Digging Deep in Guatemala and Romania

Published on 16 August 2018

As each brick was laid and each gap was filled with cement, P3 student Carrie Reilly could feel each beneficiary’s excitement as the homes they were patiently waiting for were nearing completion.

As part of St. Louis College of Pharmacy’s international service learning courses, Reilly has had the opportunity to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in Guatemala and Romania. Both experiences gave her the chance to travel the globe, learning about other cultures and the diverse patient populations within them.

Each course began with classroom instruction, before Reilly and her classmates were sent overseas for the two-week service portion of the courses.

“In each of my international service learning courses, we learned about the importance of digging deep to better understand your patients,” she said. “Getting to know your patients and their diverse backgrounds allows you to build trust – ultimately making you a better health care professional.”

While in Guatemala, Reilly worked side-by-side with her peers and Habitat for Humanity volunteers digging trenches to help make a home earthquake proof. Once the trenches were dug, the volunteers formed an assembly line to manually mix concrete and transport it via bucket brigade. During one of the work days, Reilly had the opportunity to meet the beneficiary of the house she was working on. To show appreciation, the beneficiary and their family welcomed Reilly and her team into their current home, as they waited for their new Habitat for Humanity house to be finished.

“Seeing where the family lived allowed me to put myself in their shoes,” Reilly said. “It motivated me to work hard every day knowing that we were getting closer and closer to providing the family with a clean, safe and comfortable living space.”

For the benefitting family, the new living environment was designed to be emotionally rewarding, while also making a positive impact on their health.

“We are not just building houses – we are building homes,” Reilly added. “We are connecting with people, gaining an understanding of different cultures and seeing firsthand how societal influences make an impact on health outcomes in other countries. As a future pharmacist, I plan to use this experience to better connect with my patients.”

Over the years, Reilly’s travels have taken her to a number of exotic places and her work has made a global impact.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping others, and I have been a part of volunteer initiatives domestically and internationally,” she said. “I have volunteered with the Ann Van Dyk Cheetah and Wildlife Centre in South Africa, and with International Student learning, an organization dedicated to caring for children. I’ve also volunteered at a number of soup kitchens, providing meals to those in need.”

This past May, Reilly was selected to serve as the student leader for a College-sponsored international service learning course focused on helping individuals in Romania.

Once again, Reilly packed up her passport and headed to the airport. This time, she lead a team of 11 students alongside faculty leader, Ken Schafermeyer, B.S. ’76, M.S., Ph.D., professor of pharmacy administration and director of international programs.

The team, along with other Habitat for Humanity volunteers, carried buckets of concrete and hoisted them up onto scaffolding while other team members filled in the gaps between the bricks. Throughout their two weeks in Romania, the team worked together on three different houses.

“You could see the progress of each house as we worked on it,” she said. “You could see the shape of the house form, the stairs being built. It was exciting to see each one be built up brick by brick.”

In Romania, Habitat for Humanity beneficiaries are required to complete a minimum of 1,000 hours of volunteer work in order to apply for a house. Even after completing the minimum amount of volunteer hours, there is no guarantee that they will be awarded a house.

“Our team worked with a volunteer who was working toward completing his volunteer hours,” she said. “When he wasn’t volunteering, he worked at a perfume store in Constanta, and on one of our last days working together, he presented my team and I with two bottles of perfume to take home with us. It was heartwarming to know how much he appreciated us.”

Reilly notes that she will carry this moment of kindness with her for the rest of her life.

“Every detail counts when building a house,” she said. “Every detail also counts when working with patients, whether that be giving a smile to someone who has had a bad day, recommending the appropriate medication or even just getting to know someone’s story.”

To learn more about international programs, visit stlcop.edu/international.

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