Students Make a Difference with Costa Rican Mission
In Alajuela, Costa Rica, where 12,500 Nicaraguan refugees and impoverished Costa Rican citizens reside, many of the women and children are faced with unsanitary living conditions.
Even though Costa Rican citizens have access to health care as part of the universal health care act, many adults are not educated in proper hygiene practices and most of the population of Alajuela is medically uninsured.
Eight students from the University of St. Thomas traveled to Alajuelita, Costa Rica, with Hope Missions and the Foundation for International Medical Relief for Children to apply their knowledge and skills at one of the local medical clinics.
The students, who are members of the Pre-Health Professions Society, were given a set of rotating tasks during their 10 days in Alajuelta. They had the opportunity to check in patients, record vital signs, create charts for patients, work in the pharmacy, fill prescriptions and explain dosage instructions to patients and shadow doctors at the clinic.
In addition to the FIMRC clinic, students had the opportunity to shadow a psychiatrist at Casa Club, an adult daycare that cared for adults with mental disabilities. Students also experienced working in a nearby soup kitchen where they prepared and distributed meals for children.
Branae Rollins, a senior biochemistry major and president of the PHPS, said the meals children received at the soup kitchen were the only meals they received throughout the day.
Dr. Michelle Steiger, associate professor and director of the Pre-Health Program, said the purpose of the trip was for students to work in an international, medically underserved and uninsured area, and help in various medical clinics.
“The students really change before and after the trip in their maturity, worldly views and passion for becoming a medical professional,” Steiger said. “There has not been a single student in all the years we have had a group go on this trip who has not been moved and motivated by this experience to give back to those less fortunate.”
Students also assisted in preparing health education sessions and creating educational pamphlets that were distributed to adults and children at the clinic.
Stephanie Ibrahim, a senior biology major, said she was unaware of the lack of health education in the area.
“I was shocked about how little some of the parents knew about proper sanitation and nutrition for their children,” Ibrahim said. “It was actually very sad to see how many children were dehydrated and malnourished.”
Ibrahim also said the trip made her appreciate what she has, and was impressed by the peacefulness of the country and people’s adherence to the “pura vida” lifestyle, and enjoyment of the pure life.
“Overall it was a truly humbling and refreshing experience,” Ibrahim said. “It made me realize how much we take for granted every day. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am for the opportunities we have here, but I also wish we could be simpler like the people are in Costa Rica.”
Steiger said students take away a greater understanding of global health issues.
“The students benefit from seeing firsthand what it is like in an area of the world without access to healthcare and good hygiene practices,” Steiger said. “Upon returning, the students often realize that many of these issues exist here in Texas and not just in ‘some other far-away place.’"
By Elaine Rivera