New nursing professor brings international experience to KCON

Courtesy Photo/
Professor Paulette Chaponniere

Courtesy photo

Courtesy Photo/ Professor Paulette Chaponniere

Judson Rodriguez

Having worked in Africa as a nurse and as a consultant for the State Department, among other assignments, Chaponniere brings a global perspective and passion for international work, said Cynthia McCurren, KCON dean and professor of nursing.

“As compared to other candidates, her life circumstances have allowed her to live and work in another culture,” McCurren said.

Chaponniere pointed to her experiences in Africa as the beginning of her teaching career.

These experiences, she said, lend global perspectives based on problem solving to students who must be equipped in our generation’s global society.

“One thing is true about Africa: it’s not about programs, it’s about people,” she said, “I couldn’t just tell them things, I knew they had to trust me to accept what I say.”

Chaponniere said everywhere she has been there has been a dimension of teaching involved.

“Teaching spills over to everything,” she said.

Born in the Congo, Chaponniere has worked in 15 African countries along with Haiti and Jamaica, and has dodged political unrest, disease and other problems associated with the unstable governments of sub-Saharan Africa. In Niger, she had to stay inside of her home to avoid being in harm’s way during a time of political unrest.

The biggest difference between working in the U.S. and working in Africa, she said, is the disparity in resources.

“Working in Africa you had to learn how to be creative with the scarce resources available,” she said.

One time, Chaponniere said, she was treating a postpartum patient who was refusing to eat, because she said her ancestors had come to her in a dream and told her that she could not eat. Chaponniere said she knew better than to argue, and quickly improvised.

She asked if the ancestors had mentioned whether or not she could drink anything. The patient said they had not. Peanut butter was readily available, so they blended it up and made a milkshake for the woman to drink for three days until she could eat again.

McCurren said that when KCON professors share their own stories and experiences, it helps the GVSU nursing students understand how quick responses are necessary in many real-life situations.

“Lighting the fire is the start for students’ interest in striving for an international career,” McCurren said.

Chaponniere said her most memorable time in Africa was in the country of Senegal, where she had the opportunity to work in villages. There she learned to simplify messages to patients.

While confronting a malnourishment problem in children, she decided to use the food pyramid to explain how the children should be eating. This did not work, however, because the teaching strategy was wrong, Chaponniere said.

She then had the villagers add peanut butter to everything that the children ate for its fatty acids, and soon the children started gaining weight.

In addition to teaching community health and management, Chaponniere is also a single mother to three adopted African children.

Chaponniere said she wanted to find a way to impact young men and women to aspire to work internationally, and teaching was the best route for her. She said making an impact on the global community can be a part of everyone’s life, and we usually do not have to travel abroad to make that impact.

“Remembering that some of us will actually share our compassion and competencies as health care providers in other countries, but understanding the ‘international’ part of nursing is relevant right here in West Michigan, as we strive to meet the needs of the many faces of our community,” McCurren said.

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