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What I learned about global health & gratitude on my first solo volunteer trip to Guatemala

Nicole learning about global health & gratitude on her first solo volunteer trip to Guatemala with IVHQ.

Nicole spent a week volunteering on our Medical program in Guatemala. Here’s her story of running a pop-up medical clinic in Antigua and how her interactions with local patients changed her perspective of the world…

I took interest in volunteer work and community service last semester when I was studying global health. I’m also a nurse and enjoy meeting patients and knowing that I have done some good in this world, so it seemed like the right time to volunteer abroad.

I chose Guatemala to start my volunteer journey, not only because of its beauty, but because of its ongoing health issues. Guatemala suffers from high rates of treatable and communicable diseases in addition to limited access to healthcare, so I thought it’d be a great destination to make a real impact.

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Nicole on her medical & healthcare IVHQ Guatemala solo volunteer trip.

Preparing for my first solo volunteer abroad experience

This was my first solo trip abroad, and I was very nervous. I had a lot of questions: Who would I meet? Would I have anyone to help me navigate through this whole process? What should I expect? When I arrived, I realized I had nothing to worry about. It’s amazing to have met people that share the same interests and viewpoints on life.

Volunteering during the pandemic had no impact on my experience. I have worked through the pandemic and learned how to remain safe. I’m fully vaccinated and took extra precautions by researching Covid-19 restrictions in Guatemala to prepare myself. Our volunteer home was safe and clean, and every volunteer was either vaccinated or had taken a test prior to arrival.

Nicole's first solo IVHQ Guatemala medical volunteer trip.

Highlights from supporting a pop-up medical clinic in Antigua

The main highlight of my trip was putting together a local clinic and seeing patients daily. We offered basic services like glucose and blood pressure monitoring and provided access to medication. The doctors we worked with were very welcoming and the look on the patients’ faces as they thanked us was so gratifying.

I loved getting to know the local patients who’d come in for treatment. One petite older woman came in barefoot to see the doctor. She was so sweet and happy to even have the opportunity to see a doctor. She had such a positive attitude and an appreciation for life, and our interaction meant a lot to me.

Another highlight was the last day of my trip - all the volunteers went to a local restaurant in Ciudad Vieja and treated the lead doctor at the clinic to lunch. We had a great time and not to mention the food was so delicious!

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Why volunteers are needed now…

I remember that feeling knowing that my last day was also the last day of the clinic because there weren’t any other IVHQ healthcare volunteers in the coming weeks. I thought to myself how disappointed locals would be to know that the clinic they were able to receive basic care at would no longer be available. This showed just how important and critical volunteers are to local communities in Guatemala and around the world.

Maximizing my impact on the community

Apart from joining the Medical project, I also had a personal mission planned. As part of my journey of giving back, Langley & Burts Inc. (an NGO established by my cousin, best friend and myself) put together fifty bookbags with school supplies to give to the local community. With help from IVHQ’s local team, I was able to distribute them myself to a single parent NGO located in Antigua. The kids were so excited and the mothers were so appreciative of the small donation.

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IVHQ volunteer Nicole's first solo medical volunteer trip in Guatemala.

My advice to others who want to volunteer abroad…

Just do it! If helping others is your passion, stop thinking about it and apply for a project. As a solo female traveler, I felt safe from beginning to end. The local team on the ground met me at the airport and took me to my volunteer home, and all concerns I had were addressed and they assured me they were available 24/7. Lastly, just keep an open mind. I can’t wait for my next volunteer experience with IVHQ!

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