Long Term Volunteers in Action

Long Term Volunteers in Action
May 13, 2015 Sarah Hollis

Long Term Volunteers in Action

Salsa lessons. Monkeys. Dirt roads. Hot springs. River rafting. Sick patients. Playful children. Compassionate students, doctors, and nurses. As self-proclaimed “Timmy trip veterans,” we had come to expect these things while volunteering on a Timmy trip in Ecuador; between us, we had volunteered on four separate Timmy trips with our universities before we officially joined the Timmy team in Ecuador as Long Term Volunteers. However, returning as LTVs for brigades in Tena and Quito in March 2015 revealed to us an entirely different side of the Timmy trip experience.

{Victoria} Last time I was on brigade in Quito, I was a sophomore in college, struggling to balance 21 credits, two science labs, and Navy ROTC. It was Fall break, a time when most overworked and underpaid University of Notre Dame students go home to hibernate for a week so that they can somehow make it to Christmas. Instead, I had a ten-hour international flight to catch and a week of volunteering to do, which incidentally didn’t give me much time to catch up on sleep. Little did I know that this one week would change the course of my college career.

{Lizzy} My previous three Timmy trip experiences with Davidson College left me feeling simultaneously inspired and confused. While they made me realize I want to live to provide healthcare for the medically underserved, I was at a loss for how to accomplish my lofty goal. How do I communicate with the patients? How can I make long-lasting changes? How do I make an impact? Then, I came to one conclusion: I should get off my butt and get to work.

So, after our initial trip experiences, we both decided to major in Spanish, study abroad in Spain, and become Timmy lifers to prepare ourselves to tackle the global health disparities we witnessed. Then, joining the medical teams as LTVs, we were no longer student volunteers struggling to find our path in school and in life; we were LTVs, soon to be medical students, who could finally speak understandable Spanish, and we were confident that we were exactly where we were meant to be.

The biggest difference and best part of being on brigade as an LTV, instead of as a volunteer, is the mere fact that we knew what we were doing. When you come on brigade as a volunteer, you are shuttled around on a bus from community to community whose names you cannot pronounce. You stay in an awesome retreat center, but you have no idea where it’s located. And you drink juices made of fruit you have never even heard of.

After a few months working in Quito, however, we had come to know each of the communities on a personal level. We had spent time traveling to each one, meeting with their local health promoters, and learning about their healthcare system. So each morning when we were bussed to a community, we were already envisioning where we were heading, and the health promoters would greet us by name when we arrived. In one of the communities, we even had lunch plans with one of the health promoters at her house. Instead of feeling like a passerby, we felt like we had really become a part of their community.

Another exciting difference about this brigade is that we had our own project initiatives to accomplish. In addition to surveying each community for the healthcare access points that they have available to them, we planned to survey individual patients about their use of these access points. It was really exciting to have the time and the space to hear what our patients had to say. We knew that these patients have come to trust and rely upon the services Timmy provides, but we wanted to know why they didn’t feel the same about the services their own government was providing. The results were eye-opening to say the least.

We have learned so much during these past few months about self-motivation, overcoming language barriers, building self-confidence, asking for help when we needed it, and becoming flexible planners. Maybe our project will have some holes, and maybe it won’t be published on the front page of a Global Health magazine, but we do know that the information we have gathered will be really helpful for Timmy Global Health, the work that they do, and the strategies they use moving forward as they work to establish healthcare access for all the members of the communities in south Quito.

We are so grateful to have been back on Timmy trips this year as LTVs, with the salsa lessons, dirt roads, passionate student volunteers, inspiring doctors, and hilarious health promoters. It really brought everything full circle for us, but the truth is that our jobs here are not done. We both plan to come back in the future – as physicians – and hopefully together, so that we can truly give back to the people and the communities that have influenced our lives so deeply.

by Elizabeth Anderson & Victoria Kay

Elizabeth (Lizzy) and Victoria have spent a lot of time working with Timmy Global Health in the US and abroad. This post captures some of their joint experiences on the ground in Timmy communities serving as long term volunteers, and the impact it has had on their views of development.