Originally Published in Italian, translated to Spanish and then to English by Isabel Alvarado.
Costa Rica Mission February 2008
By Coralie Pellisier
A fantastic experience; I have no other words to describe what I went through after three weeks of voluntary chiropractic work in Costa Rica.
It all started with an ad we saw in the internet: "We are looking for students in the last year of chiroprac tic university to do a voluntary three-week internship in Costa Rica to treat the local population." (www.santesante.org) Needless to say, I was suddenly keen with the idea and I started the procedure to be selected: interviews, letters of application, convincing the univer sity to grant me the permission to leave the clinic, filling out dozens of forms, and then... a three-month wait to learn whether or not I was chosen. Finally, when I got the positive news it seemed like I touched the sky with one finger: I couldn't wait to leave and bring my little help to the small Costa Rican children and to put into practice what I had learned in five years of chiropractic school. In fact, after the instructions given, they recommended to bring tooth brushes, toothpaste, t-shirts and other pieces of clothing to distribute amongst the little ones.
In the meantime, I had to organize my finances because even though the mission offered [partial] room and board, I had to cover the rest of the expenses, including the plane fare. That’s why I was stalking my daddy. Also, thanks to a small contribution from the Italian Chiropractic Association, I collected the necessary amount to travel.
Departure! We spent 24 hours traveling--taxi, bus and plane--to finally get to our destination, but once we arrived in the land of palms, we realized how much it was really worth it.
Nature in Costa Rica is something incredible: palms everywhere, colorful flowers (and when I say colorful, I mean colors I had never seen before) from yellow to red, from blue to purple to white, and so much green! Wild monkeys, iguanas, birds, a perfect combination amidst the human race, animals and vegetation reaching a perfect balance.
From the beginning we stayed at an apartment in Santa Lucía (15 minutes from Heredia and 45 minutes from the capital San José). We worked Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. That allowed us to use Wednesdays and weekends to explore the surroundings.
During the work days, we got up at 6 in the morning and travelled on a bus to our destinations (the first week 45 minutes to Alajuela, the second an hour and a half to San Ramón, and the third week two and a half hours to Cartago) and then we started our work day around 9 to finish around 4 or 5.
The work day started with good Costa Rican coffee, with the reputation of best in the world (being Italian, I must admit their coffee is really good!), fresh fruit, (papaya, mango, strawberries, pineapple, bananas...yum, yum) and a community prayer. Even if I’m not a religious person like most people in Costa Rica, I must admit such practice deeply impressed me. The people we treated were very poor and it was pretty special to hold them by the hand in a big circle under a burning sun together with the locals, praying and wishing the patients of that day to get better and that the doctors present would remain in good health. I must admit it was a special thing--it may seem ridiculous, but in that brief moment, a feeling of well being and peace would feel me up spiritually and made me feel accepted in the community allowing me to work in harmony within the situation.
We started our day with this community prayer and then more or less 150 patients a day would entrust themselves to our care, around 20-30 patients each. Our group was of 5 students from the last year in chiropractic school, 2 massage therapists, one physician and one supervisor chiropractor. This was the team in the primary role, but we mustn't forget the people who worked secondary roles: cooks, managers, interpreters, and supervisors, a big team united to help people who are normally abandoned or marginalized for monetary reasons.
Without any discrimination, children, grownups and aging adults could come to La Clínica de la Mariposa (Clinic of the Butterfly). The day was long and tiresome, but rich in experience and emotion so much that we were not exhausted.
Every day was a blessing! The patients were appreciative and thankful that someone was taking care of them. Even if for just four days, maybe for the first time in my life I felt truly useful.
Our patients did not look poor at first sight: they were well dressed, clean and educated. Afterward, by talking to them, we found out some of them couldn't afford shoes, others work 15 hours a day, others live in such conditions that are totally sad for us and really shocking.
I realized how fortunate we are to live in the situations we live in while they, even living in non-ideal conditions, are happy maybe even more than we are! This is the most profound realization I had in Costa Rica: the happiness these people have and spread.
In our society we have everything: good roads, optimum houses, hospitals, food in abundance, etc. But for a strange reason, we are not happy. In general, we are always stressed out, angry, politics is no use, the system doesn't work, marriages fail, debts are overwhelming... In Costa Rica there's nothing else but to smile to life! When you ask a Costa Rican how he's doing, he doesn't answer well or bad, he replies PURA VIDA! (pure life) which makes you think and reflect upon it.
I met many people during this mission; each will leave an indelible mark in my heart forever. With many I am still in touch, some patients write letters, others more fortunate send me emails. All of this makes me glad and allows me to prolong this experience so much that I want to go back as a doctor in chiropractic.
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