Nursing student learns about helping others while visiting countries

JOHNSTOWN – When Jordan Kennedy traveled halfway across the globe to countries like southern Sudan, Afghanistan and Thailand, he knew little about what his career would be after high school.

However, after witnessing the medical and developmental needs of people in those countries, he knew his time should be spent making a difference in the lives of others.

Kennedy, 23, is a senior nursing student at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. The education he is receiving will help him further assist people in Thailand, where he previously tended to displaced Karen refugees in mountain villages on the Burmese-Thailand border.

He spoke to dozens of students and faculty Thursday in his presentation titled, “Jungle Journey: A Student’s Journey Back in Time.”

After graduating from Johnstown High School, Kennedy did developmental work – such as building roads – in Sudan and Afghanistan.

Following a scare while working in Africa – Kennedy cut his finger, which became infected and he had no knowledge about what to do – he decided it would be worthwhile to attend EMT school when he came home. He eventually became a paramedic, working part-time with the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

When Kennedy left for his next adventures in other countries he still didn’t have a lot of medical knowledge, only being a paramedic.

However, as soon as he arrived, Kennedy found himself helping people with serious medical problems.

Since medical assistance isn’t readily available to many of the villagers, Kennedy said, as a paramedic, he was allowed to provide stitches as well as place IV’s for patients in need.

Kennedy went to Thailand after talking to his future fiancee, Maria, on a social networking site about her efforts in the country establishing a Karen Outreach called Sunshine Orchard.

According to information provided at the presentation, the Karen – pronounced “ka-rin” – have been persecuted for more than 60 years. Sunshine Orchard was specifically established due to Karen children being orphaned during the Burmese civil war.

The outreach center has a children’s home, vocational training center and health clinic. He has spent a couple of summers working at the health clinic in Thailand, where he plans to move after graduation in June.

According to the information pamphlet, it was established in response to the tremendous need created from Karen children being orphaned and displaced by the Burmese civil war.

As part of the outreach, Kennedy and his fiancee would venture into hard-to-reach mountain villages to help the residents with any medical problems.

“Most of [the villages] only have access by footpaths about two to three feet wide through the jungle on slick clay,” Kennedy said.

He said one of the biggest issues facing the people on the Burmese-Thailand border are the large number of landmines.

“They all have their own landmines, and on a weekly basis we probably deal with patients that have either stepped on a landmine or somehow were injured by a landmine,” Kennedy told the audience.

Medical supplies aren’t always available. Kennedy said he and his fiancee often improvised with what he called “the duct tape of Thailand”-bamboo.

“It’s pretty unconventional, but you can make IV poles, make stretchers and splints with bamboo,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the bulk of illnesses he treated were related to malnourishment. He noted many people only drink one cup of unfiltered water a day.

“They would give me the best they had to eat, which was a bowl of rice and one leaf of a green vegetable and that’s the very best they could do. It really made me appreciate everything we have around us,” he said.

He also said malaria, a disease Kennedy has battled several times, has a strong presence in the region.

While Thailand does have hospitals – Kennedy likened one he visited to Albany Medical Center – he said lack of access to the hospitals and the cost of care are problems for some people.

For example, he estimated the cost of a week-long hospital visit in Thailand is about $300.

However, he said, it is almost impossible for many villagers to afford that price.

In addition, Kennedy said there are very few roads. It’s often difficult to make the journey to a hospital from the remote villages without taking more physical and health risks along the way, he said.

“We’re doing everything with a stethoscope, counting respiration rates, and putting our hands against their foreheads,” Kennedy said. “It’s the best we’ve got.”

Kennedy, from Caroga Lake, said the experience of helping people with far less than those living in the United States gave him a new outlook on life.

“When you’re up in a village of 40 or 50 bamboo huts, you realize you really have everything when you come back to states,” Kennedy said.

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