January 5, 2017 | By Chuck Carlson
For Kenny McCosh, ‘17, and Monica Brugnoni, ’17, it’s always been about the smiles.
“I always wear hats,” McCosh, a Hillsdale native majoring in biology and ethnic studies, said as he recounted his first volunteer effort last year to Nicaragua with the international nongovernmental organization Global Medical Brigades. “I didn’t speak Spanish and they didn’t speak English, but I gave the kids some hats.”
Then came the translation.
“A smile looks the same in every language,” he said simply.
It has been much the same for Brugnoni, who lives in St. Clair Shores and is majoring in biology and religious studies.
“It’s an eye-opening experience,” she said in describing the difference in prosperity between Nicaragua and the U.S. “They’re always happy; nothing bothers them. It’s kind of shocking but it’s so rewarding to help. And they’re so appreciative. The people are always so excited and thankful. Their smiles are always so much more genuine.”
So it has been for the two Albion College seniors in their efforts for Global Medical Brigades, which coordinates volunteers to work in Nicaragua, Honduras and Panama in Central America and Ghana in West Africa, in an effort to strengthen the health and economic development in those countries.
“It’s almost a cliché to say that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” McCosh said.
Yet the two Albion College students are lucky—both are able to repeat their experience. They will be two of the group leaders for 26 Albion students who will be in Nicaragua from January 6-14 to again help local doctors provide medical and dental care as well as set up public-health sanitary sites.
This will be Brugnoni’s third trip to Nicaragua and McCosh’s second; Albion’s contingent, which will join other college students from around the country, will be based this year in the town of Estelimar.
For three days they will work with doctors helping triage patients, taking blood pressure, providing work in the pharmacy and performing other duties as needed. During the other three days they will create a sanitary station that will include a septic tank, concrete floor, sink and toilet.
Brugnoni, who plans to attend nursing school after she graduates, says more than half of the Albion volunteers are going for the first time, intrigued by the opportunity to provide help in another country.
“The first-year students ask what it’s all about and I tell them that you can’t put it into words,” she said. “But they’re going to be happy when they get back.”
For both Brugnoni and McCosh, the experience has sparked in them the need to help wherever and whenever they can.
“One of my mentors called this traveling with a purpose,” said McCosh, who is taking a year off after graduation before applying for medical school. “So I’d like to try to do something like this every year and travel with a purpose.”