January 18, 2018

It’s a real world we live in, and it can be hard to see the reality of life in the developing countries around the world. We are thankful for our volunteers like Yuri who jump right into the thick of the hardships & needs and offer to volunteer their time, and donate their energy!


Four months have passed and I can still remember looking out into the distance and seeing a crowd of patients squatting on the ground as they waited patiently under the scorching Cambodian sun to see a doctor. More than anything, I can hear the babies’ wails, smell the scent of human sweat mingling with the ceaseless dust, and feel the weight of babies too small for their ages laying placid in my arms. For two weeks this past January, I joined a team called Volunteers Around the World (VAW) on a medical outreach to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Our team of twenty-one university students from three different universities (UNSW, USyd and SBU) set up mobile clinics in villages wherever and whenever we could. Abandoned car repair shops, backyards of village elders, school playgrounds and old temples became the centers from which we offered our services. Together we were able to help 774 patients by giving them treatment, medications and diagnosis that they would otherwise have to go to great lengths to obtain. I went into this outreach expecting to make a difference in people’s lives, not fully expecting the impact it would have on my own. Here are some stories of the people I met along the way.

I remember this first girl quite well because she came in complaining of acne. As I prepared to write the topical medication for acne, the doctor I was shadowing started speaking to her in rapid Khmer. She responded with single-syllabled answers, her eyes downcast, clearly hiding something. I sat in silence and observed her becoming intensely more vocal and distraught, until the doctor held up a hand to stop her. The doctor looked over at me and asked if I still thought she came in for acne today. I replied, “No.” He quickly scribbled on the prescription pad, but instead of handing her back the form, he passed it over to me. It was for Gynomax 1-0-1/3d. It was not acne for which she sought treatment, but for a sexually transmitted disease. He asked me to purchase the medication and to be discreet. She was pregnant from the ‘boyfriend’ she was arranged to be marry in a few weeks’ time. A sixteen-year old girl was about to be a mom and a wife. I watched her walk away with an official prescription for acne and the Gynomax tucked safely inside her pocket.

Another day I was on the intake station where I had to interview people with the help of a Khmer translator. One patient stuck to me particularly, because she had come to the clinic on the back of a motorbike. She was also 92 years old. She sat down slowly on the intake bench and I proceeded to take a history from her. When I asked her how many children she had given birth to; she replied, “thirteen.” I nodded and asked her, “How many of your children are still alive?” She swallowed and said, “One.” Under cause of death, I shakily wrote down ‘Pol Pot regime.” I could not even begin to fathom how much grief and pain this woman had experienced to have 12 out of 13 of her children killed in front of her and to have only her youngest live since the child was growing undetected in her womb. But there she was, sitting in front of me, talking about the children she fiercely loved and could have raised – as if her loss was just another simple fact of life.

On my last day at the pharmacy station, I read the script for a patient who needed Panol and cough medicine. While packing the medications up, I saw that he had presented with a cough, fever, night sweats and weight loss – symptoms that pointed towards tuberculosis. As I finally handed over the bag of prescriptions, I glanced over at the patient. He was a young boy of barely three years ago curled in his mother’s lap. Scribbled on his past medical history – tuberculosis.

And then it dawned on me – this child had already been through a full round of anti-TB drugs. The boy had already been subjected to the nausea, vomiting, night chills and unrelenting coughs of TB, and all within the first years of life. Yet, here he was, back with the same symptoms. I felt absolutely helpless. Anti-TB medication could only be bought at state-run pharmacies in the city, which were at least a two-hour truck ride away. The best thing I could do – as I watched the mother walk home – was to pray for his fever to subside. There were nights after a long day out in the villages when I couldn’t sleep thinking about what would happen to all these patients. VAW does an excellent job of including the local community and medical staff to make sure patients receive medical care after we leave, but the fact that so many people needed more help than we could provide was beyond unsettling. I began to realize that medicine was not as clear- cut as I had imagined it to be.

