‘Vitamin tour’ brings health south

Last year, Brittney Grondin realized a lot of what she was doing in life was because others wanted her to do it. This past summer, the third-year Science student decided to change that.

Out of the blue, albeit with her parents a bit apprehensive, Grondin ventured on a solo trip to Costa Rica, but not to lounge on a beach. Motivated to help local children in one of Central America’s poorest communities, Grondin spent three weeks volunteering at a local daycare, bringing with her 5,000 multi-vitamins.

“I kind of realized how prevalent malnutrition is there, so that’s why I started,” said the 19-year old Essex, Ont., native. “Health is just so much a given here, and I realize you need your health to be able to pursue anything else, such as education. There are initiatives giving money for schools, but you need to be healthy in the first place in order to attend. Being healthy makes a huge difference.”

Thanks to a part-time job, Grondin paid her own way. Through a couple of presentations to local Rotary clubs, and the generosity of friends and family, she raised enough money to pay for 5,000 vitamins, shipped ahead of time to Costa Rica. She even had money left over, which she used to buy clothes and other items for the children.

Through International Volunteer HQ, Grondin was matched with the local public daycare centre, meeting with other volunteers her age.

“I wasn’t really nervous at all,” she said. “Well, perhaps a little bit, because they only spoke Spanish down there. I picked up a couple words, but for the most part, it was a lot of hand gestures.”

Grondin stayed with a sponsor family in San Pedro, but spent her days at the daycare in San Jose, located just down the street from a shantytown and dangerous area known for its high crime.

“Girls weren’t supposed to walk alone, even during the day,” said Grondin, who is working toward a career in pharmacology. “Most people don’t think of Costa Rica being that poor, but there are some sad stories there.”

Grondin admits her ‘vitamin tour’ is far from over. In the next year or so, she plans to make a similar trip, this time Guatemala, and this time with 10,000 vitamins.

Between her schooling and planning her next trip, Grondin also volunteers her time with Best Buddies, where she is matched with adults with intellectual disabilities, and with ChicksClic, where she works with Grade 7 and 8 girls as a role model for postsecondary education and how to be a strong woman.

So how does one person do so much?

“I’m lucky in the fact that maintaining my high grades is easy for me, but I have learned that there is more to life than school and getting 90s versus 80s. It doesn’t make a difference long term,” Grondin said. “I have fun doing it and I feel that it’s very important. I especially enjoy doing things to benefit children because they have so little control over their situation.”

Mentioning the names Andres, Eduardo, Fabiola and Kristal to Grondin will quickly generate a smile of her time with the children in Costa Rica. She wishes she could be getting updates on her young friends.

“Things went by so quick. I’m ready to go back,” she said.