Journey Through the Hallways: Medical Volunteering in Costa Rica

Mavis Britwum is a student at The College of New Jersey and an ISA Featured Blogger. Mavis is currently studying abroad and participating in service-learning in San Jose, Costa Rica on a Fall Study + Service-Learning program.

ELAP service learning

I walked into the patient’s room leaving my usual nervousness at the door.  I always take a final deep exhale before encountering a new patient, as if to release my body and mind of any stress, fears, worries, and concerns. I know my Spanish is not great, but what I lack in language, I make up for in personality.

 “Hola!” I beamed brightly.

He did not flinch.

Como estas?” I asked politely, still smiling.

The boy refused to look at me as he buried his head deep into his game while his fingers danced around the telephone keys. His only response was a growl, furrowed eyebrows, and a sudden tenseness that overcame his body. Even though he was trying so hard to ignore me, I knew these signs meant that he had still acknowledged my presence.

I proceeded to ask more questions only to awkwardly answer them myself out loud. I threw a few pointless words into the air for a slight comic relief. If he wasn’t going to speak to me, I figured I could at least practice my Spanish by saying a couple of random words I had just learned. 

About 5 minutes had passed and still no normal response from this kid. I almost gave up, me and my random words, until he looked up at me with one eye, quizzically but with a shy smirk on his face. Yes, he noticed to me!


This experience reinforced a valuable lesson; never give up. Had I walked out the room after being ignored for 5 minutes I would have never made the friend I did that day. I was scared because of the language barrier, but he was scared too because I was a stranger. I’ve learned to remain positive; a trait I carry to every new patient room which has always yielded the best results for me.

Being able to volunteer at the Children’s Hospital in San Jose, Costa Rica with ISA Service-Learning has so far been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. As volunteers, we work directly with the Damas Voluntarios, an equivalent to Candy Stripers in the States. These women are often retired and volunteer as many days during the week as they can to provide additional care to both the patients and their parents during the day. Their bright red uniforms command a special presence around the hospital. As a service-learning participants with ISA Service-Learning, our basic job is to search through the medical wards for children who are alone to accompany them until their parents can return.  Additionally, we provide food and clothing for children whose parents who cannot afford staying at the hospital all day and return home at night, sometimes 8 hours away.

In the past 4 weeks that I’ve been here, my work has taught me the importance of human interaction in the medical field. We do make a difference to the children who sit up in their bed crying for any form of attention to help them combat their sickness, or to the children whose parents seldom visit because they cannot afford the time off from work. Our presence helps in the healing process and I am thankful to be a part of this network during my stay here in Costa Rica.

One thought

Leave a Reply