But the infuriation at the unfairness of it all was surprisingly invigorating. There was so much more that can be done, that should be done and as doctors, we have a chance to be in the thick of things, working towards making a real difference. Out there, receiving proper medical care could literally mean the difference between life and death – a fact that reinforces my passion for medicine and desire to pursue a life around it.

Top 10 Reasons to Volunteer Around the World

November 26, 2017

VAW Guatemala

You may have heard people describing volunteering abroad as “life-changing” and wondered if they weren’t exaggerating a bit. After all, why would you spend your time working long hours in some remote village if you could be sipping cocktails on the beach instead?

Everyone who volunteers has a different reason for taking the plunge but in the end, what they all find is that it really is a life-changing experience. If you’re still not convinced, here are ten great reasons to volunteer abroad:

10. It’s Good for Your Health

Volunteering has tremendous health benefits. Think about it: you’re physically active so you reap all the health benefits of a good work-out – including building muscle and losing fat – and you don’t even know you’re exercising! Your mental health gets a boost too: volunteering can help fight depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and stress.

9. You Get to See the World

Volunteering abroad means you get to see new countries. What makes it even better is that you’ll travel to areas that you would never have thought of, away from the tourist traps, and see a side of the country that most tourists don’t get to see.

8. You Gain Perspective

Volunteering helps you gain a new perspective on things. You learn what really is important and that there’s no point in sweating the small stuff. First World problems will start to look really silly. After all, it will be hard to get upset that your local store doesn’t have your favorite soda in stock if you remember that people you’ve met in real life have to walk several miles just to get safe drinking water.

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7. You Make New Friends

One of the best things about volunteering is the bonds you form. Your Facebook friends list will become filled with people from all over the world and you may form lasting friendships. You may also meet people who will become very important to you: future contacts for employment, people who can offer you a place to stay on your next travel adventure, even a significant other.

6. You Become Part of a Community

Part of human nature is the need to belong and be part of a community. Volunteering provides just that. People may welcome you into their lives and their homes and you may even be “adopted” by a local family who will look out for you.

VAW in Guatemala

5. You Challenge Yourself

Volunteering is a great way to challenge yourself and see just how strong you really are. It takes you out of your comfort zone and places you in unfamiliar surroundings and situations where you need to adapt. You’ll be surprised at how much you can cope with and this will give you the self-confidence to tackle any future obstacles in your life head-on.

4. You Learn New Skills

When you volunteer, you inevitably learn new skills. These can be skills specifically pertaining to your future career but you will also learn valuable life skills: how to work as part of a team, how to adapt to difficult surroundings, how to rise to challenges and solve problems, and so on. You may even learn a new language.

Volunteers Around the World

3. It’s Great for Your Career

When prospective employers see that you have volunteered, they will know that you’re anything but an entitled, self-absorbed snowflake who will crumble at the first sign of pressure. Volunteers already know how to deal with challenges and get along with other people. They can see the bigger picture and have already shown that they are willing to make sacrifices for the greater good.

2. It Helps you Find Your Passion

An unexpected benefit of volunteering is that it can help you find your passion. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, really: because most volunteer projects require you to be involved in a wide variety of tasks, you’ll soon learn which ones you love and which one you hate. Maybe you’ve never really liked children but after being in regular contact with little people who trust you, accept you unconditionally and show you a new way of seeing the world, you may find that you want to dedicate your time and skills to children’s health or education. You may even realize that the way things are done at home isn’t for you and that you want to do things differently.

Volunteers Around the World in the DR

1. You Help Make the World a Better Place

When you read all these reasons to volunteer, you may find yourself wondering why you shouldn’t just become a contestant on a reality TV show. It’s true that you can get most of these benefits from being on a show like Survivor, but volunteering has something that reality TV can’t offer: it makes a real difference. You may think that your contribution is just a tiny drop in the ocean of challenges facing the world but remember this: by its very nature, the ocean is made up of tiny drops. Like Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Besides, in the bigger scheme of things your help may not have made a huge difference but for every person you did help, it has made all the difference.

