.

"There was one woman who rubbed people with an egg to remove their bad energy," said Leapley. "Another practice used the rubbing of a guinea pig to determine health problems."

The students were struck by the differences in public and private hospitals in the country, which has a high poverty rate.

"In the public hospitals, they had outdoor waiting rooms and hundreds of people in the hallways and there was no air conditioning," said Leapley. "The private hospitals were beautiful, with gorgeous views and infusion rooms with mountain views. The difference is the services at public hospitals are free and the private hospitals are not."

The Pan de Vida health fair, put on by the students, drew about 200 people for health checks. Pan de Vida was started by Aguirre and his wife, Lori, in 2000 as a faith-based foundation to meet the basic needs of residents living in poverty. Aguirre has two master's degrees from WIU, on in economics in 1999, and an MBA in 2000.

WIU junior nursing student Jenna Bryan, of Carthage, IL, said they were surprised by the health conditions of some of the people who came to the fair.

"One girl came in with a glucose level of 490," said Bryan. "With the money we brought for the event we were able to get her to the hospital and get her medication."

Students paid for the trip themselves and were part of the international health care nursing class at Western. They also spent classroom time prior to the trip preparing for the health fair.

Accompanying the students on the trip were School of Nursing Instructor Lindsay White and Lorette Oden, associate dean of the College of Education and Human Services.

"The students did a continuing education inservice for nurses at one of the hospitals on infection control," said White. "They had to use translators to communicate, but the nurses were very engaged in the presentation. They were very receptive to what the students had to say."

The faculty and students said it seemed that the availability of mental health care was lacking in the country and there were no programs to prevent pregnancy.

School of Nursing Director Lea Monahan said WIU partnered with Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) for the trip. Students paid for their own travel through the program, which is helped by a Title VI grant developed by the University's Study Abroad program.

White said it was very eye-opening to see the health care conditions in parts of the country.

"There were many who were malnourished," she said. "The students were all emotionally exhausted at the end of the health fair day. Our translator thanked me for letting her be a part of the event. She lived in Quito and had no idea there was such a need there."

Monahan, White, Oden and Center for International Studies Program Director Pedro Bidegaray have previously traveled to Ecuador through the grant to help set up the study program and develop relationships within the country.

The trip will be offered to WIU students again in 2020. The School of Nursing also offers several other Study Abroad opportunities to its students, including study programs in England and Ireland.

This was the first time WIU students have made the spring break trip to Ecuador.

For more information about the mission of Pan de Vida, visit For more information on the WIU School of Nursing, visit

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Communications & Marketing