Albion Students volunteer to help refugees in Costa Rica

March 9, 2023

By Jake Weber

Albion took just three weeks for winter break this year – but it was still enough time for Will Tessin, ’25, and Raleigh Canady, ’25, to “do some good” as one of the College’s newest student organizations.

Just a few months earlier, the pair founded the Albion chapter of the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC), an organization that connects American volunteers to healthcare programs in developing countries. At the time, Tessin and Canady had hoped to organize an Albion trip sometime in the future.

Then, in mid-November, FIMRC let them know: there was room for two volunteers in Costa Rica during the first week of January.

“The whole point of starting Albion FIMRC was to do this, and here was the opportunity,” said Tessin, a sophomore majoring in biology and Spanish and a member of the Lisa and James Wilson Institute for Medicine. “We had to jump on it.”

As a biology major interested in a medical career, Tessin looked forward to being part of patient care, but his Spanish major proved far more valuable. Tessin spent most of his time as a translator for the volunteer nurse practitioners and physician assistants who did one-on-one patient care.

“I learned that my Spanish was better than I thought,” said Tessin (whose Spanish comes entirely from K-12 and college language instruction). “I learned a lot of vocabulary this week and realized I could talk about things like pain management and diabetes. But it was surprisingly tiring to speak Spanish all day. In the afternoons, my brain felt fried.”

Physics/engineering major Canady, a sophomore, ended up with more of the care work, helping patients register for their appointments and taking blood pressure, temperature and height/weight measurements.

“It was hard to talk to people after I asked them the questions I knew,” said Canady (who does not speak Spanish). But “the patient interaction was what I really liked. It was great to meet the nurses and doctors we worked with and help them solve problems.”

Although they were in Costa Rica, Tessin and Canady were surprised to learn that the majority of FIMRC’s patients were Nicaraguan refugees whose undocumented status prohibits them from getting state-sponsored care.

“We definitely learned to be patient and roll with the punches,” said Tessin. “We were working with people who have a lot bigger problems. It didn’t make sense to get stressed out over little things.”

The trip also fueled Tessin and Canady’s enthusiasm for growing their FIMCR chapter.

“We want to do some fundraising because we’re hoping to send three students on a trip this summer,” Tessin said. “This was a great volunteer experience because, from the first day, we were able to make a difference for so many people.”

“I’m studying engineering, but I’ve always been interested in these types of programs – how they’re run, what volunteers actually do,” said Canady. We worked hard but felt at home because everyone was so friendly. I hope we will do more because it’s an experience everyone should have.”