"Dia de la Familia" (Family Day)
A couple weeks ago, I returned from the Dominican Republic after another exciting AYUDA program. This summer I was a Volunteer Mentor (VM), meaning I still participated in all aspects of the volunteer program with the additional responsibility of working very closely with the volunteers to ensure that they were fully prepared for the in-country program and that they were adjusting well to life in the DR. As well, as a VM, I worked closely with the staff to support them in program scheduling, organization, and checking in with the volunteers throughout the duration of our time in country.
This summer was my fourth year volunteering for an AYUDA program and I already want to go back in country for next summer’s program! I was originally attracted to AYUDA because I saw it as an opportunity to combine my Spanish-speaking abilities with my knowledge about diabetes, since I live with the condition myself. However, throughout my time connecting further with this organization and gaining responsibilities as a VM, I realized that what initially drew me in barely scrapes the surface of the incredible work that AYUDA does. What keeps me coming back each year is that AYUDA does not just take a group of volunteers, drop them in a foreign country, and say, “okay, go do some ‘charity work.’” On the contrary, AYUDA provides an extensive training program for its volunteers to make sure we are fully prepared for what is expected of us as individuals and as leaders at the diabetes camp we put on. Before, during, and after the in-country programs, AYUDA is constantly in touch with the volunteers to assist them in any way possible, whether that is for fundraising, training, or planning once in country. AYUDA’s investment in its volunteers is what is truly unique about this organization; AYUDA works to create change-makers so that we can go out and be social entrepreneurs in any capacity we choose. Moreover, once in country, AYUDA each and every year, without fail, puts on an incredible diabetes camp for the local community. By working through a local organization, AYUDA creates a sustainable system to provide education to the families in the DR while the volunteers are there and after we leave.
A particular story from this summer that stands out to me is from the first weekend in which we had a 1-day camp called “Día de la Familia” (Family Day). On that day, the parents of the campers living with diabetes joined their kids in the sessions put on during the day. As part of the education session, the Blue Group (ages 8-12) did an activity called “Role Reversal.” In this activity, we had the parents pretend that they were their children, meaning they were the ones living with diabetes. The children, conversely, acted as the parents who were there as support for their “children” to help guide them through the steps of testing one’s blood sugar. To begin, the campers generated a list of the steps required to test one’s blood sugar. Then, we passed around the blood testing kits and watched as the parents – acting as the children – followed the instructions and tested their blood sugar. At the end of the activity we asked the parents their thoughts. One mother spoke to how scary it was to have to do that and that she could not imagine having to do that multiple times a day, every single day, for the rest of her life. She said she was humbled by the experience and had a deeper appreciation for what her child does every day without letting it stand in the way of her life. Another parent spoke and said how much he appreciated this activity because it was practical, educational, and extremely powerful for him.
Just in this one activity, you can see the impact that AYUDA’s programs have on the local community.The lessons learned stick with the children and their families and provide education that they will keep with them to live happier and healthier lives with diabetes. Additionally, this activity highlights how highly trained and prepared the volunteers are; this activity was designed and executed solely by the AYUDA volunteers in partnership with the volunteers from the local organization (Aprendiendo a Vivir). Thanks to the training given to the volunteers about Dominican culture, about diabetes care and management, and about lesson planning, we were able to design an activity that was appropriate for the population and that was highly effective.
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