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Team Leader Profile: Arush Lal-Medical Outreach and Beyond

August 30, 2016

A few months back we caught up with one of our veteran Team Leaders and Chapter Presidents Arush Lal. Arush is a Business Major on the Pre-Med track and has led multiple teams on trips to Panama and Peru. Aside from being an outstanding leader, Arush hopes to blend his knowledge of medicine with business in order to make a real impact in global health.

Below is a Q&A we did with Arush that goes over what he hopes to make of his future as well as how his time with Volunteers Around the World helped shape his perspective.

Arush Lal, Panama

Arush at clinic during on his first Medical Outreach trip with Volunteers Around the World to Bocas del Toro, Panama in May 2014

Q: How long have you been working with VAW?

A: Since August of 2013 after my freshman year. Briana reached out to me sort of out of nowhere and asked me if I wanted to lead medical trips, and I said, “yea of course why wouldn’t I want to do that?”

Q: So what is your life like outside of VAW?

A:  I am a Business Administration Major and Pre-Med student at Georgia Tech. I originally started off as a Biology Major, but as I discovered I was more and more passionate about Public Health and Global Health I decided to switch over to business to get some of the other skills for that field of work. Right now I’m focusing on supply chain management and operations, and long term I’d like to use these skills to work on strengthening healthcare systems. Specifically, I want to explore how we can use mobile technology to strengthen healthcare, like using an iPad to train healthcare workers or data systems to track progress of patients in developing country.

Arush Lal, Peru

Arush and his co-Team Leader, Samuel Mendoza, exploring the surrounding community after a long clinic day in Cusco, Peru in May 2015

Q: Given your unique academic background in comparison to some of our other volunteers and Team Leaders, what do you think draws people from different areas of study to a VAW trip?

A: I think a lot of it has to do with the unique nature of public health. Public health is focused on helping people which a lot of different people find amazing. Also there are a lot of different facets that go into public health systems, and whether students come from an economic standpoint, an international affairs standpoint or scientific standpoint, all of these different aspects to public health are equally important. I’ve actually been trying to create a global health major at [Georgia] Tech, and I was asking my boss who works at a global health agency what does it take to be a global or public health professional. He said you need international competency to know how to interact with people and systems from around the world, clinical literacy so you have technical knowledge of what areas of healthcare you’re impacting, a basic understanding of budgets and accounting when dealing with grants and proposals, and finally a basic understanding of policies related to healthcare systems when you go to other countries. So just there that’s policy, international affairs, business and science. All of those things come together in public health and it’s really important to bring teams of people together who look at public health with different lenses to make public health systems really work, and that’s something I’ve been trying to integrate with all my teams. Last year we had students from thirteen different majors all contributing in unique ways, and it made for a well rounded team that was able to do some really meaningful work.

Arush Lal, Panama 2

Arush and his team from Georgia Tech, Georgia State and the Univeristy of Georgia after a clinic day on Isla Tigre in Bocas del Toro, Panama in May 2014

Q: Do you have any examples of how some of these people from other majors helped contribute to your team’s success?

A: Last year there was one day in clinic where we noticed that even though the clinic was going smoothly, we still had a lot of people bottlenecked and waiting in certain areas. One of our volunteers who was an industrial engineering major stepped up and asked if he could leave his work station and focus on solving the bottleneck issues. Next thing I knew he had his notebook out and was creating these different flowcharts trying to track where in the clinic we can be more efficient to eliminate the bottlenecks for our next clinic. It was something I never would have thought of yet his experience in engineering served as a huge asset to our team’s success. I think VAW provides a great opportunity to bring people from different areas of study together to work on public health issues, and I’ve really enjoyed that while working with VAW.

Arush Lal, Peru 2

Arush and his team from Georgia Tech and Georgia State after their Anatomy class at the UNSAAC University in Cusco, Peru in May 2015

After the interview, we thanked Arush for the time he took to share his ideas and experiences, and we left with a rewarding feeling knowing how lucky we are to have people like Arush contributing so much to the work we do!


