Magellan Proves Life-Changing for W&J Student In Bolivia

Created: August 16, 2016
Last Updated: July 9, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Aug. 16, 2016) - There are moments in life when you know you’ve made the right choice, said Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) student Chris Fiorina ’19. For him, it was the decision to take part in the Magellan Project.

Fiorina traveled to Montero, Bolivia for three weeks during summer 2016 to research the vaccination process at the Hogar Sagrado de Corazon orphanage. The organization provides housing, care, and educational services for girls and young children. The Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, headquartered in Cresson, Pa., manage the facility.

Fiorina’s work began the day he arrived. He spent the first 10 days of his trip combing through hundreds of medical files – all written in Spanish – for vaccination information. He tracked vaccinations children were most and least likely to receive, and compared the orphanage’s rates with those of Bolivia as a whole. The results, he said, were startling.

“The research showed that many girls do not complete their vaccination schedules and many others do not have any form of documentation of their medical history,” he said. “When comparing the results of the orphanage's vaccination completion rate to the rest of the country, I found that the orphanage is falling behind the national average.”

Fiorina attributed this to two issues. First, girls come into the orphanage at different ages and for different reasons, often with incomplete medical histories. The second issue is cost, a problem he said donations and fundraising could alleviate.

When he wasn’t working on his research, Fiorina volunteered in the orphanage. He helped the older girls with their homework, accompanied students to church, kept a watchful eye on younger children, and took on cooking and cleaning.

Fiorina became a primary caretaker of “Baby Leonardo,” the orphanage’s youngest resident, and received an honor he considers to be the greatest moment of his trip: the nuns asked him to be Leonardo’s godfather, and he graciously accepted. He keeps in touch with Leonardo through one of the nuns at the orphanage.

Fiorina faced many challenges during his trip, such as a language barrier he overcame as his Spanish speaking skills increased. But nothing was harder for him than learning about the girls’ histories. For many of them, the past included sexual assault, abandonment, the death of a parent, or other traumatic experiences.

“It took a lot out of me to see these girls and to know that they are in danger of preventable diseases, and were at the receiving end of a traumatic experience,” Fiorina said. “This made the goodbye extremely difficult for me, and for them, too. There were many tears shed.”

Fiorina returned from his Magellan Project with a renewed energy for his passion to become a doctor.

“Now, I am more than sure that I want to become a doctor one day,” he said. “I have found that there is no greater joy in life than helping others. I can’t wait for the next chapter in my life because of this terrific opportunity provided to me.”

About the Magellan Project

Established in 2008, Washington & Jefferson College’s unique Magellan Project extends liberal arts learning outside the classroom by providing scholarship funding for students to spend the summer pursuing independent projects and internships in the United States and abroad. Learn more about the Magellan Project on the W&J website.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work.

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