Freshman year caused drastic alterations in my life. Being away from my home of 18 years, including all family, most of my friends, my loving Great Dane/Pit Bull…it was difficult for me. I spent my four years of high school involved in a variety of volunteer activities, ranging from being a member of the PAL’s program at the Southern Oregon Humane Society to enrolling in the Buddy Program which entails interacting and becoming a helping friend to an elementary school student throughout the Springtime. When I transferred to the college setting, I had to depart from all of my old responsibilities and begin new ones. The best way I discovered to find a range of volunteer opportunities was being involved in the Civic Engagement Club. This club sends out weekly emails that include multiple different opportunities to get involved in the community. Since it was only the first few weeks of school, I was still very new to everything so I ended up spending hours skimming through each opportunity that was presented. I came across a volunteer abroad opportunity, titled Public Health Global Brigade, which immediately struck my interest.
First of all, I love traveling. Studying abroad has been my dream ever since I was old enough to understand what it even meant! I signed up and began going to the meetings to get further knowledge about the program. Knowing I would have to set myself back financially made me want to rethink if it was really worth it or not, but my heart quickly trumped the thoughts. After going to the first few meetings, I could not come up with any potential negative consequences that would make me regret the experience so I stayed committed and it eventually led me to the Darien region of Panama.
Our mission was to improve the overall health of the communities we visit by building/completing latrines. From this, children and adults will have better access to a clean bathroom which will help reduce the chance of obtaining diseases that can lead to a serious illness or even death. Alongside 23 other women and 1 man, all from OSU, we spent seven days rebuilding ten latrines that were not finished by previous Public Health Brigades and started and completed one main latrine at an Elementary school outside the Darien region.
We assisted and worked with certified Panamanian contractors so we weren’t completely clueless as to how to build the structures. We worked through 90% humidity, through the downpour of rain (and “downpour” is an understatement), through pools of perspiration, through laughs, jokes, smiles and committed dedication. All of this led up to an everlasting bond between the student volunteers, the Panamanian contractors, the Panamanian directors in charge of the Global Brigade program in Panama, and the families in each of the communities we visited.
Returning home was saddening, but also reviving. I learned a tremendous amount of culture differences and experienced what life is like outside the US. It is true when American travelers of the world say “be thankful for what we have here in the US.” Every single one of us volunteers came back thankful, inspired and lively. You honestly can’t get that sensation from anything else. As a volunteer abroad student, I now have an expanded heart and more of a passion to make a difference here in this world. I hope others will take a chance, open themselves to “one-time” opportunities so they will one day achieve the same experience and awareness as I have.
Have you had a memorable volunteer or volunteer abroad experience? Tell us about it!
posted by Whitney Cordes, Career Assistant