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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



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.

Highlight of Progress: Water Filters in Peru

September 3, 2015

In May of this past summer, our staff and volunteers at our Medical Outreach site in Peru put our vision of providing water filtration systems into action, giving many communities the ability to access more clean water and start living a healthier lifestyle.

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A worker of Proyecto Río Huatanay enjoying clean water during a long day of work.

Led by USC chapter leaders Max and Natalie, the Medical Outreach chapter at USC did an excellent job seeing this project to fruition. The VAW team partnered with USC Club H2O, and through the collaboration their team was able to bring the filtration systems to Peru from the United States and help facilitate the installation of the systems. Additionally, the chapter educated the communities on how to operate and maintain the filtration systems, ensuring the systems will have a sustainable impact on the communities. We cannot thank the USC team enough for their hard work!

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A water station made possible by the USC VAW and USC Club H2O filters and the hard work of the Proyecto Rio Huatanay facilitators. They have clean water stations set up for workers throughout the work sites.

As our new 2015-2016 season gets underway, we are excited to expand our projects in each of our sites and continue to progress as an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people in communities around the world.

Meet Ruth Karina from Huasampata, Peru

July 13, 2015

Ruth Karina

Ruth Karina is a six year old girl from Huasampata, Peru, located about one hour outside of Cusco, Peru. Currently, Ruth is in the second grade. She attends a local school, which she walks to every day with her siblings. Before her accident, Ruth was a very energetic and happy little girl who enjoyed playing with her siblings and friends outside. Since her accident, however, Ruth has become more reserved and withdrawn, and no longer likes to go out to play.


Dr. John Huamanquispe examining Ruth’s elbow and discussing options with her parents

Ruth came to one of Volunteers Around the World’s mobile clinics in May for a cold, when our Peru Medical Director, Dr. John Huamanquispe, noticed her elbow.

About 9 months ago, Ruth was walking home with her sister and helping carrying a couple of
buckets of water in a wheelbarrow back to the house for her family. The wheelbarrow she was pushing unexpectedly flipped over, causing Ruth to fall and land on her elbow, dislocating it. Ever since then, Ruth has had to live with the pain and discomfort of having a dislocated elbow which she is unable to use. Unfortunately, Ruth’s family is not able to afford the surgery to fix her elbow.


Ruth’s family in their house in Huasampata

When her family attended VAW’s mobile clinic and heard that Ruth might be able to receive surgery, they were very excited. Dr. Huamanquispe believes that Ruth has a very good chance of recovering near-full mobility of her elbow, because she is so young. He has already made contact with a local physical therapist who is willing donate his time and energy to Ruth post-surgery to aid her recovery.


Ruth’s elbow

Please consider donating so that Ruth can have her elbow fixed, and return to playing and enjoying life as every six year old should be able to. Any amount will help!

You can donate at: https://www.empowered.org/Ruth-Karina-Surgery-Fund-Peru




Entrance to Huasampata

Volunteers Around the World: Dominican Republic Hospital Internship 2014 Student Perspective

August 18, 2014

By Elizabeth Carpenter

How could I possibly count the reasons this program is one of the best experiences I have had so far in my medical career?  I entered this program as a rising senior in engineering, pre-health, and in the midst of the application process for medical school.  I was looking for a medical program lasting a month or so in a Spanish-speaking country, but I got so much more from this internship. Continue reading Volunteers Around the World: Dominican Republic Hospital Internship 2014 Student Perspective