Volunteer Work Can Make an Impact Both Abroad and at Home


Oftentimes an opportunity and a responsibility can be one and the same. That was the case for Missouri State University student Rachel Greatwood.

The News-Leader reports that Rachel, along with five other students, was recently presented with the 2011 Citizen Scholar Award by her school for her work at a hospital in Uganda.

A senior pre-med student, Rachel grew up traveling around the country. Over the course of her young life, she moved 10 times and attended seven different schools. So when Rachel was offered the opportunity to volunteer overseas, spending a summer in a place like Uganda, she seized the chance immediately.

Much of her time there was spent helping in a free clinic for HIV patients, but, with a major in dietetics, Rachel also had a great deal of education and expertise to offer the people of Uganda. She also offered useful information through a number of health presentations to high school students in the region.

"A student scholar has empathy for social injustice, and wants to help their community in ways they feel most possible," Rachel explained of her interest in this kind of program.

But while Rachel was intent on leaving her hosts better off than when she first arrived, the experience had an equally important impact on her as well.

"To say my experience in Uganda was amazing is an understatement; it was really hard to come back [to the U.S.]," Rachel told the News-Leader. "The people were unbelievably welcoming, helping and very grateful for the help. I hope to go back one day."

The benefits of volunteer work abroad are hardly limited to the satisfaction of a job well done. Rachel noted that she hopes to go into primary care after completing medical school. Experience working in a clinic can provide a wide array of skills and presents a variety of different challenges for young physicians. This exposure could prove immensely helpful, both as she goes into medical school and beyond.

The University of North Carolina's paper The Blue Banner notes that time spent abroad represents an investment in personal development. Particularly those looking at leadership positions can benefit from learning to appreciate different perspectives. But everyone will come across these issues at some point.

Interested volunteers often find opportunities by applying and paying for a placement through a qualified. But grant funding for worthy projects is also available through cultural exchange organizations like InterExchange. Such grants can help defray the costs of volunteering, making it easier to go abroad and focus on more humanitarian projects. With these types of programs available, many seek to volunteer again and again.

"I would love to go back to Africa one day and continue to help in some way, even if only for a short time period," Rachel said.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation