Thoughts from a Non-Medical Volunteer – Janelle Hill – 2018
I always wanted to do a mission trip, I just really never knew where to begin. Nani is the main reason why I chose Amazon Promise. She spoke so highly of it and once she mentioned that they needed non-medical volunteers, I was hooked – partly because I knew I’d be going to the Amazon and partly because I’d get the chance to work with her.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this experience, especially since I went with PA students and I have no medical background whatsoever. So I was a little nervous about not being as useful as the others or as useful as I wanted to be. The first day in clinic was a little slow for me, partly because I don’t think I had found my footing at that point. I liked helping the girls with lice by washing their hair, cleaning a boy’s wound, taking pictures and playing with some of the kids. But I definitely felt like something was missing.
That feeling went away the moment I started working with Dr. Frederick and Jose Luis. I absolutely loved it, which is kind of surprising since I never thought I’d like dental. But Dr. Frederick and Jose Luis were such amazing teachers. They would explain why certain teeth had to be extracted or show me the cavities before the teeth came out. I was always in the loop with whatever they were doing. Dr. Frederick even let me extract some of the teeth, which was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. Despite not being a medical volunteer, I felt incredibly useful working with them. Since most of us rotated through the different stations that were set up, I made it a point to wander back over to dental on day four, once I wasn’t needed in the medical area anymore. And I was fortunate to end up with Dr. Frederick and Jose Luis on day five as well.
As far as the Amazon Promise staff goes, I can’t say enough wonderful things about them. I honestly don’t think the experience would have been as great had they not been there. I have to give special shout-outs to Rosa, Aida, and Jose Luis — they are so knowledgeable and helpful and they just have the biggest hearts. When a widow came into the clinic with eight of her nine kids and Rosa heard her story, she came over to me and Kayla, knowing that we had brought clothes to trade, and asked if we wouldn’t mind giving some to the family. We immediately started going through whatever we could give. The widow’s youngest son had an abscess on his head that Nani had to drain. It wasn’t an easy thing for the family to see. But Rosa constantly explained everything and why it had to be done. She also made it a point to schedule a follow-up with the family, even though we weren’t going back to their village. Even though the family didn’t come to our base camp when they said they would (they said the wound was healing nicely and didn’t think they had to come), Rosa and Nani made it a point to go back to their village after a long day at clinic and check up on them. Rosa and Nani did not have to go that extra mile. And my guess is that a lot of other organizations wouldn’t have done that. But they cared. And it showed. (Side note – when Nani realized that one of the villages had a little market, she immediately started buying food, canned milk, and other essentials that she knew would go a long way for this family, not only in terms of survival but also in terms of providing hope. Our team split the cost and it was probably the best way I’ve ever given back to anyone in my life.)
There is no doubt that this isn’t just a job for them, it’s a passion. Thanks to Jose Luis, we were also able to do some fun excursions — like going for a canoe ride one day after clinic. (I swear Jose Luis knows everything about the Amazon – he was pointing out trees and telling us what they were and he could name any animal we could see.) And going alligator watching one evening. I’m actually kind of glad we didn’t see any gators because they freak me out. But being on that boat in the Amazon with nothing else around, hearing the sounds of the jungle and seeing as many stars as you could possibly imagine – well let’s just say there’s really no other experience in the world like it. It will be something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
From a volunteer’s perspective, the crew is a major part of what makes me want to come back someday. Aida has the absolute best personality and loves to help you learn Spanish. I loved the conversations we had back at base camp after clinic. She also helped me not so subtly sneak food to the dogs in our village, which I was intent on doing after every meal.
Knowing that you can help make a small difference, but also that you’re working with people who’ve dedicated their lives to this, just makes the experience that much better. My goal is to come back and go to an indigenous village, which I know will be longer, harder and a whole lot sweatier. But I think challenging yourself is a big reason to do it. I also told Jose Luis I would only do it if he came along. He agreed but told me I have to do it within the next five years!
I’d just like to thank Patty for [her] tireless work, for starting this wonderful organization and for filling it with the best possible people. This was an experience that I will always cherish. And from here on out, I will make it a point to continue going on mission trips and to continue spreading the word about Amazon Promise.