Franklin & Marshall student Lauren Coffua '14 asked herself a question earlier this semester as she considered her plans for spring break:
"How often can you say, 'I spent my spring break helping people in completely isolated communities in the mountains of Central America'?"
For Coffua and 10 other F&M students, a medical mission to La Cascada, Honduras, was the perfect way to spend the mid-semester break. F&M's Ware Institute for Civic Engagement organized the trip in partnership with the nonprofit Central American Relief Efforts (CARE), which mobilizes volunteers in the United States to benefit impoverished populations in Central America.
The students ran dental and medical clinics, provided medication to residents, and attended rounds with Honduran physicians in hospitals. In many cases, the clinics were flooded by local residents who traveled several hours to get medical attention they otherwise would not receive.
The F&M group provided medical assistance to 1,366 people over three days, including 528 patients in a single day -- a record high for CARE.
"I could not be more proud of the F&M students who participated," said Ryan McGonigle '08, assistant director of the Ware Institute, who accompanied the students on the trip. "Their teamwork and determination was nothing short of admirable. They pushed themselves out of their comfort zones to soak up every part of the experience. Breaking the CARE record is a special accomplishment we'll never forget."
Melissa Serrano '13, a sociology major at F&M, was among the students who traveled to Honduras.
"The most memorable aspect of the trip was working with kids, whether to teach them about dental hygiene, color with them or simply play games with them," Serrano said. "They were so energetic, caring and loving. Some of the kids had never colored before or brushed their teeth, and I'm proud to have been part of changing that."
Coffua said she hoped the experience would help her decide whether to pursue her career goal of performing reconstructive surgery through programs such as Operation Smile and Doctors Without Borders.
"The trip exceeded my expectations and completely changed the way I thought about spending my gap year after I graduate," said Coffua, a biology major at F&M. "I hope I can use this experience as a springboard into similar life-changing programs. Every second of the trip was incredible. Not once did I ever feel like I was incapable of assisting someone. The entire journey was an adventure, from traveling to distant villages along dirt roads to playing with children at an orphanage."
The excursion to Honduras appealed to Gian Zlupko '16 because the first-year student was looking for ways to gain experience in the medical field. Zlupko was struck by the reaction of the local residents receiving basic medical care. "What was most memorable was the amount of joy and gratitude Hondurans had after we simply took their blood pressure or gave them a new shirt," he said.
After returning to the U.S., Coffua reflected on the state of the Honduran health system.
"[In the main hospital], I talked with one of the nurses about how they petitioned the hospital to buy finger pulse oximeters for the babies, and they were finally able to get some," she said. "Little things like that made me realize how lucky I am. We take for granted the CVS across the street, or the fact that we can call a doctor for an appointment."
More information about international trips offered by the Ware Institute is available online.