this is the story of mina pashayi
My service to FIMRC was originally 1 month, but turned into 6. I wanted to actually PRODUCE something tangible and make an impact. Every assignment in my life before that was theory based papers. I created a 6 week teen pregnancy prevention program with the help of Dr. Stedem and Tatiana. I ran the program with 2 different groups. Part of the program was the science side, and the other was the social impact. Last I heard, one of the schools in Alajuelita is using the program or sought out to use it! This was a profound experience and I ended up staying in Costa Rica until March 2015 teaching English. I learned to speak Spanish fluently and found my calling, physical therapy, while I was down there.
What did you do prior to volunteering with FIMRC?
As an undergraduate, I always knew that combining traveling and service was in my horizon. I couldn't afford to study abroad since I was paying my own way through college, so I waited patiently to graduate so I could take off and explore the world. I spent 6 months in Europe backpacking and ended up on the most off-beaten paths. After returning, my travel bug had only grown stronger. I thought that the Peace Corps was the solution. During my interview, I felt that I asked the right questions and gave my two cents on my project areas of interest- community health and service in Latin America. I wanted to come out knowing Spanish and offering my next employer experience in global health. The stars were definitely not in alignment for me to be in the Peace Corps. A couple weeks after my interview, I received an offer that included a two year service in Sub-Saharan Africa teaching math. My mom, probably the most nervous about my grandiose plans, encouraged me to look at other options that provided a better fit for what I was looking for in a global service organization.
Why did you choose FIMRC?
I remembered FIMRC from the UCSD Chapter and found the Ambassador Internship Program. Even though this wasn't a two year commitment, it was a taste of what I was looking for- and opportunity to put theory into practice and create a program in the global health community in Latin America. Originally, I was offered the position in El Salvador, but last minute they assigned me to Project Alajuelita in Costa Rica. Honestly, I had to pull out a map for both countries because I had not idea what I was getting myself into. I chose FIMRC because of many factors The staff is organized, supportive, and caring. What more could you ask from an organization? I knew I was going to get help from the doctor and psychologist in Costa Rica to create a project that will serve when I leave. Housing, transportation, and food was organized. I had spoken with the previous Ambassador and she told me about her experience as well. I didn't have to worry, which brought me and my family peace of mind.
What was your project during your time at Project Alajuelita
When I arrived to the clinic, the head doctor told me that the community needs a teen pregnancy prevention program. Since I committed to one month, I wanted to get started fast. I played with a few ideas, including a 5 day program or 10 day program at a school. The school idea was originally axed because of safety reasons and the backlash that could arise from the information I was preparing to give to the students. By the time my plans were more organized, my one month was about to end. I was freaking out because I felt like I failed what I set out to do. During my last week at the clinic, I remember feeling a soreness in my throat, like I had something to say, but I was too scared to say it. Two days before my flight, I mustered up the courage to ask the head doctor if I could stay on a couple more months and get the program started. Headquarters approved and that heaviness in my throat suddenly disappeared. The final product included a six-week program to both boys and girls ages 12-19 at the municipality in Alajuelita. The doctor helped to organize the community group and knew exactly where to seek out contacts. I created weekly powerpoint presentations with three weeks emphasizing the science background and the other social impacts. I researched government websites such as the Center for Disease Control for accurate information on pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception. For the social side, I worked closely with the on site psychologist to help gear the wording and information in culturally sensitive and realistic manner. Lessons included topics such as creating personal/professional goals, pressure from significant others, and more sensitive topics, such as sexual abuse. I made the presentations about 15-20 minutes long and the remaining hour was left for hands on activities for the kids. I ended up extending my stay in Costa Rica from 1 month to 6 months. I ran the workshop twice with two different groups The weekly volunteers had the opportunity to help give the lessons as well, which was awesome because each volunteer came from a different medical background and had a lot of information to provide.
What was your greatest success?
What was your worst failure?
what did you learn from those experiences?
The greatest success that I witnessed on site was the students from the workshop coming into the clinic for testing and information, bringing their friends and family, and probably the most touching, was one boy who came in to speak to the head doctor privately about a personal issue. He felt the FIMRC clinic was a trustworthy and safe place. That alone made our day. The teens were an amazing group. My Spanish was terrible when I first arrived and they were always encouraging and really grateful for what we were doing for them. The humility I felt in Alajuelita, despite it being a rough community, was something that I had never felt before.
The worst failure was caught by the doctors before they were actually problems. In my ignorance, I was including information about contraception that was not realistic or supported by the church to include in the lesson. I had to take a step back and remember that I am not in my norm, my country, or my language. Ways of life are very different despite people thinking Costa Rica is full of lush beaches and rainforest. The majority of people that live in Alajuelita do not make even $600/month to support a family and some live without electricity. I had to put information in perspective and also how I presented it was just as important, a skill that I continue to work on today.
How did volunteering with FIMRC affect your career path afterwards?
After my project, I left with tears because I was not interested in going back to California. Remember, my horizon was travel and service and I was willing and ready to make my commitment for two years. Before I left, I interviewed at a school near my residence to teach English, which I accepted. I cam back to the States for 6 months and then went back to Costa Rica to teach English. I stayed there for 2 more years and came back to Clifornia in 2015 to pursue physical therapy. I realized physical therapy was my calling while in Costa Rica. I suffered a knee injury and had to have surgery. While my surgery was flawless, the rehabilitation was rough. I went through 4 physical therapists until I found one that new enough about my injury to help me walk without pain again. She told me that while she went to school in Costa Rica, she didn't learn anything relevant and her training abroad, attending workshops in the United States, South America, and Europe was the key to her service. She inspired me to pursue the field and learn as much as I can. I hope to one day be able to go back to Costa Rica and bridge the gap to help better educate and train therapists, who could train others and increase access to quality rehabilitation.
If you could do it all over again, would you change anything? If so, what?
If I could do it all over again, I would have brought more clothes!