As Dr. Susan Fletcher and her team of nursing students walked deeper into the Korogocho section of Nairobi, the surroundings became more impoverished and more distressed.
People were living in shacks built of mud and pieces of wood or sticks, under corrugated sheeting, and under tarps, all piled on top of each other. The students saw families living without running water, and with access to only a communal latrine that served a two- block radius.
They saw lots of big bellies children with malnutrition, who ate dried mud pies to fill their stomachs. They saw orphans whose parents had died of AIDS.
In that sea of misery the visitors reached their destination: a leper colony.
"Once we started talking to the women, they started smiling," said Fletcher, director of international studies for Chamberlain College of Nursing. The nursing students, from the college's St. Louis campus and two others, were in Kenya's capital for two weeks this fall as part of Fletcher's community health program.
Fletcher said she and her team met some of the kindest, most grateful people they'd ever met at the leper colony. Among them was a group of five women who had no hands and others who had lost all their fingers or toes. Some had major facial disfigurements and open sores all over their bodies.
"I talked to one woman, and I asked, 'How do you get dressed? How do you get your shoes on?'" Fletcher said. "She looked at me and showed me and she was smiling at me the whole time. I started crying. Another woman washed dishes. She didn't have any fingers. She was using her little hand without fingers and scrubbing dishes."
The student nurses, working with medical students, treated about 2,300 patients in Kenya with leprosy, malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, AIDS and parasitic infections. Ringworm, scabies, dehydration and hypertension were common.
The group included about 40 people, 23 of them were student and graduate nurses from Chamberlain campuses. Chamberlain is owned by DeVry Inc. which bought the Deaconess College of Nursing in St. Louis in 2005. The nursing school is now in Maryland Heights.
Fletcher holds a doctorate in education and master's degree in nursing. She has been a professor for the St. Louis campus and at other schools.
The medical students on the trip came from Ross University School of Medicine in the West Indies. They were working with the nonprofit Chicago-based Family Hope Charity, which treats the poorest of the poor in Nairobi.
Tom O'Hern, director of that organization, said "thanks to our partners (about) 3,000 poor …