Today’s guest blogger is Michelle Stepan! Michelle is majoring in dietetics and Spanish at North Dakota State University. This summer, she did two volunteer “add-on’s” with API Abroad, which is a fantastic option for any student looking to add a little more to their international experience as well as give back to the place they call “home” for several weeks! More information about our volunteer add-on programs here.
Let’s hear from Michelle!
“One of my volunteer placements during my 3 month study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina was at Fundación Conin, or The Conin Foundation. This organization serves lower socioeconomic status women and children who face malnutrition and other worsened health outcomes as a result of their social class. At Conin, an interprofessional team of nutritionists, pediatricians, social workers, dentists, and kinesiologists work together to improve both health outcomes and quality of life for these underserved populations. The three main pillars of Conin include nutrition, stimulation, and support with the ultimate goal of promoting healthy mental, physical, and emotional development of children in their most precarious years, ages 1-5.
On a personal level, malnutrition and its (hopefully) imminent eradication has been the topic I have been most passionate about throughout my 3 years as a nutrition (dietetics) major. More than any other topic pertaining to nutrition and dietetics, malnutrition has prompted my blog posts, research papers, and volunteer jobs while in college. WIC, or women, infants, and children, is a US government organization that shares many goals with Conin. I was able to volunteer at WIC with the farmers market program the summer before my study abroad.
My experiences volunteering at WIC in the US and volunteering at Fundación Conin in Argentina were very distinct. Both organizations are very well run, yet function in their own ways according to culture and need. In the US, WIC protocol is strict, formal, and calls for well documented cases. Conin, despite being a bit more disorganized and relaxed, focuses on personal interaction and relationships with the women and children that show up. Although data is still recorded and documented, neither the initiative nor the technology matches that of WIC. Culturally, Argentina is slower paced and people focused. Greetings such as kisses and hugs are common even among family members who see each other every day. As a volunteer and a foreigner, I found both the staff and the patients to be patient, kind, and very welcoming. I worked with the nutritionist most of the time, helping her weigh and measure both expecting mothers and their children as well as complete food frequency recalls (which is like an interview about which foods you eat and how often) with some of the families. It was certainly a challenge attempting it all in another language, but I found that most people to be very understanding and encouraging, which overall allowed me to improve my vocabulary as well as my confidence.
Despite the incredible experience I received while working with the nutritionist, my favorite part about Conin was spending time with the children. Many of the regular children at Conin are one of many siblings and therefore most likely do not receive as much attention at home. After morning patient consults, I was able to spend my afternoons playing soccer (poorly), building playhouses, giving piggy-back-rides, and anything and everything in between. Two of the regulars that I looked forward to seeing every day were identical twin girls named Virginia and Brisa. Full of energy and always wanting to take pictures of me and each other, Brisa and Virgi were the highlights of my days at Conin. Because of these little girls, the other children, and the staff, I have incredibly memories, and a plethora of videos and photos to look back on.”