Putting a Face to the Name: Brazil Site Profile

November 20, 2015

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Alter do Chão, located in the municipal district Santarém, part of the state Pará, sits in a jungle landscape in Amazonian Brazil along the breathtaking coastline of the massive Rio Tapajós. With arguably one of the most beautiful fresh water beaches in the world, Alter do Chão gives you a Caribbean-type escape in the heart of Amazonia. The Guardian ranked Alter do Chão the #1 beach destination in Brazil, and considering the thousands of miles of coastline Brazil offers, it’s quite amazing that you can find such an incredible beach in the middle of the Amazonian region. However, while the landscape of the region is undeniably breathtaking, VAW chose to expand to this part of Brazil for much more than just a great beach day.

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The Amazonian region of Brazil holds some of the most isolated indigenous tribes and populations not just in Latin America but in the whole world. The communities we will work with in our clinics will range from tribes very similar to if not including some of the same the tribes as in the article above. Serving these communities is truly unique from most other VAW Medical Outreach trips in that the patients we see will have had little exposure to western medicinal practices prior to our clinics. While we hope to help introduce and integrate some modern medicine practices with the communities’ traditional beliefs, we also believe it’s equally as important that the volunteers attending the trips be exposed to a different way of viewing medicine from a more natural, traditional approach. The relationship between volunteer and patient will be one in which educational practices will flow in both directions, and both parties will experience something completely new. We hope that as a result, our volunteers feel enriched from their unique experience and that we can help communities revolutionize the way they view healthcare and sustainability.

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What makes our new site in Brazil quite different from any of our pre existing sites is the way in which our groups will travel and live during the outreach trip and the level of immersion their lifestyle will have in the local communities. While we are very confident this site will be a spectacular experience for our volunteers, it is not necessarily the trip for everyone. During their ten-day stay in the region, the teams will live and travel through the Tapajós River on boats fully equipped with a kitchen staff, crew and all the necessary equipment to sleep on the boats. Each group will be able to experience an brazil pic 3 entirely new way of living, as the volunteers and on-site staff will be living on a boat with very little running water or electricity and will sleep in hammocks at night. In addition, there will be nights where the teams will dock and spend the night with some of the communities. In the process, we will create group educational programs with the local communities in which traditional rituals and forms of medicine will blend into one with modern medicinal practices, creating an environment in which both students and community members learn from one another and teach one another simultaneously.

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Our new site in Brazil, like all our sites, has its own setting and its own personality. As Volunteers Around the World continues to grow and expand into different regions of the globe, our organization will continue to provide more dynamic opportunities to volunteer your time, donate your energy, and share new, incredible experiences across cultures. We hope you take the time to explore all that VAW has to offer and, in turn, all that you can offer to the world.

Team Leader Profile: Q&A with Saad Hasan, Founder and President of VAW-UT Dallas Dental

November 10, 2015


This week VAW had the pleasure of sitting down with Saad Hasan, one of our team leaders at UT Dallas who founded the dental outreach chapter there and has done an excellent job developing his chapter on campus and bringing that success to his teams’ missions as well. Saad was kind enough to answer a few questions in a brief Q&A session that provides great insight into the UT Dallas dental chapter and the creativity and hard work behind their success.

Saad showed his enthusiasm and charisma right from the beginning of the interview, and it was clear that his approachable and outgoing personality has been one of his biggest attributes to his success. We hope you enjoy reading and learning a bit about Saad and the work he’s done for both VAW and his school!


So just to begin, could you give me a brief background about yourself and what drew you to VAW?

Cool! So I am currently a senior neuroscience major with a minor in microcell biology and I just have a very big passion for dentistry. I’ve been involved with dentistry since my freshman year of high school and in that experience my love for dentistry sort of blossomed from there.

20150523_135919What did you learn about yourself and your team after your experience both in preparation for and during your trip to the DR this past summer?

When I got to college, I started to become focused exclusively on my path toward dental school. My dad had told me, “you know what, it’s probably better you focus less on extracurriculars and just on your schoolwork,” so despite always being super involved in high school, my first two years of college I really didn’t do anything besides school. I got super irritated though because I had been so used to being involved, and so when I finally went out and started looking for places to get involved, I came across VAW on one of my school’s pages, and I was like, “hey, this is a pretty fantastic idea! That’s like EXACTLY what I was thinking about doing!” So I went ahead and contacted Briana and David who were the recruiters at the time and filled out an application and then it all went from there. It was all pretty exciting.

