Costa Rica, meaning "rich coast", is a Central American country that shares borders with Nicaragua and Panama. It is a country known for having successfully adjusted its development strategy in the 1980s, therefore reducing poverty levels and improving social services. The government now faces the problem of continuing a strong social security system and access to subsidized health services in light of fiscal constraints and competing priorities.
Costa Rican Colon
Costa Rica's rank amongst all Latin American countries for immigration. It now has an estimated 350,000 migrants living within its borders. ⓘ
"If the poor are to continue to be served by social policies at acceptable levels, then a redirection of public expenditures will be required, especially towards services for the poorest groups." -World Bank
Serving the Uninsured
Five kilometers outside of San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, approximately 12,500 Nicaraguan refugees and impoverished Costa Rican citizens settled outside of central Alajuelita (“Little Alajuela”). The majority of this population, comprised largely of women and their children, is medically uninsured.
Alajuelita is a small town located just 5km from the heart of San Jose, Costa Rica's capital city. The town is marked by three distinct rivers, Río Tribí, Río Cañas and Río Poás.
Natural disasters, political conflict and lack of economic opportunity have created a large number of Nicaraguan immigrants to settle in the Alajuelita area. Without access to the national healthcare system, the refugees seek out our clinic to receive treatment and psychological services.
We started here back in 2003. We learned as we went. We opened our new clinic and launched the FIMRC model. We now live and breathe healthcare in the area and implement programs and services based on the actual, current needs.
Learn More About Alajuelita +
Admirably, Costa Rica promises universal healthcare to its native 4.2 million citizens; unfortunately, the poorest sector of the population slips through bureaucratic cracks and Nicaraguan political refugees still receive no insurance. Though the World Health Organization estimates a remarkable 89% of Costa Rica’s population have primary medical insurance, many people including Nicaraguan refugees still struggle to find much needed healthcare.
The most rampant medical issues plaguing this population are readily treatable with preventative measures, education initiatives and continuous healthcare monitoring: diarrhea, type 2 diabetes, malnutrition, persistent bronchial infections, gastrointestinal microbe infections, unplanned pregnancies, alcoholism, drug addiction, and HIV. Coupled with these medical issues are equally persistent and pervasive social problems—the absence of clean water and sanitation facilities in rural areas, absent or overcrowded schools, underemployment, and increasing dropout rates in school.
Our clinic in San Felipe, Alajuelita was established in January of 2005 and is just a short walk to the underserved communities, Jasmín (“Jasmine”) and Los Pinos (“The Pines”). It is staffed to address not only medical issues, but also the mental health issues that are present due to immigration and poverty. The centrally located space serves as a FIMRC base within the community for well-child and acute care visits, as well as psychological services.
Ongoing operations throughout the year give us a pulse on the community and those we serve. We participate in activities and work among families in Alajuelita, San Felipe and the surrounding areas. With the support of our volunteers, we dedicate our resources to three main areas of focus: clinical activities, health education and special initiatives. Below are a few examples of our work at Project Alajuelita.
- FIMRC clinic providing services to Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans
- Well child visit program
- Psychological services
- Medical campaigns with local soup kitchens
- Youth groups focused on health
- Soup kitchen education programs
- Diabetes prevention program
- Nutrition and cooking lessons at Casa Club
- Healthy habits group focused on exercise
- Dance therapy program
- Yoga instruction
- Nursing student rotation program
- Art therapy program
All of our volunteers contribute to on-site initiatives at Project Alajuelita. Your efforts allow us to expand our reach and better serve the community and its residents. Whether you're giving a health education session to the kids in the soup kitchen, working up a sweat with mothers to teach them about a healthy lifestyle, or spending the afternoon taking vital signs in our clinic, we tailor the volunteer program around on-going outreach, clinical needs as well as psychological services.
All volunteers have the opportunity to participate in both the clinical and health education aspects of operations on-site, and activities can range from working with our psychologist using art therapy to leading interactive health education sessions with our teen group.
Over the course of your trip you'll receive an unfiltered experience in health care field work abroad, and learn about the tremendous impact that even one person can have. At our end, so as to maximize your contribution, we will tailor your experience based on current needs, your interests, training, and amount of time that you spend with us on-site in Alajuelita.
Curious about the logistics of volunteering? Click below for more information on flights, activities, accommodations, transportation, trip cost, and more!
There's no better way to truly learn about a different country than by immersing yourself fully in the culture and a community.
Make a Difference
We're dedicated to programs that are sustainable and locally driven. Volunteering with us means that you'll be able to contribute in meaningful ways that will last well beyond your time on-site!
Whether you're filling out a medical school application, applying for a job or just looking to give back, we're here to help you gain experience in responsible international healthcare and development.