“Hello? Hello Ladies?” We had finally made contact with Camilo, FIMRC’s Community Health Coordinator in Alajuelita, Costa Rica. This was one more reminder of how things we take for granted, like internet connectivity, pose a challenge for FIMRC’s remote locations around the globe. After six weeks interning at FIMRC Headquarters in Philadelphia, I am still amazed at how much I learn every day. This morning’s conversation between Camilo, Gauri (another Brandeis student intern) and me was no exception.
Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children, or FIMRC for short, provides healthcare and health education for mothers and children in under-served areas around the world.
“Hi Camilo, how are you?”
“I am very well ladies. It is so good to speak with you.” It became apparent that Camilo treats everyone with the utmost respect and care—not just us, but the patients he treats at the San Felipe Soup Kitchen in Costa Rica as well.
Camilo explained that his role at FIMRC is to provide health education to the Costa Rican residents and mostly Nicaraguan refugees who come through his doors. He teaches them about everything from nutrition to cancer to what to do in an environmental catastrophe. FIMRC puts a huge emphasis on health education, and in the past 6 weeks of interning I’ve come to understand why. The local residents at FIMRC’s seven project sites and other underserved areas around the world suffer from conditions caused by the lack of things we take for granted, like clean water and sanitation. Camilo teaches them basic concepts, such as the value of hand-washing, the food pyramid, and first aid. Prevention, especially in rural areas where the nearest hospital may be hundreds of kilometers away, is critical.
Camilo learns everything he can about his patients—their home situations, children, families, jobs, likes and dislikes—all before being able to treat them. The importance of building personal relationships with the people in the community was reinforced by my supervisor, Taylor, who said that the best way to have an impact is to let your guard down, be able to laugh at yourself and show people that you are invested in learning about them. Thus, a very valuable lesson I have learned from FIMRC is “seek first to understand.”
I asked Camilo how he makes health education fun. I mean, if you ask a child from the United States if they want to sit down and learn about Dengue prevention, they will probably respond with a confused look and an emphatic, “No!” Camilo countered that the people at San Felipe are always interested and engaged, because the living situation in Alajuelita is “very sad.” The people are poor. Many of them come to San Felipe for three meals a day. Some of the mothers are very young, and husbands do not always treat their wives well. So any small, kind gesture makes a difference. The women in Alajuelita know Camilo cares about them and their health, and that show of concern and respect makes the women and kids want to listen.
At FIMRC Headquarters the other interns and I have been engaged in many interesting and important projects for the organization—crunching data, creating surveys, doing cost analyses, and revising a fundraising packet. But it seems to me the victories in each of FIMRC’s sites, where FIMRC implements its mission, are achieved in a more humanistic way. Kindness and an open mind can mean the world to people, and this is a lesson I can apply in the future when I hopefully work abroad in healthcare… maybe even at a job like Camilo’s.
Camilo did an incredible job answering Gauri’s and my questions regarding his job and experiences in Costa Rica, but he seemed to have some difficulty formulating answers. Some feelings, experiences and situations just can’t be put into words. “You’ll understand when you get here. When are you coming?” he asked us. There seemed to be a slight miscommunication in that Gauri and I weren’t actually planning to travel to Costa Rica, as much as I wanted to. I feel that I’ve achieved my goal of learning so much about each of FIMRC’s sites by speaking with FIMRC staff, reading reports, and doing other research, but I’ve come to realize there is only so much I can learn secondhand. I will only truly understand the system once I experience it personally, which reinforces my desire to work abroad in public health someday.
I asked Camilo, “What’s the most rewarding part of your job?”
“My job…how do I say this in English…Seeing that every day people’s lives are improved. FIMRC means the world to them. When they smile, say thank you…they come with open arms and are so happy that FIMRC is here. …Having this work…they humanize you, and they really show you to be grateful for what you have. The kids will bring you small things like bread, or toys, or a smile, invite you into their homes. Working there is reward enough.”
To see Camilo take so much care in a community, while he himself is privileged just having obtained his law degree, was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had at FIMRC. It’s amazing to see someone do this kind of work, not for money, not to impress others, but because he genuinely cares about the well-being of these people and knows he can make their lives better.
I’m proud and pleased about how much I’ve learned and grown through my internship at FIMRC. Not only have I become comfortable in an office environment and forged amazing relationships with my peers, I’ve learned to see the big picture—that an open mind and heart can go a long way in enriching people’s lives. I believe I have found my purpose in life: to serve and to help those less fortunate than myself through healthcare. This internship is the first step in hopefully a long line of adventures and experiences working in healthcare abroad.
“Alright ladies take care, and see you soon.”
“Yes Camilo, we’ll see you soon,” Gauri and I joked…but part of me hoped we actually would.
-Erica Granor ’15