Volunteer Review: Alec M., Medicine in Mexico
Walking through a low income community outside of Guadalajara, having just provided free medical care with a team of doctors to the appreciative residents of the area, I find myself surrounded by roofless homes, crumbling walls and beautiful people. I can’t help but think back to the life I grew up with in California: my own bed, my own car and food on the table. I understand how different it is to the lives that these good people know, and I recount the steps that brought me to this community. After receiving a degree in business, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in medicine and become a medical doctor.
Volunteering in Mexico
By going to Guadalajara, I strived to gain a better understanding of the Mexican culture as well as immerse myself in the Spanish language. An added bonus to working in Mexico was the decreased regulation within the hospitals, allowing me to actually work with patients and participate in surgeries under the supervision of trained doctors.
This was the work I expected to be doing in Guadalajara. I anticipated studying Spanish, practicing my suturing techniques, and working alongside doctors in two different hospitals. However, the experience that awaited me was more meaningful, informative, enlightening and incredible than I ever would have imagined. Never would I have seen myself providing free medical care to such warm, welcoming people who have no other way of receiving medical services. I did not expect to make so many friends in a foreign country and be treated with such respect by everyone with whom I interacted. What’s more, working with Projects Abroad was an absolute delight and I never felt like I was being left in the cold.
Arriving in Guadalajara
Upon arrival, I was immediately met by a representative from Projects Abroad. He took me to my accommodation where I would have my own room and my own bathroom. After introducing me to the woman I would be living with and making sure that I was comfortable with my living situation, he was on his way and I spent my first night in Mexico.
The following day was Super Bowl Sunday (American football championship) and being American, I needed to watch the match. My host mother directed me to her son’s home where he would be having friends over to watch the game. I felt incredibly welcomed by my host mother, as well as her son and his friends when I met them. I was never judged and always included in conversations, even though my Spanish skills were greatly lacking.
The next day, I was met in the morning by another member of the Projects Abroad team, Miguel. One of the kindest, hardest working people I have ever met, Miguel showed me around the city of Guadalajara and took me to my place of work. His goal was to make sure I understood where the Projects Abroad office was, where my basic services were, introduce me to the people I would be working with, and make sure I knew how to get to and from my project location using the public transportation.
The staff members in Guadalajara continually organized ways for the volunteers to take a break from their jobs and help the community in different ways, or merely get together as friends and see a show or go out to dinner. There was always something being planned by the Projects Abroad team and I found it incredibly beneficial to take advantage of these numerous outings with the other volunteers.
Some of us painted a school, we worked with Amnesty International to spread the word concerning human rights in Mexico, and we spent a weekend on the coast, even getting the chance to release new-born sea turtles into the ocean. Projects Abroad helps out the Turtle Camp in Tecoman, a reservation for the conservation and protection of plant life and sea turtles. At this private reservation my fellow volunteers and I assisted in planting mangroves near the beach, followed by some much needed relaxation and the chance to release newborn sea turtles into the ocean.
One morning at the reservation, I left the camp on the back of an ATV, being driven by one of the Turtle Camp staff members. The sun had not yet risen, and so we were relying on the headlights of the ATV to navigate the sandy beach as we searched for sea turtle tracks. Once we found some tracks (signifying that an adult turtle had laid eggs in that area) we pulled over and dug up some 60 eggs from the sand. Once we had collected all of the eggs we could find along the beach, we replanted the warm eggs into an enclosed area on the beach, protecting the unborn turtles from animals or people. After the turtles hatch, they are collected and placed on the beach so they can make their way to the ocean and begin their life in the wild.
This was one of the greatest experiences of my life. My friends and I collected some new-born sea turtles, named them and then placed them on the beach and cheered for our little turtles as they struggled to the water. It was truly a beautiful sight to watch these creatures begin their life, all the while knowing exactly what to do and where to go. I love working with people and helping those in need, but there is something very special about helping a baby animal take its first steps towards what is hopefully a long, healthy life.
My experience with Projects Abroad
During all these outings and events, there is always at least one member from the Projects Abroad team accompanying the volunteers. We were never left to fend for ourselves or deprived the assistance from Projects Abroad, but we were given the freedom to make our own choices and act as individuals. I was often reminded by the staff that they are there to help the volunteers any time of day (or night) and all days of the week. My calls and texts to Projects Abroad were always answered quickly and thoroughly.
Besides the incredible care provided by Projects Abroad, the knowledge and skills I acquired through my work at the hospital was incredibly rewarding and helpful. Doctors and nurses would explain their actions to me and allow me to assist with day to day operations. After some practice, I was given the chance to diagnose incoming patients on my own. Even during my first day in the surgery room, I was able to assist and learn the many different roles played by members of the surgical team.
Being in Mexico, I garnered experiences that I would never have been exposed to in my home country. I immersed myself in the Spanish language, increasing the speed and capacity at which I learned. I made lifelong friends from other countries and truly lived in the Mexican culture. I worked with patients and learned surgical techniques, studying the many parts of medicine through practice rather than just reading what to do in a book. I got the chance to travel a beautiful country with so many different landscapes and unique activities to experience. But most of all, I discovered how rewarding the medical industry can be.
I give my thanks to Projects Abroad, as well as the wonderful people of Guadalajara, for everything that they have done for me.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.