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Two Faculty Travel to Belize for Interdisciplinary, Service-Learning Course

Karen Breitkreuz, faculty in the School of Nursing, and Shawn Dunnagan, faculty in the Department of Community and Environmental Health, are helping students understand what it means to be a global citizen. Breitkreuz and Dunnagan are two of five Boise State faculty teaching an interdisciplinary course, “Global Citizenship and Social Responsibility,” which featured a field trip to Belize over spring break. This effort supports the College of Health Sciences’ interprofessional efforts to train students through interdisciplinary teams. Program director Tony Songer, chair of the Department of Construction Management, led this collaborative effort among Boise State University Colleges of Education, Engineering, Health Sciences and Honors. Twenty-two Boise State students from a variety of disciplines planned and implemented a variety of projects around the theme of “healthy lifestyles” in the village of Corozal, Belize in this unique project, which they called “the Boise State University Corozal, Belize 2013 Peace Village.”

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The students focused their Service-Learning projects on assisting Libertad and Chan Chen elementary schools. Some students wrote curriculum for “Easter camps” for both schools for children between the ages of 6 and 12. These camps were a half a day long and featured four classes: healthy lifestyles, such as hygiene, nutrition, families, friends, self-views; literacy; healthy activities, which resembled American physical education class activities; and arts and crafts, with a health focus.

Another group of students designed community gardens for the schools, though the group was only able to build the Chan Chen garden this spring. A third group organized a community fair while a fourth group of students designed an educational trail about Belizean wild animals.

The theme of healthy lifestyles was selected in part because, according to the CIA World Factbook, Belizeans have a high risk of major infectious diseases, one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in Central America, and, in 2009, only 0.828 physicians for every 1000 people. Breitkreuz reports that the district of Corozal, where the Peace Village was established, has only one registered nurse for the entire district.

In addition to their projects, several nursing and pre-nursing students were able to observe local community health workers, who often focus on health promotion and teaching. A nurse comes once a month with limited medical supplies to set up a pediatric clinic, which offers vaccines and pre-natal checkups as well as filling certain prescriptions. Community health workers have only been available to locals in Corozal for the last 25 years.

The course is a part of an innovative, five-year commitment by the university. Groups from Boise State will continue to visit the district over the next five years, bringing additional resources, knowledge, and students for cultural exchanges. As the group asked questions about how they can assist in the future, locals were amazed to hear that the group would return as the locals are used to foreign assistance coming on single trips, with no maintenance of the initial support. While grateful for any assistance, the locals find the concept of the Boise State group returning to review and build on what they have started astonishing.

The Campus Read book, “The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw,” was the inspiration for the class. The group visited the Belize Zoo and spent the morning with Sharon Matola, the lady who inspired the book. Additionally, the students used Matola’s dual language book, “Pat the Great Cat,” for their literacy classes in the “Easter camps.” Many children come from dual language homes and struggle with literacy. Pat is an actual jaguar at the Belize zoo and Matola’s children’s book shares his story in Spanish and English.

The trip was a transformational experience for the students, who are now sharing their experiences with the campus community through a series of panel events. The Boise State group found the people of Belize to be very happy, regardless of their very limited resources. Seventy-seven percent of people in Belize live in poverty.

Learn more about the Belize trip by reading the participants’ blog at