Participating in healthcare missions can instill values in kids while providing them with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Combining “volunteering” with “tourism,” voluntourism is a way to help others while traveling.
The benefits of seeing a new place, meeting new people, and learning how others live are enjoyed while engaging in a worthwhile purpose. These activities are open not just to healthcare professionals and adults, but to service-minded lay volunteers and their families.
A Medical Mission a Drive Away
The U.S. organizations that coordinate medical missions always need volunteers. Founded by Stan Brock, star of Wild Kingdom and Expedition Danger, Tennessee-based Remote Area Medical (RAM), brings several missions to Appalachia each year.
A day’s drive away, Wise, Va., is home to one of the largest annual events. Situated in the Tennessee-Virginia region of the Smoky Mountains, Wise is a beautiful area with high rates of poverty and illness and little access to medical care. During the course of the three-day mission, some 3,500 people—who begin lining up days before the event—receive over $1.2 million worth of dental, vision and medical treatment.
Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH) works with RAM to provide patients with optical care, which encompasses an eye examination and eyeglasses made on the spot. Patients also access dental care, including cleanings, fillings and extractions, as well as a variety of general medical care, such as mammograms, diabetes care and kidney tests. All treatment is free.
Volunteers Make the Difference
The mission depends on lay volunteers to check patients in and out, coordinate patient flow, run errands and much more. Youngsters 12 and up who are accompanied by a parent are welcome to help. Breakfast and lunch are provided, and housing is sometimes available as well.
For those who want to roam farther, RAM holds missions in Las Vegas and Texas. The organization also coordinates missions following natural disasters, such as in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. VOSH has chapters throughout the United States that mostly bring eyecare abroad, including to places such as Romania, Africa, Latin America and Haiti.
Volunteers typically pay for their own transportation to a mission. Housing is sometimes provided free or at a reduced cost. Of course, such trips are tax deductible. But no amount of money can buy the opportunity that voluntourism provides for the whole family to learn, experience, grow and give back. A family that participates in a healthcare mission together makes lifelong memories.
Find out more on Remote Area Medical missions at ramusa.org,
or VOSH chapters and missions at vosh.org.
Liz Martinez is a veteran of many VOSH and RAM missions.
She is a writer who can be reached through her website at LizMartinez.com.