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Growing and Glowing through Volunteering with FIMRC

costa rica global health philippines project alajuelita project cavite sihf summer international health fellowship undergraduate student volunteer volunteer experience Mar 10, 2020

Courtney Ihaza, an alum of Howard University, took her second trip with FIMRC this winter to Project Alajuelita, Costa Rica. Read her blog to learn how her first volunteer abroad trip with FIMRC as a Summer International Health Fellow (SIHF) at Project Cavite, Philippines inspired and influenced her most recent trip. 

Growing up, I’ve always played the role of caretaker, especially caring for infants and young children. My parents often encouraged me to become a doctor, and once I saw inside a patient’s room for the first time, I knew that this was something I wanted for myself. 

As I aged and delved into further research, I discovered how much medicine intrigued me. The body’s structure, functions, and how infections infiltrate our system sparked my curiosity and encouraged further learning. From this moment on, I set the goal for myself to become a surgeon and never looked back. 

My passion for children and science has inspired me to pursue a career in family medicine/OB-GYN. I intend on opening my practice specializing in children with life-threatening illnesses. I also want to travel the world and perform surgeries for medically underserved communities. 

In November 2017, I began to understand what my purpose -- to serve those around me. I made it my mission to begin my medical journey as soon as possible. I began intensive research for different study abroad programs that will aid my future, as well as give me insight into health disparities around the world. FIMRC grabbed my attention instantly because of its project sites, community engagement, and public health aspects. I was instantly drawn to the Philippines site because it was the site that would allow me to pursue one of my goals of stepping out of my comfort zone. As I prepped for this journey, so many feelings filled my soul. What would it feel like to be on the other side of the world? Would the language barrier hold me back? How would the food taste? Will I adapt to the culture? But with all these questions in mind, I remained positive and open. 

In May 2018, I was fortunate enough to depart for Project Cavite as part of FIMRC’s Summer International Health Fellowship (SIHF) program. This was my first time traveling alone, and I was more than anxious about the experience. Once I arrived and got over my jitters, everything else was smooth flowing and this experience changed my life.

We spent the weekdays in Cavite and other rural provinces where I was able to work alongside nurses and midwives in a clinic for basic procedures such as immunizations for children. We also participated in in-home visits, testing blood pressure and glucose levels to monitor and treat hypertension and diabetes. We also aimed to spread awareness to those at risk. This was one of my favorite activities because I got to engage in the community, experience natural agriculture, and practice my Tagalog.  I was even fortunate enough to assist a midwife with delivering a baby. That was the most significant experience of my trip. To experience childbirth was a life-changing moment. I found myself going through so many emotions. I couldn’t believe I helped with something so monumental. It even inspired my pursuit to become an OB-GYN.

On the weekends, we would head out to Manila where we would visit cancer patients at the University of Philippines Hospital. Here we would do psych/social activities with the patients to bring good spirits and fun to their wards. I got to meet so many astonishing individuals who left lasting impressions on me. This was a marvelous opportunity that changed my life forever. I left with such a full heart and further inspiration. I knew that I had to participate in another project which is how Project Alajuelita came about. 

Project Alajuelita was a different experience than Project Cavite. I was immersed in the culture, staying with a homestay family. This was such a rich experience as they took me under their wing, showed me around Santa Ana, and fed me some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had. I was also lucky to participate in this service project during the week of Christmas, so experiencing the holiday from a different culture was a bonus. On my first day in the clinic, I helped other clinic workers gear up for a Christmas party for the youth in the community. We had a good time, sang Christmas carols, and rode on a mechanical bull. About 80 children attended and all of them received gifts. It was such a heartwarming moment to be in Costa Rica around this time of the year. Later in the week, I rotated through the pharmacy, waiting room, and exam room in the FIMRC clinic. I was able to shadow the doctor on-site while she treated acute and chronic illnesses. The most exciting experience in the clinic was my ability to assist the examination and procedures to treat foot ulcers. My experience in Cavite fueled my passion and confidence as I interacted with patients. FIMRC has shown me what it truly is to be a servant to those around me. I am thankful for the opportunities, knowledge, experience, and lessons I’ve gained through my participation. 

I believe scholars must go abroad to become more well-rounded and globally conscious individuals. My participation in FIMRC has held vast implications for myself as well as the progression of global healthcare awareness. I will continue to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone. Thank you FIMRC for allowing me to grow and glow through your comprehensive programs. 

Learn more about volunteering and other ways you can support FIMRC!

Interested in volunteering abroad or participating in our virtual programs? Check them out below!

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