Volunteer Review: Dylan C., Medicine in Argentina
“Mi Vida… Espero que tengas un lindo dia,” a huge kiss is planted on my cheek, something I had to get used to at first (coming from New Mexico, where greeting is merely a handshake or hello). My host mom, steps back, smiles and I make my way to the front door of the house. ‘House key, money belt, scrubs, phone…’ I run through the daily checklist in my mind as I turn the handle and step out under the warm morning sun. I brush the crumbs off my scrub top and wipe some dulce de leche off the corner of my mouth. I'm ready to go.
Buses ten through nineteen read on the sign above my head as I turn to see a fifteen screech to a stop next to me. I step on and reluctantly hold out my bus card to the scanner, waiting for that dreadful beep, letting me know I have insufficient credit. ‘Beep...Beep’ I slowly turn to the people on the bus and then to the driver. Suddenly a woman stands up and scans her card for me. She smiles at me as I sit down, trying to remember when anyone in my home town was that nice to me. A blur of buildings and trees pass by as I make my way to my destination.
Finally, the bus stops and I plop down onto the sidewalk in front of the immense white building with big letters overhead, reading: Hospital Pediatrico Nino de Jesus. I enter through the colossal wooden doors and step into the main waiting area where dozens of people are waiting in line for various departments of the hospital. Mildewed walls and leaky ceilings provide the structure for the building. The floor tile is chipped and people jump over puddles of water that have pooled from leaks in the walls. Each time I come I am reminded of how fortunate I am back home. I soon see another volunteer in scrubs. Christie is from Mississippi and is in the same project as me. We quickly make our way down the hallway and slide through the doors that read: ‘Cirugia’.
Scrub cap and mask on, Christie and I stand in awe as a surgeon carries her patient in and sets the child on the operating table. The doctor holds the small hand as the child screams for his mother. Slowly the screams grow fainter as the child is anesthetised. The two surgeons lean over the table, cutting and cauterising as a picture of Jesus looks down from the wall in front. Focus and determination make the time feel intense as we watch these doctors save a life. Nurses pass tools across the table and other doctor’s pass in and out of the room making notes. Bloody rags are tossed across the room into a bin as the surgeons brainstorm different methods. IV fluid drips down a long tube connected to the patient's arm and a nurse opens a bag of tools. As they start to close the wound, everybody stands silent. A steady beep from the monitor provides tension in the background. Like ocean waves, the hands of the surgeon effortlessly flow up and down as the wound comes together with thread.
The child is brought back to consciousness and the surgeon picks up the child and carries him out to his worried mother in the pre-operating room. Christie and I have just witnessed something so pure and unique and we are so grateful. The surgeons strip their garments and follow us out of the room. I am dumbfounded at how great these doctors are at their jobs. Each day I see their passion in care, their unconditional love towards their patients and their ability to stay calm under immense pressure. With scarce resources, they are still able to provide sufficient care to the patients. As Christie and I thank the staff for another great day, we throw our masks and caps away, change out of our scrubs and make our way out of the OR. I feel a buzz on my thigh and it takes me out of my daze. I read my phone: ‘City walk anyone?’. The message is from another volunteer.
Christie and I jump on a bus and head downtown. As we talk about the surgery, another message from the volunteer group chat buzzes my leg. ‘Meet at Patio Olmos’ it reads. We soon end our conversation and step off the bus, quickly walking to the big shopping center where we always meet. “There they are!” Christie points to a group of people around our age, waiting in front of the shopping center. Denmark, Germany, Canada, and Netherlands are birthplaces for some of the people in the group, making it so diverse. Each volunteer comes to Argentina for different reasons, but all have one in common: to help other people. As we greet one another, we begin another adventure in the city of Cordoba.
