WHAT TO EXPECT
Do you like holidays where you can relax, sun yourself, sleep loads and drink tequila? If so, being a part of Volunteer Medics may not be for you.
If, on the other hand, you like to laugh, cry, get dirty (so to speak!) and clean off the grime in a bucket of cold water whilst immersing yourself off the beaten track with real people in a real wilderness experience, then this may just be up your street.
We believe that you will experience both physical and emotional challenges as well as intellectual. For most of us used to the wealth of the western world, the infrastructure, timings and physical living conditions and their consequences will provide an experience that will push your boundaries and put you outside of your comfort zone. Some of the things you will see and experience may even make you cry and they will certainly be a cause for reflection. However, for each time that you will experience such an emotion you will laugh ten times more. You will have the opportunity to reconnect to humanity and your surroundings in a way that no sunbed will ever bring.
We believe in telling you straight, so we’ve set out a few hints of the key home comforts that you will want to know about.
There isn’t any! Sometimes we can get a generator but we can’t guarantee this. Alternatively, we recommend a good head torch and prodigious eating of carrots several months prior to your departure!
This will most likely be boiled and sanitised standpipe water. When in urban cities bottled water will be available. Beer is warm!
We usually manage to get decent quality accommodation, comprising a communal area and sleeping rooms with beds. However, we are mindful that we usually get one of the better houses in the villages in which we operate, donated by the community, but this will depend upon availability. The quality of beds, roofs, etc. can vary greatly! For animal lovers, most houses come with their own pets, usually of the cricket and chicken variety, with the occasional praying mantis!
The most luxurious accommodation may have a flushing toilet. However, it is unlikely to flush and will require the manual application of water to make the contents disappear (buckets supplied!). More likely, you will be using drop toilets and when out and about on the road… a bush. A good number of toilets come with spectacular views of mountains or for those who are used to nightshifts, a view of the stars. A poo with a view!
A bit like electricity… there aren’t any! We can however provide you with a bath, provided you can fit in a bucket. We are usually able to heat hot water for your daily scrub but you must be prepared for the water to be cold.
This is generally blander than the UK with no-where near the sugar and salt content. Staples are rice, cassava and maize and can sometimes get monotonous. There is a lot of fruit and even some red bananas! We can accommodate both vegetarians and meat eaters, but those who survive on a fast food diet will find life difficult. The local communities do an amazing job of cooking for us over an open fire alfresco. So whilst everything tends to come with a hint of smoke this is the ultimate BBQ experience. For those who enjoy cooking, join in! There will be many moments of great hilarity either in trying to light the fire, or cooking upon it.
We provisionally say that trips are for two weeks. However to make the most of cheaper air fares we do have to adjust this. We book flights months in advance so you have plenty of time to adjust any work holiday dates if required. The trip may therefore last a few days more than the two weeks but won’t be excessive (or any shorter!).
There is no getting away from it you are generally going to be the centre of attention in the village. You will have adults constantly approaching you to chat as well as a permanent entourage of small children to play with, entertain and generally interact with morning, noon and night. We really encourage you to be open to such a friendly and warm reception. Indeed your arrival in the village is usually one of the highlights of the trip and can be deeply emotional. We do however, try to make sure you get a little time to reflect and a little bit of “me time”. After all volunteering is about you as well as those we work alongside. We also try and arrange a couple of experiences during your stay. These are of course optional but can make some of the greatest memories. They can include riding, walks, star gazing and if you have anything you’d really like to do just ask us and we’ll see if it can be sorted.
If you get home sick, then we suspect that your experience and expectations will not be fulfilled. With our reliance on modern technology it is easy to try and spend all of your time on the phone. We do our best to keep you in contact with your friends and family back home, however we cannot guarantee a signal. We do of course rely heavily on each other to overcome the challenges that we will face both physically and emotionally and of course your colleagues will be a constant companion.
You will be part of a team that is capable of looking after itself and as such you will need to participate fully in meal preparation, cleaning and general domestic activities. It is important to note that for those with a butler working with Volunteer Medics only comes with a butler if both you and your butler apply! (Which is strictly not true as you will still be expected to do your share anyway).
WHAT WE EXPECT OF YOU
We are Paramedics, associated medical professionals and friends. That means we are professional, respectful of our human differences and environments and fun! We want you to be part of the Volunteer Medics family in the same way you are part of the ambo family (plus hangers on). However, we do ask that a few basics be observed:
- If you are not really interested, don’t apply! Demand is high and places limited. If you don’t like drop toilets, insects, roughing it a bit, inspirational people, beautiful mountains and stars, the chance to be off the beaten track and as one of our volunteers said “the opportunity to be away from a world of nothing but concrete”, leave the opportunity for those who want to go.
