by Tracy Heaberlin
Have you ever googled travel, service, and babies? I did about 10 years ago, and it led me to Global Volunteers. Working as a health-care provider, I was interested in spending some of my vacation time engaging in short-term volunteerism. Global Volunteers helps provide short-term volunteers on long-term service projects to create, nurture, and sustain the well-being of the world’s children. There are over 30 sites around the world to choose from, and no special skills are required! Traveling alone, I knew I wanted structure and support; Global Volunteers provided both – with an amazing safety safety record in unique sites around the world.
In 2006, I joined Global Volunteers for my first trip abroad. I selected Romania because one of the team projects was serving babies. I served outside of Barlad, a city in the Northeast region of Romania. Some volunteers were assigned to teaching English in the schools while others helped to staff an orphanage. My days at the Tutova Clinic were spent in the infant room – feeding, diapering, and loving babies! I was tired at the end of a work day and at times, frustrated by the pace, staff limitations, minimal supplies, and those darn, dull diaper pins. During my 3 weeks with the infants, I learned firsthand what it is like to care for children under circumstances of limited resources. And I learned the impact of sharing my time and love; they are far more valuable to the orphanage staff than any money.
My second trip with Global Volunteers was to St. Lucia. I chose this locale primarily for the ocean climate! It seemed like a perfect match. Who wouldn’t want to be on a Caribbean island during a gray Colorado mud season? Hoping to be assigned to the well-baby checks in the health clinic, I was disappointed when I didn’t get to volunteer there. Then I remembered… Am I here for me? Or am I here for them? Honestly, the answer was for both.
My assignment with the Reaching Children’s Potential Program (RCP) challenged me. The RCP Program is a community health and development program that supports mothers and their children (from 0-3 years). I was humbled by my lack of knowledge beyond neonatology. I had difficulty understanding the language (even though I speak English), and this time I wasn’t working with children in an orphanage. I was interacting with families. I wondered how I could contribute alongside their local expert. As it turns out, my healthcare background was helpful. The first week in the village, I directed one infant and one toddler to the clinic for care. At the end of week 1, the program director called me her personal angel sent from above. I stopped worrying about making a difference – I already had. In subsequent trips, I had had the opportunity to visit and work alongside the nurse in the Prenatal Clinic and present information to parent groups on topics such as infant care, breastfeeding, nutrition, and child safety.