One of the most valuable lessons of public health – but perhaps among the hardest to learn – is that change doesn’t happen in a matter of days or even months. It’s easy to burst out of the classroom, aflame with the desire to change things for the better, and want that change to happen right now.

But often, it’s a matter of taking the time to build relationships, to have a conversation, and then another one and another after that, to work steadily and patiently. It’s a lesson that Alyssa Valentine, a second-year MPH student in the Global Health and Health Disparities concentration, is currently learning in Anconcito, Ecuador, as she completes her practicum and capstone with the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC).

“Something I’ve noticed is how truly difficult and time-consuming it is to build relationships,” she explained. “Working in conjunction with local entities and governmental sectors is an essential component to FIMRC’s work in Anconcito. Being able to see the inner workings of an organization has shown me all the work and patience it takes to make progress.”

Alyssa said she was drawn to working with FIMRC in Ecuador because of the organization’s strong emphasis on education and community outreach, as well as cultivating participation from local community members and integrating volunteers into projects and programs. Because she previously lived in Spain, she also appreciated the opportunity to build her Spanish in Ecuador.

Hands-on work

Since arriving in November, she has been able to work on a variety of existing projects and even help start some new ones.

“Much of what FIMRC does in Anconcito is focused in preventative health,” she said. “Since arriving on-site I have been involved in just about every project – weekly diabetes health club, monthly mother’s nutrition club, community health fairs, school health campaigns and so much more. Just last week I started a summer course in cooking and general nutrition, which is my capstone.”

While living in Ecuador, she is staying with a host family, which worried her at first – seven people, one house, unfamiliar town and culture. However, “it’s been nothing but incredible,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the community, improve my Spanish and integrate even more into the culture of Ecuador. One of my other favorite aspects of living here is the local kids! The neighborhood kids never pass up an opportunity to help out, carrying up the groceries, taking out the trash, they always come running to lend a hand.”

Alyssa will return to Fort Collins in June, and said the experience working with FIMRC in Ecuador has really focused her desire to work in communities at the grassroots level after graduating.

“Working with FIMRC has shown me all the work that really goes into such a career,” she said. “I’m also grateful for all of the practical experience I have gained—collaborating with local partners, designing and executing programs, implementing evaluation measures and so much more that will be of great value in my future career.”