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Bemidji nurses sponsor nursing student in Tanzania

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Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

With the aid of six registered nurses at North Country Regional Hospital, a Tanzanian woman will begin studies this fall to become the only healthcare provider in her region.

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Nineteen-year-old Esneth Bakendi will attend nursing school in the eastern African country for three years before returning as a nurse to Izigo, a region of about 38,000 people.

At $600 per year for three years, the Bemidji nurses will sponsor Bakendi's education.

"It's awesome to be able to do that," said sponsor Nancy Mickelberg, director of the Intensive Care Unit at NCRH.

Mickelberg learned of the opportunity to sponsor the nursing student from former NCRH nurse Mary Thompson.

Now living in Houston, Minn., Thompson and her husband, Doug, are volunteers with Compassionate Solutions for Africa's Development. COSAD is a Minnesota-based nonprofit that aims to build creative partnerships that promote cultural understanding, entrepreneurship and community development in Tanzania.

Recognizing a need

The Thompsons traveled to Tanzania in January to visit their friend, Smart Baitani, executive director of COSAD.

"The needs are just awesome there," said Thompson, noting the lack of access to healthcare.

Although there is a government clinic in Izigo, no one has staffed it for years, she said.

While in Tanzania, Thompson and Baitani worked together to develop a scholarship program to allow a local woman to attend nursing school and return to Izigo to provide healthcare.

"We talked to the leaders of this community and came up with a plan for women to apply," Thompson said.

An Izigo community selection board selected Bakendi, who met the criteria developed by Thompson and Baitani, to attend Ndolage Nursing School.

In her application essay, Bakendi, who speaks English, outlined seven goals she would like to achieve with her training:

E Help the people of Izigo with their healthcare needs.

E Assist the community to build its health services.

E Provide education and training.

E Be a leader in her community.

E Speak out against harmful practices in the community.

E Help her family and set a good example for her young sisters and brothers.

E Help the many children in the village of Izigo who have lost their parents. The village is located in the region of Izigo and is where Bakendi lives.

Finding sponsors

While visiting Baitani's home in Bukoba, Tanzania, Thompson e-mailed Mickelberg and Wendy Gullicksrud, patient safety director in infection control at NCRH, about the opportunity to sponsor the selected nursing student.

"I e-mailed right back and said, 'I'll do it. We'll do it,'" Mickelberg said.

Sponsoring Bakendi along with Mickelberg and Gullicksrud are four other NCRH registered nurses, Joe Dahlby Jana Bromenshenkel, Rebekah Salmonson and Lisa Noreen.

The joy of helping

Dahlby, vice president of nursing for North Country Health Services, said it's neat for the six from Bemidji to sponsor the nursing student because they are all nurses.

Mickelberg added, "And nursing's been very good to us."

She noted that she looks forward to watching Bakendi grow during the next three years.

Some donations from Bemidji and beyond will help Bakendi do just that. Baitani, who plans to travel to Tanzania later this month, will deliver the donations in person to Bakendi.

Bemidji Medical Equipment donated a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff for the nursing student and Mickelberg donated a box of school supplies. Mickelberg's daughter, Tisha, who is a representative for a drug company, also donated a box of medical and school supplies.

Mickelberg also hopes to raise money for Bakendi to buy a scooter for transportation.

Bromenshenkel, director of quality care and risk management, said she looks forward to seeing Bakendi succeed.

"It's a small commitment that we're making," she said, adding that Bakendi is making a larger commitment by devoting three years to nursing school.

"The positive impact that this will have is far-reaching," Dahlby added.

He said he is interested in learning if there is a need for more healthcare providers in Izigo and more opportunities to sponsor a nursing student.

Gullicksrud said she looks forward to getting to know Bakendi better in the next three years. Once Bakendi begins school, she will have access to the Internet and will be able to e-mail the Bemidji nurses.

Shannon Westhoff, marketing specialist for NCHS, said the Bemidji nurses, who represent a variety of areas in healthcare, can be a resource for Bakendi.

"The depth of their knowledge is just very broad," she said.

"That will be really good to be able to talk with her," Mickelberg added.

Mickelberg and Gullicksrud also hope to meet Bakendi.

"We'd like to go over there for her graduation, so I'm going to start saving my pennies," Mickelberg said.

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