By Carolina De La Rosa Mateo
Bachelor of Health Science student, pre-public health track
This summer, I joined UF pediatrics resident Dr. Diana Montoya-Williams and four other UF students in Ibagué, Colombia, giving public health workshops and medical history and fitness evaluations to the community’s poorest children. Dr. Montoya-Williams, who is native to Colombia, had the desire to work with Colombian children for a long time and was finally able to accomplish that after she selected five volunteers to go with her for this opportunity.
During the two weeks, the group interacted with 280 Colombian children between the ages of 7 and 12. These children were all a part of Fundación Colombia Somos Todos, an organization founded by their role model and famous soccer player James Rodriguez, who is originally from Ibagué. Fundación Colombia Somos Todos provides a safe haven for children who have low-income to learn and play soccer. The health status of many of the children is unknown, so one of the UF group’s main objectives was to learn and record this information. Every child was given an appointment time to meet with two of the volunteers to have their vitals taken and do a simple gross and motor skills assessment while the parent detailed the child’s medical history. If the parent had any concerns that were beyond what the volunteers could address, they were referred to Dr. Montoya-Williams.
While the medical evaluations were going on, the other volunteers and the doctor were split into two groups. One pair worked on physical fitness evaluations, testing each child on his or her ability to do jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups and run across a soccer field. The other volunteers presented hands-on workshops on oral health, smoking, healthy diet, exercise, vaccinations and handwashing. The kids were very receptive to the presentations and enthusiastic about participating and sharing their own knowledge.
The two weeks were not only an opportunity to help the community, but also one for cultural immersion. Eating Colombian food every day, hiking a mountain, and dancing to Colombian music are just a few of things the group experienced.
Andrea Ortega, a UF alumna and executive director of Children Beyond Our Borders, Inc. (CBOB), joined the group during the second week, and helped the group accomplish its objectives. This trip, which was the first of its kind for both organizations, would not have been possible without the drive, resilience and dedication exhibited by both Ms. Ortega and Dr. Montoya-Williams. CBOB was founded in 2003 with the hope of educating and empowering Colombian children who are victims of social injustices. For 11 years they have sent volunteers abroad to give educational workshops that have focused on self-esteem, curiosity and innovation. As this trip was structured differently from previous ones, it served as a foundation for future trips. The hope is that Children Beyond Our Borders, Inc. will be able to continue to provide opportunities like this for pre-med and pre-health students.