Student Story

A Life-Changing Experience: Donata Liu '20 Teaches Women's Health in Malawi

What's your major and graduation year?

Headshot of Donata Liu

I'm a nursing major with a minor in psychology and I will be graduating May 2020.

What inspired you to pursue nursing?

I have always loved working with and taking care of people. Nursing is such a special field because I can combine my love for sciences with serving others. Caring for people in such a way is truly a privilege! 

Tell us about Whole Person Care. 

Last summer, I went on a missions trip and was trained on how to provide Whole Person Care to my patients, caring for them holistically: emotionally, spiritually, and physically. While physical care is so important, emotional and spiritual care is often overlooked. With the training that I received last year, I've been able to provide a more holistic style of care to my patients.

With all this in mind, I was inspired to take what I had learned last summer and apply it to a more global setting. As I was researching various organizations and trips, The Global Aid Network's (GAiN) Women's Health Missions Trip was one that stood out to me. The timing couldn't have been more perfect: I had just completed the maternity nursing course at Simmons, and the information was still fresh in my mind! GAiN partners with Cru, an international Christian organization, and provides humanitarian aid to some of the toughest places on earth. Their motto is "relieve suffering, restore dignity, and reveal hope." 

Tell us about your trip to Malawi. 

I went on this missions trip with eight other nursing students from across the country. We spent two weeks in Orlando, learning the women's health teaching material, followed by two and a half weeks in Malawi.

We were split into two teams – my team taught at Nkhotakota, Chipoka, and Senga Bay. We presented a variety of topics ranging from female anatomy, hygiene, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and labor and delivery, to more emotional topics such as self-worth and heart wounds (our name for emotional traumas). The training sessions lasted about three days at each village and we taught about 30 women at each village. With the two teams combined, we taught a total of 180+ women.

The contents of a Luopack

At the end of the three days, we held a ceremony for the women, handing out certificates of completion, soap, and LuoPacks. LuoPacks are designed by GAiN and are filled with two pairs of underwear, a washcloth, safety pins, six luopads (reusable feminine hygiene pads), a bag to hold dirty luopads, and instructions. The luopads themselves are sewn together by donated linens and towels by GAiN volunteers. If taken care of properly, these luopads can last for years! Feminine hygiene supplies are expensive all around the world and many of the Malawian women had just been using cloth pads which aren't sanitary or effective. "Luo" means "freedom" in Greek, and we're hoping that the women will have complete freedom about their menstrual cycles with these new pads.

What did you learn from this experience?

This experience was truly life-changing. One of the things I really came to appreciate was the power of knowledge. Education is such a privilege, and millions of people around the world don't have the opportunity to learn simply because of a lack of resources. We taught women who came from a variety of different circumstances — many of them didn't know how to read or write. Things that we would consider to be basic knowledge here in the U.S. were profound for them to learn. It inspires me to continue to take the education that I have been privileged to receive, and to spread that to others who don't have a similar background. 

In addition, Malawi is the fifth poorest nation in the world and witnessing the poverty that is faced there is something I will never forget. There's no electricity in many places, no running water, boys are selling cooked mice on the side of the road for food, and women are dying during childbirth because they don't have enough bus money to get to the local clinic. As a witness to all of this, my heart has been broken for the impoverished — I feel all the more inspired to use the resources I have (such as knowledge) upon graduation to relieve suffering, restore dignity, and reveal hope. My challenge to the Simmons community is: What cause does your heart break for and what are you going to do about it?

With all this being said, one of the most invaluable lessons I took home with me was finding true joy. Despite all the hardship, there was a beautiful and radiant JOY that was so present in the Malawians. Though poverty is a reality in many of the women's lives, they were generous and so rich in joy.

What is your favorite Simmons memory?

My favorite Simmons memory is my study abroad experience. The summer after my first year, I took a travel course with Simmons and studied Spanish for a month in Granada, Spain. (#DonataInGranada am I right??) Granada quickly became a city I love and vow to return to; it's rich in culture, has amazing food, and contains the most friendly locals! I lived with a host mom and another student from Simmons during my time there. We also got to go on excursions to other nearby cities such as Cordoba and Seville.

During our month there, we were encouraged to be fully immersed in the language and culture. It was a fast month, but I became much more confident in my Spanish skills by the end of it. Since then, I've been able to use my skills to translate and speak with hospital patients in Spanish as well! Even if you don't have time in your course load to spend a whole semester abroad, I would highly recommend taking a travel course with Simmons!!

Donata's Photos from Malawi

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