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Altering perspective: Worth woman studying nursing has life-changing experience in Kenya

  • Written by Emily Szymanski

PG3 kenya 3colWorth resident Sarah Strycker visited Kenya in the spring as part of a student-nursing team from Chamberlain College of Nursing in Chicago

A Shepard High School alum working toward a career in nursing returned last month from an African trip she said has changed her life.

Sarah Strycker visited Nairobi, Kenya, for two weeks in late April and early May with 14 other students from the Chamberlain College of Nursing in Chicago. The Worth resident and 2002 Shepard graduate provided health care to residents who live in the slums of the nation’s capital and largest city.

Strycker was in Nairobi, home to some 3 million people, as part of coursework that requires her to fulfill multiculturalism and community health courses as she works toward a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She is one of many students at Chamberlain who have traveled abroad to work at clinics that serve impoverished people.

Strycker had always known she wanted to work in the medical field and convinced to pursue a degree in nursing after her grandmother became sick and was hospitalized, she said. Strycker realized her grandmother’s mood was directly related to which nurse was attending to her on a particular day. Motivated and inspired by this realization, Strycker was determined to provide the best care and positivity to help patients recover.

Enabled by a newfound passion for helping sick persons, Stryker could not pass up the opportunity to travel abroad and work with those who do not have access to basic health care. After undergoing serious training, Strycker and her fellow nursing students left April 27 for Kenya. Each student was armed with a bag containing of medical supplies obtained through the donations from family and friends.

After arriving in the slums of Nairobi, Strycker encountered a world that is vastly different than the one she in which she lives here in the United States, she explained. Her new surroundings featured a few small buildings and nearby shops merchants erected in the early hours of the morning. Children were walking through the streets, carrying babies on their backs. Strycker had expected to see an unfamiliar environment, but a few aspects particularly caught her by surprise.   

“I didn’t realize that the slums would be so close to the city, nor so compact,” Strycker said. “But even more surprising was all of the pollution. I will never forget the smell.”

Strycker described the slums as having garbage everywhere, with trash lining the streets. The air is heavily polluted because of Nairobians’ use of coal for everyday tasks such as cooking, and causes or contributes to a variety of illnesses.

“We treated many cases of itchy eyes and chest congestion as a result from all the pollution,” Strycker recalled.

Medical teams from the Ross University School of Medicine set up clinics at schools in the slums. The medical care was free to the public, and patients were invited to come by first thing in the morning. Some people waiting in line the entire day just to get vitamins. The volunteer medical team treated people with skin diseases, malaria and suspected cases of tuberculosis. Using a contingency fund, the students were able to pay for a 2-year-old girl to undergo cataract surgery. A student from Strycker’s team, Sarah Turner, held a fundraiser on Facebook for a man who had been living with a broken leg for an entire year. With help from family members and friends, they were able to fund his surgery.

One case that Strycker holds close to her heart involved a young girl and a deep cut on her foot. The medical team did not have the necessary medical equipment to numb the infected area and further treat it, but they cleaned the wound and provided antibiotic cream. Strycker was touched by how the girl and her mother were eager for even the slightest bit of medical attention. Like all of the patients the students served, the mother and daughter expressed gratitude and appreciation for the care they received, she said.

The Chamberlain team treated a large number of patients, and leaving was bittersweet on May 12, Strycker said. The International Nursing Service Project through which the students volunteered may allow the nurses-to-be to return one day to a permanent clinic. If the plans are able to be carried out, there will be an opportunity for Chamberlain students to visit Nairobi and train slum residents how to provide health care. This way, the people will be able to have free clinics available for more than just a few weeks a year, Strycker said.

Strycker’s experience provided her a sense of gratitude and an appreciation for other cultures. Although most of the patients she treated speak English, translators were available for those that speak Swahili. Having to work with a language barrier made it necessary for her to exercise more patience, a beneficial skill in nursing, she added.

With intentions of pursing either pediatrics or emergency care, Strycker will not forget her experience and everything she learned from her trip to Kenya, she said. The lessons and skills she gained from her experience will make her a better nurse, she said. 

Returning to the United States was more of a culture shock for Strycker than her actual arrival to Kenya, she said.

“Coming back home made me feel guilty for everything that I have,” Strycker explained. “But it made me appreciate the little everyday things like running water and being able to brush my teeth using water from my faucet.”