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San Jose City College student volunteers time in Peru

Nichole Vandivier demonstrating healthcare on a student "patient" at SJCC
Nichole Vandivier demonstrating healthcare on a student "patient" at SJCC
Hasan Z. Rahim

Nichole Vandivier is a student at San Jose City College. She is also on-call in the OBGYN department at the Kaiser hospital in Santa Clara. She hopes to transfer to UCLA in the Fall of 2014 to major as a family nurse practitioner.

All the classes she has been taking at City College have helped her in specific ways. “My psychology courses have enabled me to better understand the mind, rather just putting a label on someone with a problem. My math courses have broadened my knowledge and have allowed me to feel more confident with my calculations with medications. But more than the classes, it is the discipline of time management I have acquired as a student that has helped me the most. Students often complain that they don’t have time to do anything extra, like volunteering at a hospital, but developing a routine can help you do that. This is what has helped me continue with my studies and still find time to volunteer.”

But Nichole has gone further. Between semesters at City College, she has been traveling to Peru as a medical volunteer. Currently she is part of two organizations – “International Volunteer Headquarters” and “Go Abroad.” She works in clinics and small hospitals, focused mostly on low-income families. Compared to hospitals in America, hospitals in Peru are run-down and their level of infection control is very poor. “I have been able to demonstrate to hospital staff better ways of controlling infection. I have also participated in an outreach program to provide healthcare to poor pregnant women. They face tremendous challenges, so offering them emotional support has also been a significant part of what I do.”

Nichole first began volunteering in Peru in December of 2013. She travels to Peru every 2-3 months and spends about 3-5 weeks at a time there. (She leaves for Peru at the end of the month after completing a summer statistics class at City College.) She uses her volunteer time to hone her expertise and prepare for state exams, while helping those who most desperately need medical help.

Peru is a poor country. 75% of the population would be labeled low-income or poor by U.S. standards. She mainly volunteers her time around Lima. Nichole is fluent in Spanish. In one of her first encounters, she worked with a pregnant woman who had been abused. At the time of her admittance, the clinic was very busy and she had to wait for an hour. “Just by listening to her, I was able to bring a smile to her face. I will never forget that. Being the medical field, we rush so much we fail to see the humanity of patients. Volunteering in Peru has definitely helped me see patients as people, not as checkmarks. Another experience I will never forget was waiting with a 4-year-old girl while her mother was delivering a boy. In the time I waited with this little girl, I was able to teach her to count from 1-10 and write her name!”

“But overall, the most life-changing experience for me has been in assisting children with cancer. These children would come to the clinic about 3 to 5 times a week to receive their treatments. You wouldn’t know by looking at them that they were facing death. They were filled with such joy at the most simple pleasures of life! If children so young could have such positive attitudes in what was often end-stage diagnoses, how could I, or for that matter, anyone, complain about the trivial stuffs of life? I learned perspective from these children that I would never have learned had I stayed in my own comfortable cocoon!”

As to why she does what she does in Peru, Nichole says a better question would be “why not?” “Like many 22-year-old college students, I rarely used to think about how our experiences shape us. We are busy with fun and friends and thinking beyond the following week is not a priority. So when I volunteered my time in Peru, I couldn’t imagine how the experience would shape my life. I would not be the person I am today had I not traveled to Peru to help poor women and kids with my medical know-how that I acquired here in California. I have learned how to be childlike by witnessing the resilience of street children in Lima. I have seen the joy and gratitude of people who have nothing in life. Being in Peru has made me realize how much impact I can have just by giving a few minutes of my time. I have become a better listener. I have found time for soul-searching. I have learned that when you truly give of yourself, you get infinitely more in return.”