Play It Forward: Rush Students Build Playground as Global Health Efforts Expand

As part of a global health outreach trip earlier this year, students from each of Rush University’s four colleges helped build a playground for more than 50 children being cared for at an orphanage in a post-earthquake resettlement community in Jerusalem, Haiti. In addition, the Rush contingent provided much-needed health education and development assessments.

Rush students worked with a local mason and community volunteers to build the playground. They also partnered with local leaders, among them Madame La Fleur, the orphanage’s founder and the children’s primary caretaker, who has helped create a sense of community at the orphanage despite the surrounding hardship.

“They look and act more like a family unit than children who were forced to survive together,” says Harrison Pidgeon, a third-year student at Rush Medical College. “It is amazing that Madame La Fleur has been able to give them a safe place surrounded by so much chaos where they can grow, develop and play.”

Pidgeon and nine other students formed a team taking part in Rush’s annual global health service trip. This year, Rush’s Office of Global Health expanded its efforts, creating the new Rush Interdisciplinary Service-Learning Experience, or RISE, to incorporate a more structured curriculum to the community service component of the annual trip. Students received more formal instruction on ethics and cultural competency — respecting health beliefs and cultural differences of people in diverse populations — in preparation for the trip.

“Our training prior to setting foot in Haiti helped put us in position to make a difference,” says Sara Steward, a student in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Rush University College of Nursing. “The trip was an amazing experience. I certainly plan on participating in more global health trips in the future.”

The Rush group used what it learned before the trip to interact with the children at the orphanage more effectively, teaching them about reproductive health, how to make healthy food choices and the importance of good hygiene. Participants from Rush also performed physical, language, intellectual, social and emotional evaluations to see if the children’s development was in line with where they should be for their age.

“Global service and learning experiences open students up to new cultures and different ways of living,” says Jacqueline Lagman, RN, MSN, CNL, program manager, Office of Global Health. “When we connect with people in these ways, we recognize how we are similar rather than different and that helps build a world of tolerance and compassion. The cultural humility students return with makes them better health care providers.”