Indiana State University Newsroom

Timmy Global trip to Ecuador: ‘It teaches us to care for people’

May 2, 2017

Like so many others in the frigid Midwest, a group of Indiana State University students flew south in January. They were not in pursuit of warmer weather, but to help a community in Ecuador with limited access to healthcare.

Timmy Global Health is a foundation headquartered in Indianapolis that focuses on supporting health care in Latin American countries. There are 50 university chapters, including the Indiana State chapter established in 2012 by a small group of students. In 2015, the group sent four students to Ecuador. In 2016, they sent nine students. A week before classes began this year, 19 Sycamores flew to Ecuador.

"So we've been doubling in size over the years," said Eric Glendening, chemistry and physics chair and faculty advisor for Timmy Global Health on campus.

They currently serve five different areas on the continent and four or five sites within Ecuador. The teams travel to select areas and partner with existing healthcare operations to help deliver health care services to under-served areas.

The students worked with medical professionals from both Ecuador and the United States, with a total of six medical professionals on this trip. These medical professionals worked closely with the students as they set up clinics in remote areas complete with intake stations, vitals and a mobile pharmacy. The students, who came from a variety of backgrounds and specialties, supported the operation in any way they could.

"It's a great opportunity for the students to realize this is really hard work, but it's something that's very special and they come back excited about the experience and it's a highlight or the highlight of their undergraduate experience. So year after year, our plan is to continue to do this," Glendening said.

Timmy Global Health at Indiana State receives support from the Center for Global Engagement's program for faculty-led travel abroad. Global Engagement provides subsidies for the students, who are enrolled in the honors course Global Healthcare Challenges. This class, which meets Thursdays from mid-October through early February, mainly primes students on cultural differences and the history of Ecuador, as well as controversies such as "volun-tourism."

Students do not need to study health care to go on the trip or to join Timmy. Glendening says the majority of students who travel are pre-med students, but nursing and business majors have also joined the trips.

Once students are educated on the culture and people of Ecuador, the Global Healthcare class devotes an evening to a mock clinic. Most of the training students receive for the medical portion is on-the-job -- taking vitals or helping to count pills under the review of a trained pharmacist.

Glendening recalled one student on the trip who had never flown before, and two days later, she was working in a clinic in Ecuador.

"She had a great time -- but it's interesting how quickly it just becomes your new normal. People are people and we don't necessarily speak the same language, but we have the same concerns and the same needs," Glendening said.

Sophomore Star Leonard from Kansas, Ill., has flown on an airplane before. It wasn't the five-hour plane ride to Ecuador that made her nervous; it was the roads.

"The landscape is absolutely beautiful in Ecuador - that is until you are looking at the bottom of a 20,000 foot drop with one tire hanging off the road. However, (our bus driver) Roberto was amazing and we were in great hands," said Leonard, biology/pre-med major specializing in medical laboratory science.

Glendening said although the students were mostly technicians, the medical professionals who accompanied them were appreciative of their help and thought highly of the group from State.

"Every day, it feels like you've expended two days of effort just to run the clinic and then the various chores we have in the evening just to get ready for the next day," he said. "It's very hard work, but this very group of students -- not unlike students from the previous years, they just worked very well together and the medical professionals recognized that and at least one or two of them came to me every day saying this is a special group, and they expressed how much they appreciated their dedication."

Two physicians from Union Hospital travelled with the group from State, including Danielle Cundiff. Every year, Cundiff said, one of the attending physicians at Union Hospital takes a third-year resident on a mission trip. This year, it was her turn.

"I have not had opportunities to do this in the past and thought it would be a wonderful and memorable learning experience," Cundiff said.

Cundiff, one of six medical professionals on the trip, took patient histories with the help of translators, performed physical exams, diagnosed patients and prescribed medicine.

"I was amazed by the professionalism and energy of the ISU students. They were always willing to work hard and with a smile on their face ... their energy level and desire to learn was contagious," said Cundiff.

The trip to Ecuador forced her to be resourceful and revisit the basics of her medical training, Cundiff said. She observed that many of the patients had never seen a physician before.

"It is very easy to sometimes get frustrated with the medical system nowadays," Cundiff said. "I did not have all the medicines and tests that I am used to having such easy access to. This forced me to truly think about what does this patient needs and what do I have access to help them right now."

While running a clinic in the Andes with Timmy Global Health obviously taught Leonard medical skills -- the ins and outs of health care, compliance between stations, the process from patient history to dosage -- it had a larger impact on her personal experience.

"The trip teaches us more than just how to treat patients," Leonard said. "It teaches us how to care for people."

Leonard says that when she packed for the trip, she carefully chose which old shoes to bring that she would mind getting ruined or dirty.

"But the locals walked miles up and down mountains in mud just to be seen. This trip was very humbling, and I hope I speak for more than just myself," Leonard said.

Leonard recalls cleaning up after finishing vitals one day. While waiting for the rest of the crew to finish, Leonard and others went outside to play soccer. Smaller children from the community joined them, playing hopscotch and drawing in the sand with sticks.

"The girls would draw something and ask me to say it in English, and then I would ask them what it was in Spanish and Quechua. We went back and forth, taking turns drawing and saying what the things were in our language," Leonard said.

The girls would repeat the words back in English; Leonard says her attempts were met mostly with giggles, but she expected that. "It was something so simple but it allowed us to communicate despite the language barriers. It was this moment on the last day that I knew I had learned much more than I intended," Leonard said.

Cundiff was also "humbled" by the gratitude of the people of Guangaje, who would walk for hours in their best clothes, wait in line and thank the volunteers for whatever help they could get.

"I feel like the people of Guangaje touched my life far more than I could have theirs and I will always remember this experience," Cundiff said. "For those that are thinking of doing something like this, my advice is: do it. Don't wait, get involved. The experience will last you a lifetime."


Photos: -- Indiana State University students pose for a photograph while in Ecuador as part of Timmy Global Health study abroad experience. -- Indiana State University students pose for a photograph while in Ecuador as part of Timmy Global Health study abroad experience. -- A llama is seen in the Ecuador countryside during a study abroad experience by Indiana State University students participating in a Timmy Global Health trip.

Writer: Kristen Kilker, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, or 812-237-3773

Media contact: Eric Glendening, chair, Department of Chemistry and Physics, or 812-237-2235