While others were meandering through shopping malls on their annual holiday hunt, Eurina Kee, Ph.D. and 12 public health students from her Nursing 401 class were trudging through mud. Seven family members accompanied them into the wet outback. Instead of pulling items from sales’ tables, they were pulling weeds, clearing grass, and cleaning water sources. Rather than preparing gifts for wrapping at Ala Moana Center near Waikiki, they instead prepared a wetland kalo patch (lo‘i) for planting in Waialua on the North Shore of Oahu.

Nursing students working in the loi patch for service-learning activityAnd they loved it! “It was my first time to crack a coconut, and it was fun,” said senior BSN student, Maria Talana.

The students were invigorated by the physical experience combined with the underlying academic purpose of the service-learning activity. The muddy, six-hour field expedition on Saturday, November 26, was the first time that Chaminade public health nursing students were invited to participate in the wetland experience.

They learned about public health nursing through caring for the land (mālama `āina) while working alongside Joan Takamori, chief of the Public Health Nursing Branch for Hawaii’s Department of Health. Takamori explained that Hawaii’s public health nurses listened and responded to community needs, based on professional knowledge and relationships with individuals, families, and communities. The Public Health Nursing Branch was an expansion of the Department of Health into all communities statewide. Priorities included emergency preparedness and response, control of communicable diseases, school health, elder health, and health promotion in high-risk populations. As a public health nurse before her leadership role, Takamori helped provide public health nursing services in Central Oahu, primarily in Wahiawa, Waialua, and Haleiwa.

Nursing students working in the loi patch for service-learning activityAs the Chaminade group labored in the lo‘i, the students discussed the culture of health and the value of being connected to community leaders. According to Kee, students were given a sense of place as they learned from the land. They “talked story” about the relationship between public health, community, and culture.

“It is important for public health nursing students to understand community health needs, know available community resources and be involved in efforts to preserve natural resources. It is also very valuable to discuss current public health issues with leaders such as Joan Takamori,” explained Kee.

Nursing students working in the loi patch for service-learning activitySenior BSN students, Rebecca Maxey and Jeramae Marcellano agreed.

“Joan inspired me a lot,” recalled Marcellano. “Now I am so proud of my mom who has been a public health nurse in the Philippines for many years.”

Maxey concurred. “The experience was very educational, and it was an inspiring moment to listen to Joan speak about the community and her passion,” she reflected.

Throughout the coming year, there will be at least three more field sessions in the next three sections of Nursing 401. Consider them choice gifts of experience.