Students Volunteer with Clinic in Costa Rica for Winter Break

This January, members of the RWU Chapter of Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC) headed to Alajuelita, Costa Rica, to learn about and volunteer at a clinic for refugees from Nicaragua

Julia Rubin
RWU Students hold FIMRC sign.
Student volunteers from left to right: Madison Harrington `19, Hannah Schrader `19, and Rosie Pontius `19

ALAJUELITA, COSTA RICA. ­­– Psychology major Rosie Pontius `19 sat in the exam room of a clinic. A woman had brought her newborn son in for a general checkup, to make sure he was progressing normally. “He was just 20 days old,” says Pontius, “born on Christmas Eve.” She watched the physician perform a series of reflex tests that Pontius had only learned about in her Child Development psychology course.

Relief filled the room when the physician proclaimed the tiny baby perfectly healthy.  

Though Pontius had studied this process in class, to see the exam up close, and the emotional impact it can have on a new parent, brought her coursework to life. This moment of experiential learning was one of many that took place over the alternative winter break trip to Alajuelita with the RWU chapter of the Foundation for International Medical Relief for Children (FIMRC).

In addition to observing newborn medical visits, Pontius got to shadow the clinic’s psychologist.

“Tatiana was very good about explaining the patient history before the session and then breaking down what happened during the session afterwards,” Pontius says. “To see Tatiana's technique and manner with the patients firsthand was very interesting.”

Pontius and four other student volunteers were led by Associate Professor of History Charlotte Carrington-Farmer and Visiting Assistant Professor of Graphic Design John Farmer. In preparation for the trip, the faculty advisors ensured that the students would be well-prepared, responsible volunteers.

Students researched their destination, a small town which is home to many refugees from Nicaragua. The majority of the clinic’s patients have fled their homes due to political conflict, natural disaster, or limited economic opportunity. Therefore, the clinic serves these families who are likely to be uninsured and in need of care.

While all participating students are members of the FIMRC club here on campus, they brought a number of different skills to this international exchange. 

“Students are from all majors,” says Carrington-Farmer.  “They just have an interest in global service-learning, ethical volunteer work, and social justice.” 

Students rotated around the clinic, shadowing different practitioners depending on their interests, which include public health, medicine, education, psychology, and more. Despite their differences, they all have one thing in common: they are all Civic Scholars, students who work hand-in-hand with communities to learn and make a positive impact.

Mary D’Angelo `21, a biology major, got to work in the pharmacy, helping to fill prescriptions for patients, and at the front desk, where she checked in patients and took their vitals.

“I definitely learned a lot about how the healthcare system functions in other countries while volunteering there,” D’Angelo reflects. “I also learned a lot about Costa Rican culture and way of life. I learned to relax more and go with the flow.”

Along with seeing their academic passions come to life in the clinic, the student volunteers immersed themselves in the language and culture of Alajuelita. They stayed with host families in a nearby town.

Living with them definitely taught me a lot about Costa Rican culture and improved my Spanish,” says D’Angelo.

This trip, like all FIMRC trips to various locations, was a mutual exchange. Not only did the students gain critical thinking skills and life-changing experience, but they also shared their own cultural experience and unique skills with Project Alajuelita.  

“Both volunteers and community members gain so much through just interacting and communicating with someone from a different background,” says FIMRC Director of Strategic Partnerships Madeleine Randolet. "As the majority of volunteers are on-site for a short period, they're able to contribute to the larger impact FIMRC has within the community through the year-round services and programming.”

Students like Pontius and D’Angelo agree that spending their winter break with FIMRC in Costa Rica has helped them see their academic careers, the healthcare field, volunteer work, and the world around them in a different way.

“This trip has made me widen my perspective and has increased my passion for medical care,” D’Angelo says. “I will always look back on this experience as I continue my education.” 

The RWU FIMRC Chapter provides many opportunities for students to engage in civic scholarship abroad. The club is currently planning its next trip, which will be to Peru in May.

At RWU, we develop Civic Scholars who believe in community-engaged work. That’s why we commit to providing every student an opportunity that empowers them to put their knowledge and skills to the test solving real-world problems and creating meaningful change with community partners. Learn more about the Civic Scholars program and how to help us reach our goal of every student participating in civic scholarship.