I did my medical mission trip with IVHQ and it was amazing. The process, the volunteer work and the people made it super special. I put in a fair bit of work myself in planning my mission trip so it was a total success - and it was! Here are my top tips for making sure your mission trip is too…
Step 1. Find your passion
No one goes out of their comfort zone on a mission trip for a cause they are not passionate about. So what do you love? What kind of services can you offer people in need?
There are so many options out there for mission trips - for me it was healthcare. I am a nursing student who is especially passionate about maternal, infant and child health on a global level so I used that burning passion and my skills and took it to Guatemala on a medical mission trip. Ask yourself again, what do you love?
Step 2: Find an organization that can deliver for you
Make sure you do your research and look for an organization that is transparent about where your money goes. I spent weeks communicating with various organizations and IVHQ provided me with the best service and feedback. Their communication was quick and they were thorough about answering my questions.
I found that having a proper breakdown of the budget really helped me to understand how it all worked. No one is willing to drop a good chunk of money with no real understanding of where it’s going. IVHQ gave me clear budgets for the three locations I was interested in and the two different time frames we were considering, along with other options of excursions we could add on to our trip. Transparency is key when planning a mission trip.
Step 3: Recruit the troops
If you want to do your mission trip alone, then great - you don’t have to worry about this one! But if you do, volunteering as a group means you’re in it together all the way.
To start, find people who share the same passion as you and have always had an interest to go on a mission trip. My situation was a bit easier because I was able to recruit from my nursing program. Obviously we share a passion for healthcare, but the trick was to find friends that shared the desire to go global.
I knew I was going to do this mission trip with or without anyone else, but I wanted to share the experience if I could. In addition, having more than eight people in our group meant our medical mission trip qualified to participate on a medical campaign with IVHQ. A medical campaign takes you into the heart of your host community to deliver vital healthcare services and support, and allows you to do a greater range of hands-on work. When you’re recruiting others to join your mission, be thorough in explaining the information, be honest and share your passion - people will be inspired by it.
Step 4: Select a location
When deciding where you want to go, you may have to think outside your bucket list. It’s important to consider where your mission work will be most needed and whether the destination and program fit with your group’s motivations to volunteer abroad.
In addition, you must think of the practicality of the place you want to go. Your flight is not included in your mission trip cost, so proximity and flight costs are definitely things to consider. The sooner you book, the better, but despite that, the location will still have a big role in your final price.
For instance, because we would be flying from Florida, we decided to look towards Central and South America. That narrowed us down to three places we could volunteer on a medical mission: Peru, Guatemala and Costa Rica. We took a vote and Costa Rica won by miles. But we soon found that as a destination, Costa Rica wasn’t the best fit with our motivations for volunteering and doing a medical mission. So that brought it down to two.
In the end we chose to volunteer on a medical mission in Guatemala because flights were half the price of those to Peru. I am so glad it worked out that way because Guatemala was never on my radar to visit and it turned out to be one of the most beautiful and powerful adventures I have had, and I plan to return because there is so much that I still want to see and do in Guatemala. Everything happens for a reason. Go where it is practical for you and I promise you will be amazed.
Step 5: Set your budget higher than what you think you’ll need
This is important, especially if you are planning to lead a group. Some people live on tight budgets and last minute $50 extra costs could be significant for them. I rounded up when I quoted my group the price for the entire trip and I am sure glad I did. I told everyone to set their fundraising goal higher than what we needed because any extra money could be used for medical supplies and donations. Life always throws curveballs at you, so you should try to prepare for that in your budget. It’s always better to have money left over instead of not running out with a few days to go!
Step 5: Start fundraising
Fundraising is a great way to get your friends, family and community involved. To be honest, I didn’t actually reach my fundraising goal, although some of my friends did. Even if you don’t reach your goal it’s great to let people know what you’re doing and tell them about how volunteering abroad works.
An awesome way to make people feel involved is to include those who donate funds in your social media accounts to keep them aware of your progress and allow them to see exactly where their money is going.
If you’re crowdfunding, use a site that doesn’t take a percentage of what you raise, or make sure it’s a minimal fee. Also, give people the opportunity to give you money directly via check or cash so it doesn’t attract a commission. Just make sure you keep your fundraising transparent.
People are donating their money to your cause, so you want to be able to show them exactly how it’s being used. Use Pinterest, or check out these fundraising ideas.
Step 7: Collect supplies
Some people feel weird about giving money because they don’t know exactly where it’s going to go. I found it worthwhile to give them another option to be involved, and enable them to purchase and donate medical supplies. To make sure you are collecting medical supplies that are actually going to benefit the community that you will be working with, talk to your IVHQ Program Manager, who can connect you with the in-country team.
Some supplies you can purchase in-country, which also helps stimulate the local economy, but there are supplies that are easier to bring with you - it all depends where you are volunteering. Being able to communicate with the local team is vital to make sure your donations or supplies are allocated responsibly.
Step 8: Contact your local media
Contacting local media is an awesome way to get your fundraising efforts out there and offers an opportunity to get the wider community involved. We had a quick segment on the news which didn’t particularly generate a lot of revenue or supplies, but it did generate support. Now that we have gone we hope our trip next year will initiate a bigger response.
Step 9: Research the culture
Every culture is different and it’s important to be culturally informed, not only to relate to the people but to protect yourself. Look up some common phrases in the local language. Research appropriate clothing. Understand what might be interpreted as culturally offensive in the place you’re going. Be mindful that what is normal there may be different in your country. Look at the local cuisine and understand what you’re likely to be eating - especially if you have dietary requirements.
There’s a world-wide web out there with all the information you could ever need, so read up. This is also a great way to get your group excited about the country you are headed to - share information with each other and look up a few sights you’d like to see in your free time.
Step 10: Keep an open mind and an open heart
Setting expectations can be dangerous. I can say that my medical mission trip to Guatemala easily exceeded my expectations, but I could never have imagined what my time there would be like. I was sure to keep an open mind and just take everything in - and let me tell you, doing that meant it changed my life. Three months after my trip, I think of my time in Guatemala every day.
I am currently planning my next trip because I long to be back in the communities with the families and children of Guatemala. My heart was opened and filled with an endless love for the culture and the people. I promise you, if you open your mind and your heart, you will give yourself the opportunity to have a life changing experience.
Going on a mission trip is not just about work. Enjoy the culture and life around you. Eat the local food. Dance the local dance. Meet new people. Shop at local markets. Just live. There is nothing like living a life outside your norm and experiencing the love of a different culture. Don’t take a moment for granted. Be present and make the most of your experience, because it will shape you and the way you practice healthcare.
To learn more about our where you can volunteer with IVHQ on your own medical mission, visit IVHQ’s volunteer destinations page.