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North Shore community college students traveling to Nicaragua for a cause

Flu shot? Check. Vaccinations? Check. Mosquito repellant? Check. These are some of the precautions students at Oakton Community College are taking as they prepare to leave for Nicaragua on a weeklong global brigade to help those in need May 23-31.

The idea of the trip was first conceived in August 2015, when Students of Global Health and Sustainability was formed.

The group will consist of approximately 30 students in addition to the leadership provided by three faculty members. Among those gearing up for the trip in the final month before departure is Northbrook resident Tressa Graehling.

“This trip will allow myself to see how this part of the world functions on a day-to-day basis and see firsthand how my efforts affect the communities,” she said.

Having a chance to travel overseas will not be a first for the Oakton Community College senior. Now 24, Graehling thinks having the opportunity to travel to another country was one of her most fond memories as an undergraduate student at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. In the summer of 2012, she previously traveled to Bogota, Columbia to teach English and Portuguese to children living in an orphanage.

“I decided I wanted to make a difference and my mother helped me connect with family of a fellow parishioner,” she said. “I traveled on my own and put myself in an unfamiliar environment and enjoyed every second of it.”

The trip to Nicaragua in May will allow students to engage in a number of different activities, including opportunities to shadow local and foreign health professionals and run a mobile medical clinic, as well as participate in discussions and educational workshops.

The cost to each student’s personal traveling expenses amounts to a minimum of $1,500, plus other costs that come with going on a global brigade.

Christine Feighery, a nursing teacher at Oakton Community College, said costs and risks have been weighed in the months leading up to the trip, but some hold more value than others.

She said there are a number of benefits to going on the brigade, including offering opportunities to teach others, to communicate with people from different countries and to provide context for lessons learned in the classroom.

According to the Center for Disease and Control, Nicaragua is one country where cases of Zika virus have been pinpointed.

It’s unclear if any people infected with the virus may cross paths with students. In response to those concerns raised, Feighery said it’s not out of the realm of possibility that students would do what they could to provide assistance.

“We don’t really know what we’re going to come across,” she said. “I think our nursing students have learned some assessment skills.”

She added that students are not trained in all the necessary skills to assist in that situation.

When questioned about some of the worries people may hold, Feighery said the group rests assured they will be traveling to Nicaragua for a good cause.

“It’s more of a wellness-oriented trip, not crisis,” she said. “The purpose of these brigades is to go to these spots and help set up clinics.”

As a nurse practitioner by trade, Feighery said the exposure to young people is significant, and is what helps her to remember that helping others is the ultimate goal.

“Students are pretty excited,” she said. “Students’ hopes were shattered when we heard about how much money we would need. If you had asked me a month ago, I would’ve said ‘No, we won’t be going.’”

Feighery said Oakton has never sent students on a trip like this and faculty are really interested, adding how this brigade could be the beginning of many more opportunities of this magnitude.

As a nursing major at Oakton Community College, Graehling sees many ways in which the trip will be valuable to her, and is hoping to put skills learned while in the classroom to use in real world situations.

“I plan on using my hospital skills in Nicaragua to help those in need,” she said. “I plan on helping by translating, providing care in triage and assisting doctors any way possible. I have seen much during my time in clinicals and feel like I can format these skills in a way to help as much as possible.”

Being on the Board of Education for the college’s student organization “Students of Global Health and Sustainability,” Graehling has played a part in preparing the group early on with tips from my her previous travel experience and providing Spanish lessons to strengthen the club’s skills for the trip.

She said there’s a lot of excitement seen in others as well as anxiety in preparing for the trip.

“In light of the Zika virus incident, we are taking many precautions to keep our safety in mind while serving others,” she said. “Along with following the CDC’s guidelines, we are hosting a Permethrin party to spray people’s clothes before the trip, bringing plenty of DEET and eucalyptus lemon spray, as well as bringing mosquito netting.

“We will remind each other daily about keeping up with reapplication of the sprays as well as keeping in mind our clothing choices that will decrease or eliminate the risk.”

She added that she has been researching information for the group to keep everyone informed on the subject.

Graehling said she graduates in May and hopes to gain knowledge and experience she can apply to future opportunities.

“I would love to learn more about growing opportunities available and apply my degrees towards these service projects, while gathering others and promoting a step towards global health,” she said.

In counting down the days to the trip, Graehling added that she and her friends are looking forward to the adventures they’ll be able to share and tell.

“A few friends and I took the initiative to buy our own ticket home at a later date to stay in Nicaragua longer to create our own adventure and help any way possible,” she said. “We decided and bought the tickets with no idea where this would take us, but it is exciting to think about. I will look back on this trip and have the same astounding feelings I have toward my previous trips.”

The student-funded program is still raising money to buy medication and supplies for the trip. If interested in making a donation, visit and search for “Oakton Community College.”

Contributions can also be forwarded through U.S. mail to “Oakton Community College” and sent to Christine Feighery, Division 1, OCC, 1600 E. Golf Rd, DesPlaines, IL 60016.

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