In 1997 I was chosen to be part of a professional exchange program to Guatemala and Belize sponsored by The Rotary International. We arrived in Guatemala City only three months after the peace treaty was signed that ended a more than 30-year Civil War. It was a life-changing month of contrasts spent exploring other cultures from the inside. I waltzed at the Ambassador’s Ball among men wearing Armani suits and women dressed in sequins and satin, then visited a remote mountain village where barefoot women ground corn by hand as they prepared the daily meal of tortillas. I visited private clinics decorated more lavishly than anything I ever seen in the States; then visited a public hospital where trash lined the hallways, and the women crowded together two-to-a-bed after they delivered their babies.
I felt as though I’d been plucked from my safe American home, tumbled about in a whirlwind for a month, then set back down in the same small Midwestern spot where nothing had changed, but for me nothing would ever be the same again. A fire and a fury unleashed inside. I wanted to explore -- to see inside other cultures, understand their people, and make every place I visited better in some small way, particularly as it related to healthcare. I have been involved with volunteer nursing ever since and worked with medical missions in Belize, Guatemala, Kosovo and Mexico; as well as serving with the American Red Cross in Iowa.
I am proud to be part of an organization that provides support for nurses to give back to communities in distress both locally and globally. My hope is that through our support more nurses will make volunteerism an integral part of their lives at home; and that they will reach out to provide both the art and the science of nursing around the world.
Nancy Leigh Harless, RN, BSN, WCHNP worked with International Medical Corp in the post-Balkan War recovery effort in Gjalen, Kosovo and with Belize Family Life Association in southern Belize. She is also an award winning poet and writer. Her poems and stories have been included in many anthologies as well as many professional and literary journals. She is the author of Womankind: Connection & Wisdom around the World, a collection of short stories gleaned from her international nursing experiences and travels. And Editor for the books To the Rescue (Kaplan, Sept, 2009) and Nurses Beyond Border (Kaplan,Sept 2010). Nancy serves on the board for One Nurse At A Time.