- Know what to expect, but if you have any concerns or questions we’re always available to chat (subject to shift rosters!).
- You are not going on holiday! You are part of a professional team with a purpose.
- This is not the West! Sociocultural norms are different and they must be respected.
- You will be in a position of great power and influence. Indigenous communities are likely to be very respectful towards you. We ask that you respect the likely nature of this relationship. This includes excess alcohol and not getting drunk.
- We expect you to be part of the team, you cannot save the world on your own!
- We ask that you use your mobile phone with consideration as it may only worsen any potential homesickness and spoil the experience for yourself and your colleagues.
- You will meet your financial obligations in a timely manner. We are unpaid Paramedics working together who can’t afford to bankroll ourselves let alone anyone else! Please feel free to petition to your local MP in this regard if we have saved your life and you so wish!
As an organisation we made the decision that all our fundraising efforts, and those of our volunteers go to finance the project and support the country we operate in. We do not pay ourselves wages or expenses and individually we pay for our own costs too. Unlike many NGO’s and Voluntourism providers, 100% of our fundraising effort goes to where it is needed. Therefore our volunteers are expected to pay for their own flights, VISA’s etc.
Every project is different. This means we can only give an indication of the cost as the cost of the work done on each Health Centre will vary, and exact costs can only be calculated once a project is finalised. However as an estimate we expect that the trip will cost around £1500-£2000 plus any vaccinations and kit you may need. This estimate includes:
- Your deposit of £150. Once you have applied to join us, and you have been accepted as a volunteer we ask that you pay £150 within seven days of acceptance. We do this for two reasons. Firstly as we are all unpaid volunteers too it means you will be more committed to the team. Secondly we provide you with a hoodie and tee shirt as well as a stuff sack. You can use these to help your fundraising and raise awareness of your plans as well as bringing these things with you in country. The deposit also helps cover our costs, for example insurance. This deposit is non-refundable.
- Flights. We will expect you to pay in advance so we can make group flight arrangements. We will either refund any overpayment to you when you return, give you the difference in country as spending money or of course you can either donate it towards your project or to Volunteer Medics. If there is a shortfall, we will of course approach you for the difference but we do try and make the flights as cheap as possible.
- Your contribution towards the project costs.
- Transport costs, food costs at the project location, all overnight costs.
- Meeting and collection at the airport.
- Your Visa
In addition you will need to pay:
- To get to the airport in the UK
- For any kit you may require (although we may be able to help you out with this or secure you discounts)
- For any vaccinations your require
- Spending money. However you won’t need a lot, usually £50-£75 per week is enough, and £100 would usually allow you to get a good range of souvenirs.
- Food costs to and from the project.
- We also try and arrange a couple of activities, for example riding with the local horsemen or an overnight stay under the stars as well as the odd walk. These are optional but very low cost for what is an amazing experience.
- Your travel insurance, which again we will help arrange.
WHAT WE DO ON A PROJECT
We keep you busy! Because we know you want to make the most of your time in country, and because we want to make the most of your skills and enthusiasm, we aim to make sure you finish each day with a sense of achievement. Your time will be split between:
- Working on the project. This will include building, plastering, digging, painting preparing the clinic for opening, and the list goes on! You will be actively involved in making sure the project finishes and completes, usually by the end of your stay. Don’t worry if you have never done things like this before- you’ll be shown and guided by the local community.
- Medical - It can be worrying wondering about how medicine is delivered in such an environment with such different clinical pathways and expectations to the ones you are used to. That’s why we create an opportunity to experience health provision with local staff. As much time as possible will be spent in the local clinic, and we will actively encourage you to play a part in the village’s health as much as you can. No matter what your clinical grade or experience there is something everybody can be a part of.
- Training. The local staff are as keen to learn current Western practice and algorithms as you are to be a part of the clinical team. Each project team will consider what training can best be shared. Be prepared to both share your experience, practical and academic, and to learn!
- Looking after ourselves. You will be expected to look after the needs of the team. Regardless of whether it’s cooking, cleaning or keeping up the supply of water we all muck in!
Most of all though we believe that you get out of being a Volunteer Medic what you put in. We keep you busy and we see our role as facilitators. We help make your expectations of what you want from a project happen. If you have a specialism you want to exploit when there, tell us, we’ll try our best to use it to benefit the communities we work alongside