Hoy en tu communidad
Last Saturday I participated in the program “Hoy en tu comunidad” (Today in Your Community). A medical student in the UADY University system (the university through which I am studying here in Mexico) created the program five years ago. Since that point it has grown from ten people participating to over 200 students from all different majors taking part weekly.
But what exactly is “Hoy en tu comunidad” you ask? Well, if I may be blunt, it’s one of the coolest programs on the planet. In Mexico, rather than getting a general education in undergraduate school like in the U.S., you chose your major going into college and it is almost impossible to switch. For example, if I want to be a doctor, I apply to the Falcultad de Médicina. I would then spend the next five years taking very specific classes on the path to become a doctor. In “Hoy en tu comunidad” students participate from each facultad. The week I volunteered, 200 students with 24 different majors participated. The goal of the program is for each student to use his or her specific knowledge to assist a town’s population in Yucatan. Not only do the townspeople receive care free of charge, but the program also provides the opportunity for hands-on learning. Groups generally leave early Saturday morning and return late Saturday night. Absolutely no scholastic credit is given to these students for their help.
The day I volunteered we went to a small pueblo about an hour and a half outside Mérida called Tekit. When we arrived, all the various facultades began to set up their stations. The doctors began to set up their machines and tests, the psychologists arranged a private area for consultations, the artists found an area to teach kids about recycling and the environment and so on. A formal introduction was given on how the day was going to be run, and the program’s founder reminded the town that their tax money was funding the university student’s education and that this was the very least they could give back. As foreign exchange students, our skills were not as applicable to the various programs, so we wandered from place to place, unsure where we would best be able to help. Eventually I meandered over to the nutrition area where I was able to weigh and measure the various patients. After a day of assisting in the town, I was once again amazed by the kindness and generosity of not only the townspeople, but of the volunteer students as well. The students were just as eager to get to know us as we were to know them. They invited us to various dinners, to go bowling, grab a coffee, or go for a stroll in their favorite park. It didn’t matter if we were fluent or not in Spanish – we could connect over being young adults trying to figure out what to do with our lives. A smile always goes a long way to establishing a friendship.
All in all, I hope to be able to participate again in the “Hoy en tu comunidad” program, see another pueblo with a distinct culture from that of Mérida, and meet many more kind, enthusiastic, and driven students. Maybe one day we could even have a similar hands-on program in the United States.