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Lessons on Humility

costa rica fimrc alumni ghvp global health volunteer program medical student project alajuelita volunteer Jun 14, 2022

Cindy is a fourth year medical student at Marian University and repeat FIMRC volunteer. She spent the month of April as a volunteer at Project Alajuelita, Costa Rica and wrote an initial reflection after her first week. Below is her final reflection after completing her volunteer experience. 


On week three of my four week stay in Costa Rica with FIMRC’s Project Alajuelita, I was joined by two other volunteers – Bridget and Katie from California. Following two weeks of complete immersion that, in harder moments, masqueraded as isolation, I was elated to make new friends/coworkers, if only for a week. Together the three of us took on the daunting task of organizing all the medical supplies and medications of the clinic, discarding expired materials and creating a systematic and searchable inventory that cataloged every medication and its corresponding quantity, expiration date, and location within the pharmacy. Day after day, we walked through the clinic, past the patient waiting area, past the exam rooms, and to our new home-away-from-home: the pharmacy. This area was crammed full of boxes upon boxes of unopened and unused donations, supplies that were unaccounted for, medications that had long since expired. As the hours passed, we sorted through thousands of medicines, created order out of the chaos, and in doing so, constructed a safer and more efficient pharmacy. Since arriving in Costa Rica, I had been searching for my capital-P Purpose – the reason I was volunteering here, the positive impact I could make. As a fourth-year medical student weeks away from graduating and becoming a physician, I had stars in my eyes about the ways in which I could bring assistance to the project. I envisioned working alongside clinicians, diagnosing rare tropical maladies, watching understanding light up the eyes of patients as I taught them health education lessons entirely in Spanish. What I did not envision was emptying hundreds upon hundreds of expired pill blisters into a plastic bag marked “basura.” But by the time my fellow volunteers returned home, and I completed another week of DIY pharmacy renovations, the clinic had received an HGTV-worthy makeover complete with a digital inventory the likes of which, in Dr. Karen’s words, the clinic had never before seen. On my final day in the clinic, my chest swelled with pride at the massive overhaul we had achieved, and the implications this would have for future patient care.

Once I convinced myself to abandon the expectations with which I had arrived and get my hands dirty in the spider-filled medication shelves, I learned an important lesson: work doesn’t have to be glamorous to be important. Trading the patient-facing care that I highly anticipated for behind-the-scenes, monotonous labor, I completed a project that will have a lasting effect on the clinic. When volunteering, it is imperative that we assume a posture of humility. The nature of volunteer work is to be willing - willing to do the jobs that no one else wants or has the time to do; to take on the spirit of a servant and get one's hands dirty; to embrace humility in pursuit of a greater purpose. Though I began this trip with expectations completely out of line with the reality before me, I know that I have made a positive change in the clinic, and a positive change was made in me.

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