Modern-Day Good Samaritan: Part II

Uganda clinicI forgot to mention in last week’s Good Samaritan post that members of the Ugandan military—toting Ak-47s—accompanied the team vans as they conducted village clinics. Apparently, the local police lacked the necessary capabilities to ensure team and crowd safety at the clinic locations.

So, there’s no getting around it being a dangerous environment. No easy solutions here. What do you do for a woman discovered lying half-hidden in the grass on the side of a remote road in Uganda—a woman whom the locals say is crazy and quite possibly has a serious disease? The vans are completely full. Everyone’s packed shoulder-to-shoulder. (Read Part I: Good Samaritan here to catch up on the story)

Now Remember: this is a team of dental and medical personnel, physical and occupational therapists, plus other non-medical volunteers who stepped away from their normal lives (and at significant expense) to come to Uganda to help others. These are the exact opposite of lazy, uncaring people. So far that day, they’ve helped close to 1500 people, and can expect to do the same the next. These people are intrepid doers.

But this one woman on the roadside creates a unique dilemma that slices deep, spotlighting an altogether different level of personal choice…and risk.

It reminds me of the one lost sheep. The shepherd will always search out the missing one.

No one wants to leave her. Yet, allowing any of the volunteers to stay behind would leave them extremely vulnerable. Let’s face it; a group of foreigners completely new to such an area would NOT go unnoticed. I can only speculate that the leaders in the group—those responsible for the visiting team—would not like their team split apart.

Thankfully, a plan both logical and compassionate is put forth. Another local driver is hired to bring the woman back to Masindi where she can be treated. A few of the team members accompany her, and one, a lawyer from Charleston, SC, offers to pay for the transport. Sadly, a few of the locals watching the woman being wrapped in blankets and lifted up, laugh and shake their heads, as if trying to save her is a waste of time. I can only imagine what they have suffered in their lives to numb them so. Most likely, they have witnessed this and worse.

The woman has severe malaria and without the water the team gave her, she probably would have died before she could receive treatment in Masindi. A blessing of timing.

For two days she is on an IV. One of the missionaries involved with the medical initiative lets the woman stay at her house for a couple of weeks. But it soon becomes clear that the woman does have psychological issues. Not hard to fathom. She is from the Sudan where war has torn apart her country. She has no family left.

Eventually, she is moved to the capital city of Kampala and placed in a psych ward to receive help in healing wounds of a different kind.

The team could have rationalized away whatever alternate course they might’ve taken, but they placed value on each individual…and did not look at her as a ‘lost cause’.

Every person matters—whether you are on the receiving end of hope…or the one giving it. Your choices matter.

Masindi clinicA little about this intrepid group: Palmetto Medical Initiative provides sustainable quality healthcare while increasing access to global medical missions. After construction of the medical centers, they are staffed by locals on the ground, creating jobs in the region and giving ownership to those for whom it is intended. PMI utilizes short-term medical trips to support and gain recognition for the medical centers while they undergo construction. PMI piloted the first medical center in Masindi, Uganda and after significant success, is expanding the model of sustainable quality healthcare to Viejo, Nicaragua. Learn more and/or join a team.

Is overseas mission work something you’d ever consider? Short-term? Long-term? Why or why not?

Volunteer Vacations: The Good & Not-As-Good

My sister-in-law recently returned from a volunteer vacation at a game reserve in Africa. For those unfamiliar with the term, a volunteer vacation (or voluntourism, as it is also called) is the combination of tourist travel and volunteer work for a charitable cause for a short duration—usually 1-4 weeks. Travel agencies can set up these trips just like they do regular tour packages. Or you can type ‘volunteer vacation’ into Google and up will pop all sorts of online outfits ready to match you with a variety of causes…whether you want to work with animals, children or the elderly…to work on building projects, clear trails or be part of a medical mission. In Costa Rica? India? No problem.

I asked my sister-in-law what her days at the game reserve entailed and she ticked off on her fingers, the following:

  • Game capture: so that tick solution could be put on zebra, wildebeest, springbok, and impala
  • Hole Digging: as prep for planting trees that would eventually offer food, shade and protection for elephants
  • Litter patrol
  • Fence patrol: making sure electric fences remain working and no critters are digging in or out.
  • Predator enclosure clean up: I think we know what this includes.
  • Removal of invasive, foreign trees that were choking out the indigenous trees that elephants like to munch
  • Lion tracking: keeping tabs on pregnant lions and their cubs

Now, she enjoyed her time there, but did not view this as much work for forty volunteers. She often went in search of additional duties because that is the kind of person she is. She became concerned that many of these tasks were simply busy work…that volunteer vacationers had become part of the reserve’s business model. It brought a lot of questions to her mind. Yet, she enjoyed going out on safaris and playing with the lion cubs, and she had a fantastic view over the vast plain from her large hut decorated with furniture like you’d find at Pier One. But with an embarrassed smile, she told me she could have done without the rose petals in her bath water.

