~Something new for an Experienced Volunteer~
Having been involved with AYUDA since 2009, I have been fortunate to participate in Campo Amigo in Ecuador, Ganémosle in the Dominican Republic, and most recently in the Haiti Pilot Program. Each program has been challenging, unique, impactful and rewarding.
When I talk with people about international volunteerism, I find that while most are extremely interested, they are often reserved about whether they can actually make a difference. This is a fair question, and particularly because the work we do at AYUDA is not first-responder type emergency work. Our work is about long-term results that can only be observed over time. It isn’t easy, but few worthy endeavors are.
AYUDA’s expertise was on full display in the pilot program of Haiti, which was a figurative and literal new frontier for the organization. In many ways it mirrored some of AYUDA’s classic traits: an intense focus on understanding the local context, a round-the-clock care approach to working with campers, and the can-do mentality to providing an incredible life experience to everyone involved.
Working with our partner FHADIMAC in this capacity for the first time meant giving up control of some of the planning, and trusting our partner to fill the gaps. As with any pilot program, there is a lot to learn. The great news is that the program was a success; FHADIMAC is extremely pleased with our work and the campers were thrilled!. It can’t be said enough how important it is to have a strong local partner in country. Without FHADIMAC we would be unable to do our work, which is what makes AYUDA’s team building expertise so important.
Working with over 60 young people, the majority of whom spoke mainly or only Creole, was a challenge. We will work on how to manage the language barrier moving forward, but it didn’t stop us from teaching and learning from the campers. Haiti, with all its beauty, amazing food, kind people and warm climate, was a wonderful host country. I couldn’t have left more impressed with this nation that is far more compelling than the media might portray.
I am extremely proud to have been a part of this program and am energetic about engaging other volunteers to participate in the future. There is a great need for the work we do with AYUDA in Haiti. Through the work of the organization and Merith Basey in particular, the stage is now set for a long and prosperous camp program for next year and beyond.
Written by Randy Perillo (Campo Amigo Ecuador 2009, Ganémosle 2013, Haiti 2014).
If I had to choose one word to characterize the atmosphere among the AYUDA volunteers as we head into our second Campo Amigo weekend here in the D.R., it would be “momentum”. We have already met new friends (and, in some cases, reuniting with old ones) at the Fundación Aprendiendo a Vivir; toured Robert Reid Cabral pediatric hospital to gain a sense of the context surrounding our campers’ self-management of their diabetes; and generated lots of creative and engaging activities for an anticipated 60+ campers of all ages. Last Sunday was finally time to roll out our message for young people living with diabetes: “Be your own hero”. We asked them to tap into some unique superpowers in order to take command of their condition, and they rose to the call. Now, we can’t wait to do it all again this weekend.
I have several new heroes of my own: the young leaders from Aprendiendo a Vivir, who have worked side by side with us since we arrived in order to make Campo Amigo a success. The tireless “Tía Sandra” Jáquez, who manages to make each one of the campers feel that he or she is special. AYUDA’s volunteers, who have applied the full force of their creativity to designing a memorable and life-changing experience for others, even as they undergo what I’m sure will end up being a memorable and life-changing experience for themselves. It isn’t always easy working on an international team. Sometimes we trip over the language barrier; other times, we bump up against differing cultural perspectives and expectations. But, just like the members of the Justice League, or the X-men or the Fantastic Four, each of us brings diverse strengths and abilities to the task at hand.
After a successful visit to a sister community of adults and children living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes in the port city of San Pedro de Macorís, about an hour away from Santo Domingo, this morning volunteers are clearly feeling pumped about making the coming weekend’s Campo Amigo even more dynamic, empowering and action-packed than last time. Superhero masks and capes have even started to flash up and down the hallways of our secret headquarters! And, with our powers combined, we know that we can make a tangible difference in the lives of those we encounter.
Jessica Lynman is currently volunteering in the DR for AYUDA’s Campo Amigo Dominicano program. This is her second blog post for AYUDA.
Greetings to all our Haiti supporters!
We are pleased to report that on the 21st April 2014, five AYUDA volunteers journeyed to Port-au-Prince, Haiti in support of a diabetes education program for 68 children and youth living with diabetes. For AYUDA, this was a pilot volunteer program, condensed into 7 days and nights after 10 weeks of training and preparation (and of course fundraising). FHADIMAC (fhadimac.org), AYUDA’s local partner based out of Port au Prince, had selected a location for camp one and half hours north of the capital in a beautiful coastal location called Moulin-sur-Mer. The setting was one of the most beautiful locations in which AYUDA had ever co-hosted a camp and it turned out to be the first opportunity for many of the campers to enjoy a dip in the sea despite living on a Caribbean island.
The AYUDA volunteers were a mixed group with diverse skillsets but who brought much more to the experience that the sum of their parts. Four of the five were living with diabetes themselves (some for more than 20 years each) and four of them had prior experience in-country with AYUDA, but for one this would be her first overseas introduction to AYUDA. Although team members spoke French (along with some basic Haitian Creole), we managed to overcome language barriers with the help of the young leaders who spoke some English, French and Creole to provide a safe, educational and recreational diabetes camping environment.
Two and a half days were spent in the Caribbean nation’s capital revising activities for camp, preparing materials and getting to know some of FHADIMAC’s young leaders. FHADIMAC is lead by the tireless Dr Nancy Charles Larco, daughter of Dr Rene Charles Larco who founded the organization more than 25 years ago. Keeping it in the family, experienced AYUDA volunteer and granddaughter of the founder, Vanessa Larco, took a leadership role in the camp and helped to merge the AYUDA and FHADIMAC teams into one. The team also spent some time at the University State Hospital in Port au Prince, the pediatric department still functioning 4 years post-earthquake in temporary buildings. A shift to more permanent home is hoped for in the near future but hasn't yet happened.
On Thursday 24th April, the AYUDA team supported the FHADIMAC staff in registering the campers at FHADIMAC, testing blood sugars and ensuring everyone had taken their insulin. A packed lunch was provided and once everyone’s paperwork was done, the AYUDA team jumped into a car to head to camp ahead of the FHADIMAC buses that were following behind.
‘Do you have diabetes?’ one of the campers from Cap Haitian asked AYUDA volunteer Chris who has been living with diabetes for 2 decades diagnosed as a small child, ‘how is that possible if you’re so big!?’. These sort of revelations were heard multiple times over the camp days, since this was the first time that many had had the opportunity to engage with other young people living with the same condition who weren’t from Haiti.
The camp was 3 days and nights during which the AYUDA team worked tirelessly from the 7am morning blood sugar checks to the 1am night rounds. The FHADIMAC young leaders quickly took on leadership in their new camp counselor roles. Meanwhile, the night activities revealed an intensely competitive Haitian spirit for musical chairs and a constant desire to dance whenever possible. New friendships were formed and many talents were shared in the final evening’s talent show.
As the camp wrapped up on the Sunday morning, an emphasis was made on the community aspect of the program and the feeling that everyone was connected, not just by diabetes but the shared experiences during the four days. As the groups departed back to their respective communities in Port au Prince, Cap Haitian and St Marc the organizers remained to evaluate and discuss opportunities to improve for our next activities.
Thank you for your continued support!