This week at the project, we welcomed the energy and expertise of Shared Beat, a U.S.-based medical non-profit, who is visiting Safe Passage for the twelfth time since 2007. Shared Beat began their work at Safe Passage six years ago under the dedicated guidance of Marie Berkenkamp and Jenny and Wright Hartsell. Every six months, Shared Beat’s team of doctors and nurses set up in one of the main building classrooms. Medical team participants measure and weigh students, perform vision screenings, provide physicals, and distribute medication as needed for the students of Safe Passage.


The group also runs a walk-in clinic that generously supports non-affiliated members of the community. Shared Beat’s current team consists of twenty-four medical professionals and volunteers – including eight doctors, five nurses, and four medical translators. Eleven of these team members have already been to Safe Passage one or more times. This year, the medical team plans to see every one of the nearly 600 Safe Passage students in their three-day visit with us.


According to Jenny Hartsell, Shared Beat’s Executive Director, the team is seeing incredibly positive changes in the overall health of Safe Passage students. Jenny believes the support our program offers, from nutritious food to emphasis on dental hygiene to health classes, has greatly benefited the children we serve. When comparing the health of our students with that of other local children, Jenny remarked that Safe Passage students have better dental hygiene, fewer incidences of lice and other parasites, and better nutrition overall. Jenny believes strongly that health has a strong impact on education saying, “When kids are healthy, they can concentrate – they go to school.”


One crucial service Shared Beat offers is vision screening and optometrist referrals for the Camino Seguro community. Vision problems can cause headaches but also often lead to poor academic performance. For a student to excel in any academic institution, he or she must be able to see the whiteboard clearly and read small text. Shared Beat screens each student every six months, referring students with poor eyesight to a local optometrist who can provide the students with glasses. Jenny estimates that around 45 of our students have received glasses, which will help alleviate one of the most basic roadblocks to their education: impaired vision.


Jenny laughed as she shared a story about bringing down Harry Potter-style frames, which had been a hit with the children from rural communities where Shared Beat also works. What she found, however, is that Safe Passage students didn’t think the glasses were fashionable enough, so they weren’t wearing them! This year, our students have a range of stylish frames to choose from so that they can look cool while enjoying improved vision!


-Megan McAdams, English Program Coordinator