Below, a few of our volunteer share some of their experiences and stories about what it is like to be a part of AYUDA.
"On the first day, [a camper] asked me if I had diabetes too and when I said yes, she looked so surprised and in shock that I also had diabetes and was here away from my family in a different country. I approach diabetes in a way that it doesn't limit what I can do. It was rewarding to be able to share that with the kids here and to actually show them that they can explore and be active - that diabetes doesn't need to dictate what they can and can't do.”
Melanie Wolter, AYUDA DR Volunteer 2017, DR Volunteer Mentor-in-Training 2017
“While it’s impossible to pick my favorite memory from the trip, one of the many stories that I will never forget is with a little girl in Green group. She didn’t have Type 1 Diabetes herself, but her younger sister did. It was so heart-warming when she asked me if she could check her blood sugar so she could see what her sister has to go through everyday. I was able to see how I was making a real impact in the lives of others.”
Emma Zgonc, AYUDA DR Volunteer 2016, DR Volunteer Mentor-in-Training 2017
"It was [at the VTP Summit] that I came to realize the true extent to which AYUDA could change my life. Through my interactions with fellow volunteers, guest speakers, and AYUDA staff members, I began to garner a never before felt sense of community – a community I was now part of. Listening to this diverse group of individuals speak about their experiences with diabetes was life-changing. Their passion and willpower was contagious and inspiring."
Cooper Obianwu, AYUDA DR Volunteer 2016
"Seeing that I had raised all the money I needed (to fulfill the AYUDA fundraising requirements) gave me a sense of pride and fulfillment, as I was able to work toward and accomplish a goal for a cause I strongly believed in. Fundraising forced me to step out of my shell and helped me enhance my people skills, which empowered me to continue being a leader..."
Melanie Goldring, AYUDA Ecuador Volunteer 2012, DR Volunteer Mentor 2013-15, DR Program Leader 2016, AYUDA Staff 2017-present
"I don’t have enough space to describe AYUDA’s impact! It not only helped me to understand diabetes with a world perspective, but also to embrace my own diabetes. Working with all sorts of people with different perspectives on diabetes helped me to see it in such a new light."
Suzette Morabito, AYUDA Ecuador Volunteer 2012
"Between last year and this year, AYUDA has had a tremendous impact on my life because of the people that I've been able to meet both from the states and the DR, the work I've gotten to do, and every other moment with the organization. I'm incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to work with AYUDA and I hope to remain engaged ... for many years to come."
Will Epperson, AYUDA DR Volunteer 2015, DR Volunteer Mentor 2016
"Spending nearly 6 weeks in the Dominican Republic this summer changed my life. My tiny diabetes world expanded, and I came away with a new perspective on what the big issues are. No matter how you take care of yourself and your diabetes, we all go through the same thing. We all have the same struggles, and the camps and outreach programs gave everyone involved a sense of belonging."
Louise Kyle, AYUDA DR Volunteer 2013, DR Volunteer Mentor 2014
"This was the most time I've ever spent with other people living with diabetes and with people understanding of diabetes, so on a personal level that has been very rewarding to not feel so different from others. I loved making friends with the local volunteers, and I loved the hospital and home visits because they all provided the most understanding on the local culture in ways that driving around the city or shopping in the local stores ever could provide."
Julia Jankowski, AYUDA DR Volunteer 2016
" I learned so much through AYUDA, especially about all the aspects necessary to facilitate change for a global health issue. I only hope that I had an impact on people I was fortunate enough to meet as much as they impacted me. Volunteering with AYUDA has undoubtedly been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and has only reinvigorated my passion and interest in Latin America and working in the global health realm."
Jeanette Schnierle, AYUDA Ecuador Volunteer 2012
"AYUDA was the first real step in my involvement in not only the diabetes community, but the medical profession as a whole. It solidified for me what I want to do with my life and the multiple opportunities I can have. The volunteers themselves changed my life as well ... I feel honored to know everyone and to have worked with them.”
Emma Burke, AYUDA DR Volunteer 2016
Please also see our Tumblr to learn about more volunteers' experiences with AYUDA.
Julie Burke has been active with AYUDA since volunteering in 2005. After her life-changing experience in Ecuador, Julie wrote to AYUDA to describe how her perspective on diabetes evolved.
On a personal note, I just want to thank you for giving me this opportunity. One of the best moments for me was on the bus on the way back to Quito from pre-camp. I realized that for the past 5 years of my life I wasn't accepting the fact that I have diabetes. I obviously accepted it in the way that I "controlled" it and managed it but not in the way of actually having diabetes.
It was like being in mourning after the death of someone close to you and then that day comes when you realize you can't mourn anymore and the burden is lifted off of your shoulders. I felt that on the bus and now I accept it like I didn't know I hadn't. Without this past month I'm not sure if I would have ever come to that realization, thank you. In New Orleans I don't personally know anyone who has diabetes and to be surrounded by so many people with diabetes is a great feeling. I know I'm not the only one, but now I don't feel alone.
When I was first diagnosed, they told me about diabetes camps and asked me if I'd want to go. I thought that was the stupidest idea and how boring it would be. Now I know why these types of organizations exist and the sense of empowerment they give to people with diabetes. I don't know if this really expresses my gratitude but I just wanted to let y'all know how much this past month, especially the week of camp and pre-camp, means to me. I've learned more about diabetes "culture" and myself in the last few weeks than I have in the last five years - and for that I thank you.
Allyson Bancroft volunteered in the DR in 2012 and in our Haiti Program. After her experiences in the DR, she shared with us some thoughts about her first volunteer experience with AYUDA and how it impacted her.
For me, the ticket to staying hopeful is belonging to a diabetes community. In the Dominican Republic, AYUDA and Aprendiendo a Vivir showed me that diabetes connects more people from different backgrounds than I ever could have fathomed. And united, we can accomplish more than I ever imagined possible.
Working with the Dominican families and youth, I saw a diabetes community grow. They bonded while sharing their stories. Parents who became choked up found support. There was no judgment, only empathy. Chills shot down my spine when one camper met another child with diabetes for the first time. Our teens made art projects describing their lives with diabetes. They argued playfully during our diabetes trivia game. (They were so eager to show their knowledge!)
The Dominican families and youth interacted not only with each other, but also with the staff of Aprendiendo a Vivir, local medical students, representatives from a Haitian diabetes foundation, and AYUDA team members from all over the world. We all opened up about how diabetes had affected us. All of us came from a different set of circumstances, which greatly shaped our relationship with diabetes. The diversity of our group afforded us countless different perspectives.
Despite our differences, a deep sense of solidarity developed as we discussed diabetes. And perhaps because of our differences, we were aware of the inequalities experienced by some members of our global diabetes community.
Courtney Jones volunteered in Ecuador in 2012. After her experiences in Ecuador, she shared with us some thoughts about her first volunteer experience with AYUDA and how it impacted her.
First, AYUDA has helped me with my own diabetes care. I really can’t thank the program enough…after 17 years, I felt like I had kind of lost my way with my management. I feel like I am now back on track, and for that I feel grateful. AYUDA has truly opened my eyes to varying levels of healthcare in the world. I realize I have been living in a bubble, and now I want to study more and get back out there and help more.
For one thing, I know that camp wouldn’t have been what it was if I hadn’t have raised $6,000, and I think the more you can stress where that money is going, the more powerful it will be for the volunteers and will make them want to raise more. But I think it was also really empowering for campers to see other people with diabetes not from Ecuador…so they can learn that they aren’t alone, and that others are doing ok living with the same condition. I know that was helpful for me, and it still is.