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.
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.
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.
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.
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.