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Service Learning

Jun 18th, 2011 Training

My midwifery program has a strong social justice bent. Because of this, service-learning is built into the curriculum in many ways.  This summer I am working with migrant farm workers through a farm worker health clinic. We do general well-child checks with the children at a summer school program during the day an in the evenings we travel to “camps” to provide care for the men (and the occasional woman).

Yes, this is an exhausting experience. And yes, it is hard to be prepared for a midterm immediately when we return. But what I am learning is priceless. You see, I have only a basic Spanish vocabulary. I can muddle through the health visits, but I know how much better the care could be if I was able to speak the language. I know how much faster I could perform a simple episodic history if I understood the nuances of the words being spoken. I can feel how frustrated it is to not be understood, and to not understand.

One thing I’ve always loved about midwifery is the way midwifery goes beyond the routine belly-checks. But with language barriers, midwifery is stuck with the basics. Without being able to truly communicate I lose much of my ability to educate my clients because I lose much of the ability to assess my clients learning needs. This has only reinforced my belief that the best health care must come from individuals already within the community.  They must already understand the nuances of the community to provide the best integration of a health care system.  Just more support for my dream to create midwifery schools around the world.

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Jennifer Vanderlaan CNM MPH is the author of the BirthingNaturally.net website. She has been working with expectant families since 2000, training doulas, childbirth educators, and midwives. She has worked with midwives in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her interest in public health grew in 2010, and she is now a PhD student learning to become a producer of knowledge.

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