This past summer, Sofia participated in a 4-week long International Health Fellowship in La Merced, Peru as a part of the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC) project site! She spent her time teaching first aid training workshops at the local elementary school and shadowing local doctors. Sofia plans to become a primary care pediatrician after completing a Master of Public Health program, and the lessons learned through this experience will be invaluable.
Sofia and 11 other undergraduate fellows assisted FIMRC staff with health education programs and community outreach. They were supervised by the FIMRC staff, which included two translators, two field officers, and the project manager. On orientation day, the students were presented with slideshows about various topics including pertinent information about the project site, fellow duties, the local culture, and how the local healthcare and education systems function.
As a part of their health education programs, Sofia and the other fellows assisted
FIMRC with weekly first aid training workshops held at a local elementary school. They also designed programs tailored specifically to the rural communities of La Merced. When not working on these education programs, Sofia shadowed doctors at a local hospital.
Sofia recalls that the greatest challenge she faced as a fellow was the language barrier. Despite being a native Spanish speaker, she found that she had not had many opportunities to practice her Spanish in a medical setting. Sofia credits much of her ability to effectively communicate medically-related topics to the three-course Spanish for Healthcare Professionals Certificate program she attended through UCSD Extension. Using what she learned during the program as well as her volunteer experience, Sofia found that she expanded her Spanish vocabulary, all while developing a greater sense of confidence.
“I was pretty nervous about speaking Spanish, especially medically-related topics, to a group, but after presenting our health education programs to school children and adult community members, my oral presentation skills and self-confidence improved greatly.”
Apart from the various skills she refined, Sofia fondly remembers the time she spent with her host family. She related various times in which she and her host parents shared quality moments, whether in the kitchen or on early morning outings to buy tamales. Sofia especially loved the nights she spent watching Spanish-dubbed NCIS with their grandchildren and the adventures she had with her fellow volunteers. Sofia believes that it was in moments like these that she learned the most about Peruvian culture and the local way of life.
Sofia also celebrated her 20th birthday in Peru! She relates that her fellow volunteers were so thoughtful and fun throughout the day and the children at the school sang Happy Birthday in Spanish. In the evening her host mom, Rosa, surprised Sofia and another volunteer whose birthday was the day after hers with a beautiful cake!
“I was able to see how different the healthcare system is in Peru compared to the US and the realities of the vast poverty in the region I was in. I plan to draw on what I learned as I develop my thesis for the Senior Capstone. In addition to learning about healthcare in Peru and getting to help with various health programs, I enjoyed talking to community members and getting to know my fellow volunteers. Overall, I had an incredible experience and am so grateful for the opportunity. I will cherish the memories I made!”
The Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children is a non-profit organization that is focused on improving the health of families in the developing world. They collaborate with community members to create innovative and self-sustainable health improvement programs. FIMRC has many outpatient clinics and partnerships in the areas they serve and through these they provide clinical care, perform community outreach, and facilitate health education campaigns. FIMRC has project sites in nine countries across the globe.