Subject: Re: Volunteer Travel Websites

It's funny your message about volunteer trips should have arrived while I'm in the midst of preparing for a medical mission to Guatemala!

Four years ago, a team of local doctors & nurses went to Guatemala for 10 days, providing medical services to the indigenous hill people of Guatemala. A newspaper reporter & photographer went with the team 3 years ago & their story in our local newspaper captured my heart. I applied to go as an interpreter (I'm very fluent in Spanish, not quite totally bilingual, but close) & was chosen to go for April 2004.

It was a life-changing experience! Even tho I knew alot about Mexico, Central & South America, I realize now I was woefully ignorant. I've volunteered for many different organizations & causes during my life, but our mission to Guatemala is far & away the most rewarding thing I've done, besides raising my own children.

We're getting ready to depart the US in 8 days, this time for 2 back-to-back missions, with 100 doctors & nurses, 4 interpreters, 6 kitchen crew & 16 stovers. The stovers will be installing simple, effective, efficient stoves in village homes. These stoves eliminate smoky air which the women & children breathe, decrease the amount of firewood needed to prepare food, & avoid the accidents caused by children falling into the open fires. Our teams spend too much time repairing burn scars, treating chronic bronchial problems & repairing hernias caused by the heavy loads (up to 100lbs) of wood the women carry every day, so we're excited about the installation of the stoves.

I work triage, the incoming point for all our patients. In 2004, my triage partner & I, along with a local interpreter, triaged 1670 patients. This year, we hope to be able to more than double that number. Besides clinic consultations for rashes, bronchial infections, dental problems, worms & the like, our surgeons will repair hernias, perform hysterectomies, do catarrach surgery, burn scar repair & basically make miracles every day.

Four years ago, our eye surgeon performed an operation on one eye of a 3-year old who was blind. The operation was successful & the aftermath for all the patients & families, doctors & nurses was apparently an emotional high for all involved. Little Marvin's grandfather had walked for 2 days with him to get to the clinic. This winter, our in-country team finally found Marvin & his grandfather in the remote village where they live, & are making arrangements for Marvin to come to the clinic to have his other eye repaired. They will walk for 2 days again, then take a 17-hour bus ride to get to our new clinic location.

We take just about everything we need for a 3-week clinic/surgery, from Q-tips to cautery machines, medicines, equipment, cooking gear, food. We work under the umbrella of an organization called HELPS International, who provide our in-country support & a secure bodega, or warehouse, where we can safely leave the big things in Guatemala: operating tables, lights, generator, & our cots upon which we sleep. Almost every single item we take is donated by vendors, friends & supporters, & it is a year-long task to sort, log & store these items. We send down a couple of large containers by ship in November. Now we are packing the 110+ team bags which will transport the rest of the stuff to Guatemala. What a job! We have to account for every med, every scalpel, every gown, every surg prep kit & know into which bag each item is packed. Yesterday we finished 46 of them. Only a few left!

Since joining the team, I have found a whole new focus for my life: I volunteer weekly at the hospital ER & have reactivated my long-dormant teaching credential so I can teach first graders in Spanish Immersion School, & work with Hispanic teens in high school ELL programs. And I'm involved in developing a health education component for our Guatemala missions, to work with indigenous women in areas of santitation, dental health, & diet. I never would have expected that a simple trip to Guatemala could have such an effect on my life.

Gail In Eugene