Portraying the Essence of VAW- A Profile of Drs. Reynaldo Diaz and Yokasta Paulino

May 3, 2016



When you first meet and get to know Doctor Reynaldo Medina and his wife Doctor Yokasta Paulino, it is easy to see they are a loving couple and a pair of doctors with a true passion for medicine. Having worked in both our Dominican Republic and Panama sites, the two have been with us longer than most of the doctors we work with today. Their love for each other is heartwarming to say the least, but the way in which they share that love with their patients is a true gift to witness.


Reynaldo and Yokasta began working with us back in 2013, when we first opened our site in the Dominican Republic. Since both are native to the DR and to the region in which our clinics are held, you could tell the two of them were eager to begin working right from the start.


Like all beginnings, the first few weeks of work with the communities were extremely chaotic and challenging. We had to find new communities and create relationships with complete strangers. We had to gather funds and find ways to supply clinics in a completely new environment. Needless to say, Reynaldo and Yokasta (along with everyone) were exhausted, but they showed no signs of quitting.


In memory of those early weeks, Mark Stanley, the CEO and founder of Volunteers Around the World, had this to say: “I had negotiated a deal to pay the hospital where Reynaldo and Yokasta were both formerly employed. The hospital, in turn, “lent” us a few of their employees (Reynaldo and Yokasta) to get us started in the region. Those first two weeks in the DR were rough, because, back then, we didn’t know we needed to control the number of patients per day. Our experience in our first Medical Outreach Site in Guatemala had always been in small communities so we could see the entire community in one day. In the DR, however, the communities were much larger and there were days when we had over 500 patients per day coming through our door! After the first two weeks were done, I asked Reynaldo and Yokasta about the money we were paying them. Since I didn’t really know the going rate for the daily wages of a doctor in the DR at that time, I wanted to know if the compensation we were paying them was a good wage. They both looked at me like I had 3 heads! They had no idea they were being paid! The hospital we had paid told them the job was a volunteer job! I was so impressed that they had the desire to work so hard as volunteers that I knew I wanted to hire them permanently and make sure they would get paid a fair wage for their labor.”


Drs. Reynaldo and Yokasta have since taken on the positions as co-Medical Coordinators in our site in Panama. The two are extraordinary examples of VAW at work. Stories such as these capture the essence of why we do what we do, and we can only hope that as we carry on our work we can find people as amazing as Reynaldo and Yokasta.


Volunteer your time. Donate your energy. Volunteers Around the World.

Supplemental Outreach Projects. Beyond clinics

April 21, 2016

Volunteers Around the World is an organization that is unique in many different ways. One of the qualities which sets us apart from many other volunteer organizations is that all of our projects were developed by our volunteers (you can read Our Story to learn more). One thing that we still encourage to this day–even as our Medical and Dental Outreach projects continue to expand at an exponential rate–are smaller, supplemental projects from our volunteers, alumni and partner organizations. We have learned that the best projects can come from the most unexpected places. For example, the Toy Donation Outreach Program for hospitalized children and their families at Hospital Docente Universitario DR. Dario Contreras in Santo, Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Laura W photo

Laura Whiting, the founder and toy maker of the Toy Donation Outreach Program

The Toy Donation Outreach Program was started by Laura Whiting, an old high school classmate of VAW’s Founder and CEO, Mark Stanley, who saw the work VAW was doing online. Laura herself has been bedridden for the majority of the past 9 years due to an unrecognizable and incurable disease. When she saw pictures Mark had posted from a recent trip to the hospital in Santo Domingo, she felt a connection and a calling to serve the children who were also bedridden at the hospital. Although she did not have a lot of resources, Laura knew she wanted to do something to help children who were at the hospital for weeks, or even months, at a time.

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This young girl received some jewelry and dress up costumes.

Knowing the pain and suffering she herself was experiencing, Laura channeled the little energy she had into handcrafting toys for the boys and girls at hospital. During the Fall of 2015, Laura began her project; she said, “I spent about 2 months while in bed working on these toys and it gave me a renewed sense of purpose.” In January 2016, the first round of toys were distributed at the hospital by the VAW Dominican Republic Site Coordinator, Carol Gallego, and the hospital staff (see the full album of joy at the hospital on Facebook here).

