Taking nursing to the streets

 

Sydney nurse Liz Collins offered health care to those who needed it most on her amazing journey to South America.

Liz Collins never imagined her holiday to South America in 2003 would have such a profound effect on her life.

What started as a well-earned break with friends be-came an amazing journey bringing health care to some of the poorest people of Ecuador.

‘I had always wanted to do volunteer work, and working with marginalised groups are definitely my passion,’ said Liz, an RN who has worked with many walks of life, particularly in the area of drug and alcohol counselling, including her work at Kirketon Road Centre and the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross.

‘I have worked there on and off, between country stints and my time in Ecuador. It is great work,’ she said.

Being in her patients’ ‘own territory’ was certainly part of the allure when Liz decided to move to Quito, Ecuador.

‘I had one contact I met on my holiday and the only Spanish I knew was how to order two beers – I got home in November and was working on the streets of Quito by February.’

The outreach work of Liz and a few volunteer doctors was part of the CENIT Foundation. Run by the Sisters of Good Shepherd, CENIT is literally translated as The Centre for the Working Girl.

‘Our definition of “working girl” is different to theirs – working girl refers to the street vendors and their families, who are some of the poorest people in Quito,’ said Liz.

Health care is both expensive and hard to come by in Quito and the lack of education means people can suffer greatly from even the most basic of ailments.

‘We had a clinic open a few afternoons a week but I was mostly on the street armed with my toolbox full of medical supplies.

‘I had to go to the vendors as they couldn’t afford to leave their stalls and sacrifice their incomes – we became the primary health care for the market workers,’ said Liz.

As well as treatment and care, much of Liz’s work involved educating the people of Quito. Women’s health and sex education were a big part of her role.

‘We were able to teach people about birth control and through fundraising we purchased a steriliser for the clinic and we began performing pap smears,’ said Liz.

As with any outreach program, funding is important but very hard to come by. Liz relied on fundraisers and donations and her own pocket.

‘We found some amazing doctors who were happy to volunteer in the clinic – they were very unique in their selfless attitude,’ she said.

Liz returned home in February with her husband whom she met in Quito. She said she has left the clinic ‘in good hands’ with a local nurse.

‘I hope that the program will secure more funding and interest so that it can continue its great work for these people who really need it.’

For more information on the program go to www.cenitecuador.org