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Features Headline — 03 March 2014

By Emily Miller

Extremely kind-hearted and lively, Jill McManaman, Saginaw senior, can be seen working with numerous organizations in Albion, from Greek life to the tour guide program. She puts her heart into everything she does here on campus, and is passionately involved with  Global Medical Brigades [GMB], an organization with which she has traveled to Honduras over the past three years.

“Originally I actually started going just as a resume builder for medical school because they had talked about how it was good to get volunteer experience and it’s good to do a clinical shadowing and [GMB] was both, so I thought, ‘cool let’s do it,’” McManaman said. “I absolutely fell in love my first year and now I’m on a totally different career path.”

During her time in Honduras, McManaman has forged a special connection with the people there, specifically the children. She’s most fond of the memories she has with the orphans and the time she got to spend playing with them and building connections with them that will last a lifetime.

“Every single place we went I made a connection, like we were at a beach for a day and I made a connection with a kid,” McManaman said. “Or the house we were modifying for public health, there was a kid who lived there and he and I became amigos on day one.”

McManaman spoke about the level of appreciation she’s felt from the people in Honduras, and how that’s made the entire experience worthwhile. When her team installed a concrete floor and a door to a bathroom she said the family reacted as if they were the stars of Extreme Makeover Home Edition. The level of fulfillment she felt from helping the families and children there have spurred her to explore new career fields and inspired her to apply for the Peace Corps. She wants to go back to Honduras in the future and spend more time working on global projects for public health.

But not everything in Honduras has been so easy; McManaman was doing service projects in a country where, at first, she knew very little about the language and culture.

“My biggest challenge is definitely the language barrier because I wanted so badly to talk to them,” McManaman said. “I can remember my first year I was in the dental station and there was a little five-year-old and he was getting a tooth pulled. I wanted so badly to comfort him but I didn’t know what to say or how to say anything so I was just smiling and holding his hand and for some reason I connected with that kid and his mom and that alone was enough comfort.”

Since then, McManaman has improved her Spanish skills and boasts being able to have conversations in the language and sharing several inside jokes with the people there. She emphasizes that, though the language barrier was hard to overcome, the people in Honduras were understanding and kind to her, and even without a common language she was still able to bond with the natives and the children.

McManaman eventually wants to return to Honduras and spend more time there volunteering and helping the natives. Not only that, but she looks forward to spreading her love of service globally and helping those in developing nations across the world.

“I feel such a connection to those people and to that country, it is my favorite country in the whole world,” McManaman said. “I’ve travelled to France and Poland and places like that, and I’ve done real crazy trips, but Honduras is my favorite place. It has a whole piece of my heart.”

She encourages all people at Albion, not just those interested in public health, to do something with GMB or a similar organization. She also says the experience will be nothing like you’ll expect, but a million times more amazing than you could imagine.

“The phrase I always use is ‘you won’t know until you go,’ because we try to explain it but we’re so passionate and so excited about it that we can’t put into words how it changes you or the feelings that you have while you’re there or the fulfillment you get as a whole,” McManaman said. “It is an experience that I challenge people from every major and every walk of life to try because it’ll just change the way you see the world. It’s an incredible experience.”

Photo courtesy of Jill McManaman

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About Author

Emily is a first-year student from Lake Orion, Mich., majoring in English and Spanish. She loves the smell of old books and wearing leggings as pants. She is also a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Follow her on twitter @emilyelizamillz

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