Seeing the World Through New Eyes: A Guide to International Volunteer Projects

Mark A. Ventocilla, OD; Jeffrey D. Schrauben, OD


December 19, 2014

In This Article

The Joys and Practicalities of Volunteering

The foremost reason that eye care professionals organize and volunteer in international care projects is for the joy of helping others see again, which is one of the greatest feelings such work can offer. Other benefits include travel to an exotic country with new customs and the ability to practice a foreign language; in contrast, the possible costs include time away from loved ones, project expenses, and risk for injury or sickness.

Those not trained in eye care can still play a vital role in volunteer projects; often, over one half of the personnel involved have little to no optical experience. The practical aspects to be considered in the organization of an eye project are outlined herein, along with recommendations on how interested healthcare professionals can get involved.

Choosing a Location

Location selection can dramatically affect the success of a project. Whenever possible, choosing a desirable location (eg, beach, tourist area) will make enlisting volunteers easier.

With the rise in kidnapping for profit, the trip leader must ensure the team's security. This can usually be best achieved by establishing good relations and project participation with in-country hosts, who in turn can provide accommodation and transportation that better ensure the group's safety while in the host country.

Both rural settings and urban settings have their advantages and disadvantages, but rural settings often provide the greatest logistical challenge. Rural settings necessitate that the following must be accounted for:

Transportation from the airport to the location;

Housing in the rural area;

Consistent electrical supply of correct voltage;

Consistent clean water supply;

Sanitation/disinfection of the operating arena; and

High proportion of patients with limited access to care.

Urban settings often pose more of a security risk for personnel in their travel to and from the clinic. To minimize this risk, volunteers may consider the following:

Not wearing jewelry;

Using a money pouch for valuables;

Traveling in pairs or groups, especially at night; and

Traveling with the local host whenever possible.


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