Water, water everywhere

March 22, 2017

Fourth-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing students Mackenzie Cross, Emily Klatt, Kate Fornelos, Tammy Tin, Chelsea Boot and Denise Ogonoski worked on an advocacy project to raise awareness about water sanitation conditions in First Nations communities as part of Assistant Professor Mona Haimour’s NURS 424: Fostering Resilience in High Priority Populations class.

According to the United Nations, over 663 million people in the world don’t have a safe drinking water supply and live with the health impacts of using contaminated water.

When a group of students in Mona Haimour’s NURS 424 class learned that 150,000 of those people live right here in Canada, they decided to focus a class project on raising awareness about the issue.

“Water sanitation conditions in First Nations communities is something I’ve heard about in the news many times over the years,” says Emily Klatt, a fourth-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing student. “It’s a long-standing problem with lots of history behind it, and if you look at it from a nursing perspective it’s something that affects people’s health in many ways. If it takes you two hours to clean a baby’s bottles, for example, that’s not sustainable and there are health issues that tie back to that.”

“ I don't think a lot of people realize the influence nurses
can have.

With support from Mona, librarian Martina King and academic technology coordinator Kim Peacock, students began looking at issues that affect vulnerable populations and thinking about how those issues connect back to the United Nations 17 sustainable development goals.

“As a nurse, a faculty member and a global citizen, I’m passionate about being an advocate for sustainability and I want my students to discover what they are passionate about as well,” says Mona. “I hope they value their role and contribution, as nursing students, in building on existing evidence, achieving the UN sustainable development goals and using their voices to make a difference.”

IMAGE_STORY_NURS_424_Advocacy2After students in the class found issues that resonated with them—water sanitation in Chad, child labour in India, equitable education, human trafficking in Europe—they looked for evidence-based resources, crafted social media messages and communication strategy tools (some groups created videos, others infographics), and connected with governments and community organizations to share the resources they had created on social media.

Seizing the opportunity to reach out to communities and grassroots initiatives (the group studying water sanitation in First Nations communities followed more than 400 organizations and connected directly with initiatives like the Safe Water Project) was something students say was particularly worthwhile.

“There are solutions to the problem of water sanitation that already exist and are spearheaded by First Nations communities,” says Chelsea Boot. “Having the chance to connect with projects that are successful and seeing them watch, like and retweet our video was really exciting. It can be intimidating to even think about how you can start to change a whole society's view on something, but this project made the process feel less so and showed us that we can be a voice for change.”

Creating online videos and building Twitter campaigns might not be exactly what you would expect from fourth-year nursing students, but they say that beginning to explore the role they can play in advocating for positive change was empowering.

“I don't think a lot of people realize the influence nurses can have,” says group member Tammy Tin. “There’s a stereotype that nurses only work in hospitals, but nurses are also in the community, they are working in health promotion and harm reduction, and they have an influence on policy making.”

Standing up and speaking out for social justice in vulnerable populations is part of a nurse’s ethical obligation, adds group member Denise Ogonoski.

“Advocating for positive change isn’t something nurses should only aspire to do, it’s something we ought to be doing. The values and processes we learned in this class provide a foundation that we can take with us into a clinical setting.”

The one thing the group of six students hope people take away from watching their video or seeing their tweets?

“That poverty exists in our country, not just in Africa or South America where people often travel to work on humanitarian projects,” says Tammy. “We pride ourselves on being a great place to live, but we all still have a lot of work to do.”

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