We start down Belgrano Street, an old, narrow road full of shops and cafes. Packs of stray dogs pass left and right as they mark their territory on each wall. The smell of fresh bread quickly draws us into a bakery and inside we all eye a well known treat in Cordoba, sitting in a basket on the counter. We order the mouthwatering cheesy bread bites known as chipas, and devour them while telling each other how our volunteering went that day. Once the bread is gone, we head out and immediately hear live music and notice more wonderful smells up another narrow street. The street is blocked off from cars and is filled with many small stands full of items to buy. Saddles, necklaces, bracelets, lanterns, belts, blankets, paintings are just some of the handcrafted items we see in each stand. A man with a leather apron sits, forming a piece of leather over a mannequin foot. He stitches the leather together, making a shoe.
Another man sits, painting the landscape of the beautiful Sierras Chicas, the local mountain range in Cordoba. A woman plays a classic cuarteto tune, traditional Cordoban music, as a group of university students dance and sing along beside her. Smells from hand prepared meats fill the air as we gleam at the amazing culture together. Across the street a group of kids run by passing a ball, sweat dripping from their brow down to their smiling mouths. A sport so integrated into this culture, a sport I share the love for with these wonderful people in Argentina. We continue to travel through the market, and come to a bench where we all sit. Overhead, the sun begins its descent and more and more people start to fill the street. We take a moment to just look around at where we are. Each of us arriving on different dates from different places, yet we are all here doing something meaningful, not only for the people around us but for ourselves as well. We all stand and start our return to Patio Olmos.
“Did you see that guy making the leather shoes!?” “Did you smell that fresh beef that guy prepared?” “That was so cool when those people started to dance with that woman playing the guitar!” “What about those kids playing soccer in the street?!” We all exchange observations as we travel down old Belgrano Street. I look at everyone around me. So many things we all saw together, so many experiences we shared as a group and so many memories we will be able to look back upon the rest of our lives. As we walk up the steps in front of our meeting place, I smile and check the time. Eight o’clock sharp. Dinner is soon and my stomach is begging me to fill it. I bid my adieu and tell the group that we’ll plan the next adventure later on tonight. We all depart to our host families and I catch a bus back home.
The sway and rumble of the bus almost puts me to sleep as I play through the events of the long adventurous day I had in my head. I begin to think of more experiences. I think back to Tuesday when we went to another hospital and served food to families of terminally ill children. Remembering the smiles on those people's faces as we gave them hot food, reminding them that there are people who care about them, made me happy. I see a woman cross the street with her two kids as the bus roars by. It brings me back to the surgeries I got to witness. A mother and child reunited after the child’s life is saved. I see a man walking down the sidewalk with a bag of bread. It reminds me of the preventive work we did at a small clinic in a poor neighborhood outside the city. As we tested people for high blood pressure and diabetes, I realised that although we can only make an impact on a small group of people with our time here, every life matters and we impacted some. I always go back to part of a quote from Mother Teresa: ‘... the good you do today, people may very well forget tomorrow, be good anyway…’.To me it shows that no matter what, there is always good in this world and it’s great to be a part of it as much as I can. The bus finally stops and I slowly get off. I start my walk home ready to see my host mother; ready to eat.
I make my way up the driveway and as I turn the key to the door, the high pitched barking starts. Tiny footsteps grow louder as I open the door and immediately I’m greeted with licks and more barks. The three little dogs always miss me. I walk to the kitchen table where my host mom sits. “Hola mi Vida, que tal tu dia?” and a huge kiss is planted on my cheek. “Bueno Betty. Fue divertido”. I sit down at the table and a plate of hot steaming noodles with chicken sits in front of me. Betty pours some Yerba Mate into her gourd, a very traditional drink in South America, and adds the sugar and hot water. As she sips the drink, she smiles at me and I immediately feel at home. I tell her about my day and finish up my meal. I say goodnight and head back to my room. I brush the crumbs from my shirt, and wipe my mouth clean of marinara sauce. I fall to the mattress and look up at the ceiling. I take my key, phone and money belt and set them on the bedside table, ready for a new adventure tomorrow.
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.