Carol recounts going to the hospital and the looks of joy that were on the children’s faces. Many of the children were exhausted from their surgeries and recoveries, and some were crying due to the pain they were experiencing, but the huge smiles that broke across their faces upon receiving a toy was heart warming. For many children, it’s one of the few personal possessions they have at the hospital, or even at home.

Hospital 6

This strong young girl was in accident and is now in cast from her stomach to her toes due to both legs and a hip being broken. She received a blanket and crocheted stuffed animal.

The Dr. Dario Contreras Hospital is a public trauma hospital in Santo Domingo that is underfunded; they do not have games, toys, television or other distractions available for the children during their stay simply because they cannot afford it. The staff at the hospital do their best to take care of all of the patients, and they are all very kind and caring. The donated toys were an especially welcome treat in an otherwise bleak environment with little variation in the day to day activities for the children.

The hospital receives many different patients. In January, there was a seven year old girl who had broken both of her legs and a hip in an accident. She had to have a cast from her stomach to her toes and was unable to get around. Her mother was staying with her at the hospital, but had been unable to return home since the accident, meaning all they had were the clothes on the were wearing upon arrival.

Hospital 4

Baby Dario was abandoned by his mother due to birth defects and adopted by the hospital and staff. He received one of the crocheted stuffed animals.

Another little boy was abandoned by his mother at birth because of a physical disability. Since then, the hospital staff and pediatric ward have adopted him as their own, because the orphanages are overcrowded and underfunded, and they all believed they could give him a better quality of life by keeping him at the hospital. All of the staff take turns caring for him and making sure he gets attention and love.

For children such as these, Laura’s crocheted stuffed animals, blankets, hand made jewelry and carved wooden cars were such a special gift. Although Laura herself does not have many economical resources and has had to make many personal sacrifices, including postponing her own bills, to be able to fund the project, along with the help of some donations from
family and friends, she believes it’s well worth the sacrifice. After seeing the joy that came from the January donation, she says “I knew that this was something that I needed to do” and “I was ecstatic
to see the pictures that Carol and Mark posted.”

It is special outreach projects such as the Toy Donation Outreach Program and special people with a heart of gold such as Laura that make Volunteers Around the World able to help make the world a better place. Volunteer your time. Donate your energy.

Hospital 3

There are patients of all ages in the pediatric ward. This young baby received a blanket.

A Look Inside Albania. A land of history and exploration

March 31, 2016

With spring budding in the trees and exam season just around the corner, you may already be considering your future travel plans.  If you’re torn between doing some work that can have a real impact on your future and just going out and trying something new, VAW has you covered all around. One of our newest sites in Albania is great for those interested in medicine (and for others whom are just curious), as it provides our volunteers with a full week of hands-on clinical work run by a truly spectacular staff of doctors and site coordinators. What you may not know, however, is that Albania is also a place where everyone can have an amazing time through its diverse array of geographical landscapes, multicultural history and stunning architecture.


With 280 miles of coastline sitting across from Italy on the Adriatic and countless miles of mountains, Albania’s geography is a playground that everyone can enjoy. Our site is located in Central Albania in a small town in Berat which sits in the heart of the mountains and on the bank of the Osum River. During your trip, you won’t have to travel far to find great hiking and views of the mountains while also being able to visit the riverbank and do some white water rafting. If it’s the ocean you are looking for, you are also just a short ride from many of Albania’s incredible Mediterranean beaches.

Now if you are more of a museum goer and prefer to explore history, art and architecture, Berat is a perfect place to see aspects of history with roots in cultures all over the world. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization named Berat one of its cherished World Heritage Sites for its multidimensional history of Islamic, Ottoman and Christian backgroundsIMG-20160331-WA0010 with architecture that weaves Venetian, Romanian, Moor and Arabic styles together. Some landmark destinations include the National Ethnographic Museum in Berat, The Gjirokaster Castle, and the original Berat Castle (Kajala e Beratit in Albanian). While these destinations will be sure to wow you, the beauty of Berat hardly has to be sought after, as you can take in the ambience of the city by simply walking its cobblestone streets and grassy knolls.


