Fun and rewarding are two adjectives not usually associated with providing lice treatment to children. But when able to provide lice treatment to economically poor children who live in the remote rainforest of Ecuador, everyone who participated expressed enjoyment of the opportunity. Why, one might ask? As one nursing student stated, “As for the lice treatments, the children were incredible. To have so little and at the same time, be infested with lice, yet be so happy was truly remarkable.”
During the summers, Kathryn Smith, RN, MS leads a transcultural nursing course to the country of Ecuador for HCC students and students from other community colleges. Nursing students participate in a variety of activities with all ages. On their return to the United States, the students report the experiences with the elderly and the children are their favorite. The public health nurses in the rainforest told us that head lice is a very common problem with the children and the treatment is very expensive and limited availability. The public health nurses plan the communities which will receive the lice treatments, many of which are very remote. Two of the four communities to which we went were 30 to 40 minutes via bus on rocky/dirt roads off the main road. As we were finishing the lice treatment in one of these communities at the end of the road, on top of a hill in beautiful lush surroundings, the nurse told us that this was the first time a foreign group had ever been to this community.
So how is lice treatment provided to a community? When the group arrives in a community, they first meet the school leader and teachers and discuss the process. Next, the source of water for rinsing must be located. It is amazing how a water source can be such a challenge. Many times in these communities, there is a faucet which is shared by many. Other times the water source is the water from the river. The teachers or mom will find the group water large and small buckets. The group sets up stations for the children; shampoo, wait for prescribed amount of time, rinsing, combing/picking and final station beauty salon.
Before the treatment begins, the students and teachers are taught about lice, transmission and how to prevent re-infestation. Additionally, culturally appropriate written materials are given to the children and/or parents. Most of the children have a few lice with a few of the children having significant infestations. The leftover lice treatment and combs are given to the public health nurse or a responsible teacher for follow-up of children with the more significant infestations. The group realizes that the treatment is not a permanent resolution to the problem, but the children and families are so grateful for the relief. Approximately 180 children from four communities received lice treatment.
Through this service learning project, the students learn to work together, recognition and removal of lice and knits. But beyond those valuable lessons, they learn to communicate even without knowledge of the language and how to respect other cultures than their own.
“Many of those in Ecuador live in poverty, strive to put food on their tables and may have to travel miles for medical care or hope that natural treatments work for their illnesses. The interesting part to this is that many of the people I met in Ecuador seemed happy with their way of life. They were doing what had to be done to survive, brought joy to those around them … including me” stated
Rinsing lice shampoo with water from bucket.
One happy child & public health nurse after lice treatment