SmartStart volunteer makes a difference in Costa Rica

Success Story: Smartstart Volunteer Makes A Difference In Costa Rica

Imagine living and working in a remote, mountainous area where accident is a common occurrence. How do you stay alive if you are injured and access to emergency services is 45 minutes away?

Liz Moss, a Canadian Red Cross First Aid Instructor since 2006 who speaks fluently Spanish, recently took her skills to Costa Rica as part of a project to assist residents of San Gerardo de Rivas, a remote mountain community of 350 people in the south centre of the country. The residents make their living from crop production, notably coffee. This means daily climbs into the hills on foot or horseback, and the risk is high of falls, snakebites and heat exhaustion. 

“It’s rural, so people have to learn how to help themselves,” said Moss. “Their working life is also high risk as people are working physically, in the steep forest environment, with machetes instead of modern equipment. There is a high probability of injury.”

There is also a high incidence of child injury, road accidents, and illness. The community does not have a clinic, and sees a doctor just once every two weeks; so learning skills to prevent injuries and knowing what to do in an emergency is vital.

The community asked specifically for information about heart attack and stroke recognition, choking and CPR techniques. The Costa Rica Red Cross provided Moss with extra material to assist her with local information and she adapted the workshop to suit the needs of remote communities unable to access emergency services quickly.

The local Community Association was delighted to have these workshops delivered free, and provided a spacious room for the classes, and assisted with publicity and registration.

Moss provided a total of nine classes, providing lifesaving information to 61 people from 10 to 65 years old. The classes were divided and delivered in four blocks:

  • Emergency Steps and Cardiac Emergencies

  • First Aid for Choking

  • First Aid for Bleeding and Burns

  • Muscle, Bone and Joint Injury; and First Aid for Poisonings.

Before she left Costa Rica, Moss arranged for a one day review workshop where residents could drop in and ask specific questions or practice procedures. In response to requests from the community she also covered recognizing diabetic attacks, responding to heat emergencies, and seizures.

“The First Aid classes changed participants’ ideas about what to do in an emergency”, said Moss, “there were adults and youth attending with all sorts of occupations. One mother of an epileptic child actually put her First Aid knowledge into action a few weeks after her class. Her child had a seizure whilst eating his lunch, and started choking. Because of her training she knew the steps to take, and what to do in this emergency, and her little boy is safe and sound as a result. It would have taken the ambulances of the Cruz Roja Costarricense 45 minutes to get to San Gerardo; she had to know what to do in order to save his life”.

Moss hopes to return to San Gerardo de Rivas and continue teaching First Aid there, and in the surrounding villages. Now back in Vancouver, Moss is re-joining the SmartStart team and will teach First Aid in Spanish and ESL format to newcomers to the Lower Mainland.