Now, not every volunteer vacation is so cush. Don’t get the wrong idea. Like with any vacation, there is potential for getting nothing close to what you anticipated. There are scams out there and poorly planned trips. But really, the point I’m trying to make is how important it is to determine, not only expectations, but motivations…yes, plural, because, if you’re anything like me, you almost certainly have more than one reason to do something. What do you really want to get out of this trip? Where on the spectrum from hardcore work for a cause to ‘hey, it’s a cool behind-the-scenes adventure’, do you fit? My sister-in-law said there were many who wanted to really work and just as many who were content to…as my husband calls it…’max the min’ and hang out watching movies in the air-conditioning for long stretches of the day, when not out on safari or specifically given a job.

There is a lot of controversy regarding volunteer vacations…about how useful they truly are. Personally, I believe there are a tremendous number of long-term positives that can come from these experiences, but the critics do have some valid points that shouldn’t be brushed off. I prefer to see them as opportunities for improvement. This is a subject worthy of a series.

What do you think of the idea of volunteer vacations?

P.S. Here’s a little irony…back in ’95, I went on safari in Kenya. Now, this was straight tourism, mind you. No, volunteering involved. But, our digs were not nearly like my sister-in-law’s while she was volunteering. We slept in tents that had a partitioned section off the back for the ‘bathroom’, which consisted of a hole dug in the ground. The dirt pile next to it had a sign stuck into it that said, ‘Rhinos cover it; so can you.’

5 Ways The Publishing Community Promotes Good Causes and Can Simultaneously Help the Aspiring Writer

In the process of profiling literary agents who represent the kind of book I have written, (literary fiction with a commercial bent), I noticed how many agents, editors and publishing organizations promote good causes. Considering I write a good bit about volunteerism and am an aspiring novelist, there could hardly be a better combo for me.

Online Auctions: Online auctions such as Brenda Novak’s Auction for the Cure for Diabetes (held in May) offer bidding opportunities that run the gamut…from travel packages to jewelry, but what is unusual about this particular auction is the section for writers. Brenda Novak is a New York Times Bestselling author and knows a lot of people in the publishing industry. More than 120 literary agents and editors offered, pro bono, to do a range of manuscript evaluations for the cause.

For an aspiring author, it is a brilliant win-win scenario: support diabetes research and…1) get your work in front of participating, first-class literary agents, editors and other industry professionals, 2) get to the top of the slush pile, and 3) receive that precious, but so-hard-to-get feedback. This year, the auction raised over $300,000. Pretty impressive.

Another aspect of this win-win opportunity is what it says about the caliber of agent or editor. These are people who have agreed to offer their services pro bono for a cause. I’d say that’s a nice indicator of the kind of agent I’d like to have promoting my career.

Brenda Novak’s auction is an annual event, but also, there are situation-specific ones such as for the Japanese disaster. In March, (Red Cross month), a group of writers conducted the Writers for the Red Cross auction that benefitted a local Red Cross chapter as well as the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. In their FAQ, they mention ‘Why writers?’ I love their reason for involvement besides raising funds… “Writers share a commitment to community by bringing people together through their stories.” I really hope my work can do that someday. For this kind of auction, you’ll need to keep an eye out. Unfortunately, with all the natural disasters occurring in the world, you will likely have ample opportunity.

Also, on Ebay, literary agent, Irene Goodman, auctions critiques of partial manuscripts at the start of every month. All proceeds go directly to the Deafness Research Foundation, Hope for Vision, and Foundation Fighting Blindness. Her son, 23, has Usher Syndrome, which is a genetic condition that causes progressive loss of both vision and hearing.

Proceeds donation: This is ‘Cause marketing’, which I described in detail in my post ‘Shopping Incentives’ last November. On June 7th, (sorry, I’m late on this), F+ W Media, Inc., the parent company of Writer’s Digest, decided that 50% of all profits made on that specific day from their Writer’s Digest shop (that sells books, offers webinars and a whole slew of writing classes), would be donated to the Red Cross for relief efforts regarding the recent tornados that cut a deadly swath across our country. In early spring they did the same to raise funds for the Japanese disaster.

Sponsorship: Organizations such as Publishers Weekly, Writers Digest and RT Book Review Magazine were co-sponsors for the Brenda Novak’s Online Auction for the Cure for Diabetes.

Awareness Promotion: It was from the blog of literary agent, Kristin Nelson, that I first learned of the online auction for the cure for diabetes. (I highly recommend her blog to anyone trying to get published. Lots of good stuff there). Research for diabetes is a cause close to her heart, so she promotes awareness of it. Agents generate a lot of traffic on their sites and can really help get the word out. Additionally, writers looking for an agent can gain insight into what particular subjects might be of special interest to them. Another example is a blog post by agent, Jenny Bent, to promote awareness of Down Syndrome. She supports Reece’s Rainbow, which facilitates international adoption of children with Down Syndrome.

Individual Calls to Action: Literary agent turned author, Nathan Bransford, promotes volunteerism, in general, and expanding your horizons. He went on a volunteer trip that changed his life. (I’m not the only one who had this happen.) Here…he says it best, himself,

“…remember when I went to Peru on a volunteer vacation and it changed my life? Well! You have this opportunity too! Please visit Volunteer Journals at Travelocity, and all you have to do is enter a video for a chance to win a volunteer vacation. People, voluntourism is the greatest thing ever. Enter! Enter! Enter!!”

Voluntourism (a.k.a. volunteer vacations) is a subject that deserves a whole series of posts. And I have a great place to start. My sister-in-law just returned from one in Africa on a game reserve. That’s up next!