Volunteer organizations make medical services available to native cultures

Volunteering can be more than just a nice little addition to a student’s rsum or a way of generating a complimentary letter of recommendation-as many U students know, it can also be a life-enhancing, learning experience.

Phil Catlin, a U biology major, does volunteer work through Aeromedicos, a nonprofit health-care organization that goes to Mexico monthly to offer free medical and dental services to native Mexicans with little or no access to care.

“I wanted to go into a service activity that was relevant to the field that I wanted to go into,” Catlin said. “I wanted to see if I could even handle it.”

In December 2003, Catlin and a group of about 30 other volunteers flew to the city of Cadeje, Mexico.

They set up a temporary clinic in the town to provide medical and dental services, free of charge.

Catlin assisted the doctors in the exam room, writing prescriptions and explaining the instructions to the patients in Spanish, among other tasks.

The volunteers worked a full eight-hour day, from around 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Catlin saw a variety of ailments including colds, heart problems, bronchitis and rashes.

“We saw about 100 people on the medical side, and they probably saw around that same number of people on the dental side,” Catlin said.

Catlin went to two cities over Spring Break to work at an extended clinic.

“It was an awesome experience,” Catlin said. “I remember talking to this guy who was getting his molars pulled. He was the only patient I talked to who spoke English fairly well.

He was bleeding, but he just had this huge smile on his face because he was just so grateful for what we were doing.”

Chris Hyer also has experienced thanks from those who he has assisted in his volunteer organization, Volunteers Involved in Development Abroad.

The organization is student run and aims to connect volunteers from the United States with grassroots, nonprofit organizations in developing countries.

Hyer, a U junior majoring in Spanish, is a co-founder of the volunteer organization that began two years ago with his friend and current director of the organization, Scott Larsen.

While Aeromedicos is a more career-oriented volunteer group, Hyer and Larsen’s organization operates in such a way that all students can be involved in volunteer work abroad, regardless of professional goals.

Some of the projects that Hyer and Larsen’s group have already accomplished include constructing straw-bale homes in Ciudad Obregon, Mexico, teaching public health classes in Puebla, Mexico, and helping to construct community medicinal plant gardens in Ecuador.

“We visited Ecuador twice last year,” Hyer said. “There was a group of about eight volunteers each time.

We had contacted a local nonprofit organization called Jambi Kiwa, who provides micro-industry in indigenous communities. We built community gardens of medicinal plants.

The community takes care of them and then they can process them and sell them to pharmaceutical companies.

That way they can earn a small source of income and have the plants if they need.”

Hyer said it is not necessary for students interested in volunteering with his organization to speak Spanish.

In VIDA, 60 percent of the volunteers speak Spanish and 40 percent do not.

Hyer said that the financial burden placed upon the volunteers is minimal.

“Volunteers pay only a little amount, and the rest is acquired through fund raising and sponsorships,” Hyer said.”We have received a tremendous amount of support so far.”

In 2004 alone, Hyer and Larsen’s organization has raised $50,000.

Sponsorships and donated funds not only help the students travel to other countries, but also help give the developing countries support.

Catlin and Hyer agreed that volunteering was a worthwhile experience.

“It is definitely motivating,” Catlin said.”It’s a good experience and it’s good to know that you made a difference.”

“Volunteering on a project abroad is likely to be one of the most cultural experiences of your life,” Hyer said. “Our volunteers actually live with the families in the communities while we are there.

It’s just an awesome feeling to be a part of their lives for a week and be able to help them out. To me, there’s nothing better than that.”

Students interested in learning more about or joining Volunteers Involved in Development Abroad can call (801) 944-1564 or e-mail Hyer at [email protected]

To learn more about Aeromedicos, students can access its Web site at www.aeromedicos.org .

[email protected]