So as you begin to think about your next service trip abroad, just remember there is so much to gain out of every country you visit. While Albania may be a new destination on your list (or perhaps you’ve never even heard of it before), you’ll have a hard time leaving this beautiful country the moment you step in it.

To see more, check out our VAW Albania Trip Video!


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.

brazil pic 1

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.



Project Recap: Guatemala Landslide Relief

October 20, 2015

A devastating landslide ran through El Cambray 2, a small community in Guatemala, killing hundreds and leaving as many homeless. The Associated Press reported that the death toll has risen to 253, with a current count of missing people at 374 and a total of 184 homes destroyed. In the wake of such horrific loss and destruction, the people of these communities struggle to find shelter, reconciliation and care.

Upon hearing this news, VAW’s staff on site was able to respond immediately. The team, assessing their local medical supplies inventory provided by the rotating volunteers, realized VAW and their partner NGO in Guatemala, Amí San Lucas, had the means to provide first response care to the people in the affected communities. Dr. Israel, one of VAW’s primary on-site physicians in Guatemala and the Director of Amí San Lucas in San Juan la Laguna, went directly to El Cambray with the medications from VAW’s medication funds and provided basic treatment to the surviving victims of the landslides within the first 48 hours after the devastating event.

This project could not have been accomplished if not for the money raised for the medications and supplies by the VAW Medical Outreach Chapters this past year. In total, we were able to use the extra medications and supplies from the chapters’ fundraising, over $800 worth of medications and supplies, during the trip out to the El Cambray region to help treat the victims of the landslide. We thank our chapters for their fabulous fundraising efforts, as we would not have been able to react as quickly as we did with enough medications and supplies to make a real impact on the survivors in the region. We also thank our dedicated in-country staff who were able to recognize the need and coordinate help quickly and efficiently.

Our hopes and thoughts go out to those who lost their lives and those who lost loved ones, as they will feel the devastation of this week’s landslides long after their communities are rebuilt. We do, however, feel fortunate that in an event such as this our staff members in Guatemala had the resources and the willingness to respond to the event and serve these communities while they were most in need. And lastly, we cannot thank all our volunteers and our donors enough for donating your time and energy to Volunteers Around the World, as your generosity and passion for change empowers our organization with the tools and personnel necessary to respond to events such as these and do our best to serve communities around the world when they need help most.

For more information, see the Associated Press article here.

September Medical Outreach Recap: Dominican Republic

October 3, 2015




IMG-20150921-WA0003As September 2015 comes to a close, we are happy to say that VAW’s Medical Outreach chapters at UCSD and UCLA worked hard to create yet another great month of medical clinics and outreach trips. And what a ride it was!

Both teams were in country by September 13th, and from the very beginning they were just as ready to work towards creating impactful change as they were to explore and have fun in a new country. Jarabacoa proved to be a great outlet for fulfilling both of these interests. The teams were able to string together a fantastic series of clinics throughout their two weeks, while also finding time to hike through and paraglide over mountains, jump off waterfalls and cruise through white water rapids. While San Diego, Los Angeles and Jarabacoa are all very sunny, the humidity, rain and bugs of the DR’s tropical climate were definitely a new experience for many. Some nights team members found themselves looking up in awe at the ominous, stormy sky counting the seconds between flashes of lightning and crashing thunder, while other nights they would sit counting the bug bites on each other’s legs, equally as awestruck by their new marks of discomfort. Nonetheless, every student consistently showed an unwavering resilience and poise in the eyes of adversity, illustrating their maturity and perseverance to serve those less fortunate regardless of the personal difficulties they faced.


Drs. Reynaldo Medina and Gisselle Jimenez attend to incoming patients during one of the UCSD team clinics.

