DEER ISLE, Maine — While their classmates lie low and take a break during the annual school vacation in February, two area high school students will aid the administration of much-needed medical care when they participate in a two-week mission to the Ecuadorean Andes.
With just a handful of years studying Spanish under their belts, seniors Seth Vanzura of Trenton and Lillian Cousins of Brooksville will serve the vital role of interpreters to the doctors and medical professionals who will perform about 100 free surgeries in the mountain city of San Miguel de Ibarra.
It’s the 23rd trip for Hancock County Medical Mission, a Deer Isle nonprofit, which brings medical supplies and services to the Andean country each year, with the goal of caring for underserved indigenous populations.
Vanzura said he first heard of the trip when his Spanish teacher at Ellsworth High School, Lindsey Corson, passed out applications to all her students. He said he knew the trip was a perfect fit for his interests in Spanish and pharmacy, which he plans to study in college.
“For a long time I’ve known I want to do something in medicine, and Spanish is one of my strong suits in high school right now,” he said Monday. “So it seemed natural to go to another country, see doctors in action, interact with them and speak Spanish professionally. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Hancock County Medical Mission offers the all-expenses-paid trip to two high school students every year, said retired operating room nurse and volunteer Mary Townley. It’s a way of giving back to the communities in Hancock County that have been so generous with their money and volunteer hours to make the trip a reality each year.
“It’s a way to provide kids that may not have had travel opportunities with the chance to expand their world,” Townley said.
Interpretation is a critical role in the mission trip, Townley said. For that reason, the students, with experience limited to the classroom, won’t be expected to go it alone. The nonprofit mission group InterSALUD in Ecuador partners local interpreters, and Ted Spurling, a Hancock County Medical Mission volunteer, also will help.
“Translator is one of the hardest jobs in the whole mission,” she said. “The kids are never off. If you walk downtown with a group for an ice cream cone or something, someone always needs translation.”
Despite the relative lack of experience, Townley said the students always do well. Spurling has provided both students with books of Spanish medical terms and phrases such as “Where is the pain?” that may not have made it into the classroom lessons.
“It’s amazing how quickly they slide right into it,” she said.
Vanzura said he’s not worried about his ability to perform. It may be his first time out of the country, he said, but he’s not nervous. He said languages come naturally to him, and he feels comfortable with them. Besides, he said, he’s got almost three months left to practice.
“I’m looking at getting a passport, getting shots and vaccines,” he said. “After that, it’s nothing but studying up on Spanish, getting better at speaking it and understanding when people talk to me.”
Efforts to contact Cousins were unsuccessful, but like Vanzura, she’s interested in studying medicine after college. According to a Hancock County Medical Mission press release, the George Stevens Academy senior is interested in anesthesiology. She’s a Spanish IV honors student who has volunteered at Island Nursing Home in Deer Isle and studied human biology at Northwestern University.
Hancock County Medical Mission will depart for Ecuador on Feb. 9. Daily progress and photo updates about the trip will be posted regularly on their website, hcmm.homestead.com.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.