One thing I learned that really stuck with me was that VAW is more than just a trip abroad. As an officer for the organization on my campus, I think my purpose is to serve my team members and it is our team’s purpose to serve those around us both locally and during our time abroad. We can’t have our members serving other people if we’re not serving our own members. So I thought one of the greatest aspects of VAW would be to encourage us in our enrichment of the profession. So I started bringing local medical and dental professionals onto campus and have them teach us about all sorts of medical specializations and their connections to dentistry. I also wanted this enrichment to be one of cultural value as well; I wanted everyone to be well versed in the culture of country we were visiting. So, I had a student from the UT Dallas Dominican Society come and talk to us and she was just fantastic. She brought a friend who grew up in the Dominican Republic and the two of them did a great job giving us a big overview of the DR, and she even brought us a little bit of Dominican food, so we got a little sneak peak on the awesome food culture as well!

Now, I want to point out that you were part of the joint team along with Rice Dental that succeeded in fundraising $2450 for your trip to the DR, which was the most of any team both as a gross total as a weighted total of money raised per volunteer. That said, what sort of leadership and collaboration went into your team’s fundraising success? 

Well right when we started we reached out to a Beverly Hills-based cupcake company of all things called Sprinkles Cupcakes. They make these huge amazing cupcakes and actually were generous enough to donate 500 cupcakes to our chapter, and I was like, “Whoa! That’s so awesome thanks!” We were able to sell them for a dollar less than the price at their store, took in 100% of the profits, and ended up raising a little over $1000 in that one event. We also hosted other events such as a flag football tournament that we accompanied with other fun stuff like a bouncy house, snow cones and pizza. By working together as a team and getting the word out for the tournament we had a resounding response. We made a $10 entry fee per player, and with 10 teams of 10-12 people on them we ended up raising a little over $1000 in that event as well.

The real strength of all of our effort was the ability for us to work collectively to put together larger scale, very fun events and fundraisers. But really overall I wanted to make sure my team members could work together in order to help pay for some of their program fees because if you can work hard enough as a team it can really pay off. Another aspect of fundraising that I think is so great is the importance of thinking about your community as part of your team. You know as long as you make an effort to support them they will always reach out and support you as well.

Lastly, as you’ve begun to mature within this role and have had a good amount of experience with VAW, what do you think is the one most essential quality necessary for being a good team leader? Volunteer? Are they the same?

20150518_124535I would say so; I think it is the same quality. I think they both encompass ideas about communication. Sometimes I can be really lenient on my officers and teammates, because I don’t want to burden them with too much work. But, it has been so helpful that my team members and e-board members communicated with me and said, “hey I can take on some of your work and lighten your load.” Having a team willing and able to maintain that two-way communication both from me to them and them to me has been so helpful, and essential, in the way our team goes about their work and planning. Going back to the flag football tournament, even though it ended up running smoothly and we came out successful in our fundraising, there were a lot of moving parts that went into making it happen and in a lot of ways it was very difficult. Our team had to learn to communicate with one another well to fully understand what sort of collaboration was necessary in order to bring it all together, and it was great to see that learning take place and create such positive results.

And this sort of communication carried over into our time country as well. Obviously learning new communication skills and methods with patients is important, but beyond that we learned how to communicate better as a team during our time in the DR. Very often there would be team members for example who were taking on a ton of work in the sterilization station while other volunteers were sitting around, and in order to effectively work together the team members had to effectively communicate with each other. Our team learned this very quickly both on campus and in country, and it made a huge difference all around.


After the interview came to a close I was taken aback by how open and honest Saad had been about the complexities of his learning process throughout his experience and the deep connections he created with his team members throughout the year. I thanked him sincerely for taking the time out of his day to share his thoughts and incredible experiences, and fortunately in the end we came out with an outstanding model of how to create, plan, and execute a phenomenal trip and chapter with Volunteers Around the World.



January 18, 2018

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