Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Thank you, Mother Nature


Even though I have only been in Costa Rica for a month now, my time abroad, so far, has been one of the richest learning experiences of my life. I have never been able to learn in a way that has been so active and hands-on; so much of my time has been spent directly applying my knowledge either in the field or in the community. Previous to the start of the program, I knew little in regards to global health, tropical medicine, or ethnobiology, but in just the four weeks that I have been here I have gained such valuable insight.

Our first three weeks of the program were spent at La Selva Bological Station in Sarapiquí. Our time at La Selva was focused on gaining an understanding of the Costa Rican health system, looking at how the rainforest and humanity impact each other, and learning about the various social determinants of health. One of my favorite aspects of the program so far has been our focus on ethnobiology. This field is one that I had had very little exposure to, but now that I have, it is subject that I find fascinating. I think that many doctors in the United States underestimate the power of natural medicines, especially as western medicine has become more dominant. One of the most valuable things I have learned and have been able to witness here in Costa Rica is how resourceful the rainforest, and nature in general, can be.

For three days we traveled to Talamanca to visit the Bribri people, an indigenous community in Kekoldi, and I was humbled by their understanding and incredible use of the rainforest’s rich resources. Our guide referred to the rainforest as the hardware store, the pharmacy, and the supermarket of the indigenous people because of how heavily they relied on their surroundings to survive. Our guide showed us leaves that had the texture of sandpaper that were used for polishing floors or washing pots, leaf fibers made to use ropes, plants that had digestive properties, other plants that treated anemia, and even plants that could be used to heal ear aches. I feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to learn about this field of medicine because it is one that many people do not take the time to appreciate.

I am excited for what the following months have to offer and am so thankful for the knowledge I get to take home and share with others.

Karina Handal

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