I chose to volunteer at Project La Merced, Peru with FIMRC because I wanted to experience a culture and health system I had almost no prior experience with. I hadn't learned much about Peru in the past, and this trip really exposed me to how diverse and unique Peruvian culture is, as well as the nature of living in Peru. Additionally, I knew FIMRC was a reputable organization that would provide me with the volunteer experience I sought.
Why did you choose this program?
How did this trip have an impact on your future?
As a prospective immunologist, this trip has helped me understand worldwide health issues from a a more informed perspective, and caused me to consider conducting research in areas with higher need than the U.S.
What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
My local FIMRC chapter Medical Mission Coordinator helped me apply for this experience, and guided me through registering for the US State department program and gave us other forms to complete. I had to apply for traveler's insurance on my own. Once I was accepted into the La Merced program, I was given further instructions on booking plane tickets and submitting my passport (which I had to renew on my own), and I had to arrange a special doctor's visit to get the yellow fever vaccine (which is offered in very limited locations). I also visited my college health center for a traveling consultation to get any other vaccines or medication I needed. I had to figure out what plane tickets to get on my own, but all transportation from the Lima airport to the project site and back was taken care of.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
After volunteering in Peru, I learned a lot about the difference between voluntourism and true sustainable volunteering. I was forced to reconsider my views of people living in different countries and environments, and reconsider my definition of privilege. I would encourage anyone going on this program to keep an open mind because of these reasons. You won't have all the familiar comforts at home, and it takes some time to adjust any time you travel. If it's your first time traveling out of the country or far from home, I would advise you to be more aware of your surroundings than you normally would and understand that things won't be as they are portrayed in the media. Overall, be able to work past any situational challenges and have a good time!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
The day starts by waking up at either 7 or 8 am for breakfast. After that, you go to your morning activity which can range from shadowing a specialist at the hospital, assisting at a pediatric center, running a workshop for kids in indigenous communities, to doing trash pickups. You come back to the homestay for lunch, and then head out for your afternoon activity which is different from your morning activity. Then, you return for dinner and have free time to explore! You also have the weekends off to explore the surroundings. Sometimes you have special outings to nearby communities, and larger groups get a special orientation activity- a scavenger hunt in the middle of La Merced!
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
My biggest fear was adjusting to the living situation, because my morale is affected a lot by whether I am comfortable in the place I sleep. Peru was quite hot and humid, even in January, because it was the rainy season there. There were more bugs than I was used to, and the toilet system is different. I felt quite lethargic a lot of the days, and it was difficult to complete some of the volunteering activities under the hot sun. After some experience, however, I was able to get over these minor issues like bugs and appreciate the experience I was having. It helped to have fellow volunteers experiencing similar challenges, because we could help each other. And there was always BioFresh ice cream to cool off from the heat!