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Faith and knowledge
Nursing students host emergency-preparedness fair for local Muslim community
By Cathy Frisinger
When Hurricane Katrina wrecked havoc on the Gulf Coast in 2005, faith communities, including many in North Texas, were called upon to provide emergency shelter to displaced victims.
Clinical nursing instructor Sharon Canclini, who teaches a class in public health nursing that nursing students are required to take in their senior year, saw a valuable service that her class could perform. Her students began putting together emergency-preparedness programs that they presented to a cluster of churches in a southwest Arlington neighborhood, including Rush Creek Christian Church and Grace Presbyterian Church.
"A parishioner isn't going to go help if they feel vulnerable themselves," she explained. "You want faith communities to think ahead of time about what resources they have. Do they have a shower? Can they house people in a crisis?"
Canclini gave presentations at two nursing conferences on the program's successful emergency-preparedness fairs and both times she was asked an unexpected question: "What did you do for the mosque across the street from Grace Presbyterian?"
An active member of an area interfaith organization called Daughters of Abraham, Canclini decided that the answer "nothing" wouldn't do. She approached a member of the Dar El-Eman mosque and asked if they would be receptive to an emergency-preparedness and safety fair. They were, and the two scheduled a fair for November 2007.
Before the fair, the nursing students spent some time learning about Muslim culture. The congregation, in turn, was extremely welcoming. "I usually bring food for my students because this is an all-day affair, but the women of the mosque put out a gorgeous display of food for everyone."
The fair was attended by all the students who attend Saturday school at the mosque and their families. Topics included emergency communication plans, protecting important papers, three-day disaster packs and natural disasters such as tornadoes, which are a novel concept for some newcomers to the area.
The fair included a booth on what to do when you encounter water on a road. "If you're not from here you wouldn't understand flash flooding," Canclini said. Another booth focused on Internet safety, teaching parents about Web sites like Facebook and how to monitor their children's online activity.
Working with the advice of mosque leaders, the class tailored their presentations to the community's needs. For instance, they pulled a booth on animal safety because it didn't apply to the group.
Canclini is particularly proud of her students' response to one Muslim-specific safety problem.
The nursing students talked about swimming lessons being important because there are a lot of child drownings in the area, but there was a problem with the Muslim girls taking lessons. "You can tell them the YMCA is there but they're not going to go because the girls aren't comfortable wearing swimsuits in front of men. My students responded by finding a place that would give lessons just for girls."
The fair included games participants could play and win safety items such as fire extinguishers, fire-proof safes, emergency whistles and mylar emergency blankets. "These were useful items, not trinkets," says Canclini.
The fair was such a success that the class was asked to do a similar presentation for El Hadaya Academy, a Muslim school in east Fort Worth. They did a fair at El Hadaya on March 1 that was, again, well-received.
The class worked on other safety-related projects for the Muslim community, including translating safety posters into picture posters that can be understand by non-English speakers.
"This has been a wonderful experience for the TCU students," Canclini says. "The community members were gracious hosts to the them, taking the time and energy to make sure they were able to meet the course requirements. Likewise, the students conducted themselves in a professional and embracing fashion."
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