One plus one. The sum of our experience.

There is no secret formula or magic equation per say, but I am reminded through brigade travel that we are all the sum of our own unique experiences. The good. The bad. The challenging. From the absolutely joyful to the truly troubling.

As a group of volunteers in Costa Rica, what we have in common is that our own experiences and circumstances have brought us each here by choice.

On the contrary, it is the experiences and circumstances of those lining up to receive dental and vision care in Costa Rica communities where Nicaraguan immigrants have settled either temporarily or for the long term, that brought them here not by choice, but out of necessity – to both Costa Rica and to our temporary clinic locations.

Not unlike the immigrant population displaced from Nicaragua due to the devastation of civil war in the 80’s and 90’s who have no access to government aid in Costa Rica, the largely undocumented immigrants fleeing persecution during Nicaragua’s more recent violence and civil unrest this past year, taking refuge across the border in Costa Rica, lack the means to access health services.

This is why we’ve come. 

While traveling to Nicaragua has not been possible in recent months, the opportunity to connect with Nicaraguans taking refuge in Costa Rica was made possible through partnership with the Costa Rica Humanitarian Foundation and through the volunteer spirit of our team.

By the grace of just plain creative volunteers willing to sew, salvage, and fashion anything and everything at our disposal into form and function, we turn a community hall, a church, and a three-room school into a welcoming, clinic-worthy space. Vision tests, eyeglass prescriptions, treatment of infections, fillings, and extractions address some of the necessity of those newly arrived to the country, those labouring for pennies in the pineapple plantations, and those simply in need of services.

It is here that we witness the dire straits of the very first patient – a man whose swollen face is evidence of shrinking faith in his circumstance. It is here that we witness, time and time again, the ability of a simple pair of glasses to address even one of the challenges being faced by those seeking refuge.

It is here that we hear stories of flight and of fear, of barricades and of bloodshed, but also of resilience and of hope. It is here that we feel the positive spirit of those we meet. And it is contagious. When a community opens its doors, its trust, and its stories, we all benefit from having spent time together.

Everybody has a story. 

The tree of life charm, with its coloured canopy and tangled roots – handmade and gifted by the grandmothers who welcomed us into their community space – has found a spot on my desk back at home, reminding me that we are all connected. While we each have our own roots, we also each have our own stories – branching out and up and over and through and inevitably and invariably connecting us to the stories, to the communities, and to the people with whom we share the world.

How humbling it is to play even a small part in someone else’s story.

Blog In The Field Central America and the Caribbean