As with all of our medical missions, each clinic day took place in a new community in the Jarabacoa region, and with each new community came a new population of patients with their own unique demographics, personalities and medical needs. In one of the communities during the mission, a very high percentage of our patients suffered from stomach parasites, and in another community the most common ailment amongst our patients had to do with bacterial skin rashes and infections. As such, the volunteers from both teams were able to see first hand just how versatile our clinics have to be in order to meet the myriad of medical treatments each community requires. Luckily for the volunteers and the patients, our incredible staff of doctors, led by our new Medical Coordinator Dr. Reynaldo Medina, was able to identify the varying patterns of each community when giving treatments while simultaneously helping the volunteers whom were shadowing gain keen insight into their thought process and procedures when making each diagnosis. At all of our sites, the volunteers that shadow during clinics gain a particularly invaluable experience in that our doctors encourage the volunteers to ask questions (both to the doctors and the patients) and allow the students to get involved in the consultation process. This model is perfect for learning not only the medical knowledge required to carry out each consultation but also the interpersonal skills of creating a comfortable environment for the patients while identifying patient needs successfully and efficiently with limited medical resources.


Sanam, right, and a group of students from the school in Buena Vista, Jarabacoa enjoyed their time at education day and, from time to time, stopped to take a selfie!

One aspect of this month’s missions that was unique was the UCSD team’s educational day. During educational days, the volunteers travel to local schools and conduct a series of presentations, games, activities, etc. that help the students learn about the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preventing diseases, all while having a great deal of fun. UCSD’s model for education day was especially interesting, however, because during this process of teaching the students, they facilitated the creation of two beautiful murals illustrating the importance of personal hygiene in the fight against bacteria. By having the students paint these murals while also listening to educational presentations, the UCSD team created a multifaceted approach toward education that had both an immediate impact on the students’ knowledge but also a sustainable presence in their school, as the murals are going to be hung in the hallways of the school yard for years to come. Sanam Mavandadipur, a UCSD team member, reflected on the success of the mural painting, saying, “[The mural] focused on healthy hygiene habits came out beautifully and allowed the kids to work together to make it into a work of art.” Sanam was thrilled to have witnessed her team’s hard work transcend onto the joy and fun of the students that day. “After planning out the whole day for so long, watching it come together was more than we could have ever expected.”


Here is a shot of the finished product. The two murals will be displayed in the halls of El Centro Educativo Alberto Hernandez Rosario in Buena Vista, Jarabacoa.


This new, creative approach toward education day was a huge success and we hope to see more teams think about new ways to create this sustainable impact on the children they teach.

In addition to the UCSD’s success during their education day, the UCLA team had a particularly outstanding performance during one of their clinics, as they were able to serve over 160 patients in one community. Whenever clinic days bring in that many patients, things inevitably get very hectic. 12019853_887410781348264_1302523965001103541_nAs the team tried to stay cool both physically and figuratively in the crowded, hot classrooms they worked in, their passion for helping this underserved community fueled and motivated them to finish out the day strong. Our DR site’s Medical Coordinator Dr. Reynaldo recalls their hard work on the mission’s busiest day. “In the La Penda community, La Vega, where we worked with about 160 patients or more during the day, all of the volunteers were always perfectly organized, as they were every day, and I can’t express through words how grateful and pleasantly surprised I am, and for the great work done by the UCLA team during mobile medical clinics.” What impressed Dr. Reynaldo, and the rest of the medical staff, most that day was how happy and calm all the volunteers stayed, even when things became most chaotic. “there is no doubt that all the days were busy,” Dr. Reynaldo said, “but they never gave up and neither did we. They were never tired of working but on the contrary always showed a great desire to help and to work no matter how many patients we saw, always with a smile on their faces.” Once they finished up with their last patient, the volunteers kept their spirits up despite their exhaustion, with the help as always of their enthusiastic Site Coordinator Mariel Ureña, by dancing with the children and singing/mumbling along to the local reggaeton and bachata hits.


Torn between exhaustion and satisfaction, the UCLA team along with the community and VAW staff pose for a picture at the end of their busiest and most successful clinic day.

All in all, this month’s missions to the DR were a major success, and we expect that both the UCSD and UCLA Medical Outreach chapters will continue to bring together talented, charismatic and driven teams in the coming years.