Each year, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliated hospital in Boston, offers a week-long social work exchange with a different NGO. Susan Larrabee, who volunteered with Common Hope in 2012 and 2013 and currently works at the hospital, made a trip to Guatemala to interview several candidates. One of the candidates was Common Hope social worker Virgilia (Vicky) Tojin. Vicky was nervous about the interview, but she nailed it and got the internship.
There were many bumps in the road as Vicky prepared to go to Boston. The process of getting her Guatemalan ID, passport, and VISA proved to be long and difficult, but after two VISA applications and interviews at the embassy, her application was finally accepted.
Once in Boston, Vicky spent her time at Brigham and Women’s, where she gave a presentation about Common Hope to the social work staff. She also spent time shadowing many of the social workers in different situations to see what they did and how it compared to social work in Guatemala. She experienced social work at a cancer treatment hospital, an acute-care hospital, and at community-based social service organizations. Vicky felt that the work of social workers at Brigham and Women’s is very similar, the only difference being that it’s more focused on health. She remarked, “The difference between the families here [in Guatemala] and the families in the States is that families in the U.S. have more resources available to them. And here [in Guatemala], people are more vulnerable.”
Along with shadowing the social work staff, Vicky also visited a small local health clinic and a non-profit called St. Mary’s that focuses on helping victims of domestic violence. About her experience, Vicky says,
“I feel really good about my visit. In addition to learning so much, I was happy to be able to share the mission and message of Common Hope.”
Susan Larrabee said that everyone treasures their time with Vicky. “Our week with her was a true exchange, with us providing her with a peek into the Boston health care system through the eyes of a hospital-based social worker as well as her sharing her life as a social worker with Common Hope. She enlightened many about her experience both becoming a social worker in Guatemala, as well as the work she does at Common Hope. She was well received wherever she went!,” said Susan.
Exchanges like this are such incredible opportunities for everyone involved. Not only was it a priceless learning experience for Vicky, but it also enhanced the other social workers’ world views. Thank you to Susan Larrabee for helping to coordinate Vicky’s visit, to the hospital director Martha Burke, and to all the social work staff at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.