We are all the sum of our own unique experiences. The good. The bad. The challenging. From the absolutely joyful to the truly troubling. Leading teams of volunteers on dental and optometry brigades to reach places and people outside the reaches (physically, economically, or circumstantially) of available services, this belief rings particularly true.
As a group of Canadians 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 communities where Nicaraguan immigrants have settled either temporarily or for the long term, that brought them to Costa Rica and that bring them to our temporary clinic locations not by choice, but out of necessity.
The largely undocumented immigrants fleeing persecution during Nicaragua’s most recent violence and civil unrest, taking refuge across the border in Costa Rica, lack the means to access health services. 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.
A 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.
We all have a story. How humbling it is to play even a small part in someone else’s.