What It's Like Volunteering in Costa RicaJul 29, 2021
When we announced that travel to Project Alajuelita, Costa Rica would reopen, we received a lot of excited emails from our FIMRC family asking a bunch of different questions about accommodations, COVID precautions, travel and more. We thought that a great way to help answer these questions and give everyone an insider look into what it’s like to travel during the pandemic would be to ask a current on-site volunteer for some insight. Lauren Bates, a 22-year-old recent Michigan State University graduate from Mattawan, Michigan (just outside of Kalamazoo), is volunteering in Costa Rica as we write this blog. She brought with her a huge suitcase filled with donated medical supplies for Alajuelita’s clinic as well as a degree in social science with a focus in health and society and a minor in environment and health. We are thankful to have Lauren on-site helping out the Costa Rica staff and can’t wait to welcome YOU in the coming months. Here’s what Lauren had to say about her experience volunteering with FIMRC:
HAVE YOU EVER VOLUNTEERED WITH FIMRC?
No. I have not previously volunteered with FIMRC, but I definitely plan to continue learning and experiencing new things in the field of public health through FIMRC and the amazing programs.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO COSTA RICA BEFORE?
Yes. I have been to Costa Rica twice before this trip. Both of those trips were more like vacation in that I was able to experience the culture and environment, but was not able to see many of the beautiful everyday things that make up so much of the Costa Rican experience.
TELL US ABOUT HOW YOUR INTEREST IN GLOBAL HEALTH CAME ABOUT AND WHY YOU THINK GLOBAL HEALTH IS IMPORTANT.
Honestly, my interest in global health started when I was 17 and left on a trip to Zambia, Africa to volunteer at a school for orphaned and impoverished children. It was there that I had my first experience with people who needed medical care but were unable to access it whether it be distance or coverage for medical costs. After I returned home, every doctor's appointment, every prescription I got filled, I couldn’t stop thinking that most of the world doesn’t live the way that I do and doesn’t have the access to basic medical intervention. Every single human deserves to be healthy and have access to medical care that can change the rest of their lives.
HOW WAS YOUR TRIP TO COSTA RICA? TELL US ABOUT THE JOURNEY, COVID SAFETY MEASURES, AND WHAT ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO OTHER FIMRC VOLUNTEERS AS THEY PREPARE TO TRAVEL.
Traveling was made so easy by FIMRC because I got to choose my own flights and what worked best for me. I thought the instructions for traveling through the San Jose airport upon arrival were very helpful. The FIMRC team makes it easy to understand everything you have to do and all the records you have to have to travel to Costa Rica. I would advise others to continue to check what the country requires upon arrival because these documents might change as their response to COVID does.
WHAT IS YOUR HOUSING SITUATION LIKE WHILE YOU’RE VOLUNTEERING IN COSTA RICA?
I am staying with a very nice family in Santa Ana, which is about 25 minutes from the clinic. I love my host family. They have done an amazing job making me feel welcome and the food is amazing!
WHAT PROJECTS HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON WITH PROJECT ALAJUELITA TEAM?
Many of the projects that I have been working on are in an effort to make the reintroduction of in-person visits safe and effective for the patients as well as the staff here. This includes making signs to remind patients to keep their masks on and maintain their distance. I have also been assisting the staff with switching their data to an online database, which will make accessing patient information a lot faster and assist in better analysis of their chronic patients and what medications they use most often.
HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO SPEND MUCH TIME WITH THE ALAJUELITA COMMUNITY?
Due to COVID, community interaction is very limited for the safety of the people in the community and within the clinic. Many of the patients seen at the clinic are unvaccinated and therefore are at a high risk. We do get to interact with the patients that are being seen in-person and get a sense of the community through those interactions.
IS THERE A PARTICULAR PATIENT OR CASE THAT HAS STOOD OUT TO YOU DURING YOUR TIME THERE?
The patient that stuck out to me the most was a woman who was in remission from Cervical cancer. Dr. Karen said that she was able to find the tumor on the patient's cervix because of a free pap smear at the clinic. If the patient didn’t have access to FIMRC’s clinic, she would have died. I got to see Dr. Karen give her another pap smear and give the patient the good news that everything still looked good and healthy. This was a perfect example of a routine procedure that many people don’t have access to, but is so important. This clinic and its ability to make preventative visits available to this community is saving lives by catching illness and disease that would have otherwise been missed.
WHEN YOU’RE NOT VOLUNTEERING, WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN FILLING YOUR TIME WITH?
When not volunteering, I have been spending most of my time talking with the host family. I love learning about the difference between our cultures and to hear about how they live most of their lives. I go out with them on their errands and love embracing the everyday side of Costa Rican culture.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE INTERESTED IN VOLUNTEERING WITH FIMRC?
I would say that being able to be a part of something so impactful is something that will last a lifetime. I think it is a great experience for people interested in the medical field as there are many opportunities clinically, but also for people who are interested in improving the everyday lives of a community, socially, medically and emotionally. My advice would be to come with an open mind and an open heart to experience everything this clinic does within the community.
INTERESTED IN VOLUNTEERING ON-SITE AT PROJECT ALAJUELITA, COSTA RICA? FILL OUT THIS FORM TO GET STARTED.
Interested in volunteering abroad or participating in our virtual programs? Check them out below!
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