As the winter holidays were winding down and most students were taking their well-needed winter break, six University of Delaware students opted for an alternative to their vacation. The students were members of UD’s chapter of Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventures (VIDA), a new Registered Student Organization (RSO) on campus. The club was founded by Jessica Applebaum, a senior pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major, and it stands to promote education for general health care problems abroad.
The national non-profit organization VIDA, from which the club adopts its mission, leads trips to Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. The service learning charity is dedicated to its mission of helping underprivileged citizens of Latin America with medical, dental and veterinary services, and divides members on the trips into teams in those three areas.
VIDA encourages the combining and exchanging of ideas across the different health professions, allowing students to broaden their perspectives within their own discipline. This growing ideology is one factor contributing to the increased competitiveness of pre-health professional schooling.
Members of UD’s VIDA teamed with the non-profit to travel from January 3-15 to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, where they worked in medical and veterinary clinics getting hands-on experience.
UD had representatives traveling on both the medical and veterinary teams, and when they weren’t touring the beautiful country sides, volcanoes and rain forests, they were working in free mobile medical and veterinary clinics supervised by both doctors and veterinarians.
Within six days, the medical team performed general consults and ran a free pharmacy for a total of 365 patients. The veterinary team performed general consults, administered vaccinations, and spayed and neutered a total of 203 animals including cats, dogs and rabbits.
“The experience has been incredibly valuable and has really opened my eyes to issues in the health care system abroad, especially in Nicaragua which is the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere,” said Applebaum. “And the people there were so great. Our host family cried when we left and we were only with them for four days.” She also expressed how grateful the people were for the donations they received, recalling one mother standing in line for the clinic crying as she was handed some clothes.
To prepare for the trip, the club hosted two donation drives, one before they left and another after their return from Latin America. The drives received everything from hygiene products and toys to clothes, dog collars, and school supplies.
All the donations were shipped to Nicaragua by the non-profit and distributed this June to a preschool located in one of the charity’s adopted communities in Masaya. The more recent spring donation drive also went on to receive national recognition by the parent organization, who published an article about it this past July–an impressive feat for the first year RSO.
Another donation drive is said to be in the planning for next November, and the RSO hopes to get the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and the wider UD community aware and involved.
The club is also hoping to have a spot at activities night, a night where UD students have the opportunity to find extra and co-curricular activities, to promote themselves and to reach out to students who might be interested in taking advantage of trips offered through the founder charity.
“You don’t have to be in the club to go on the trips, and you don’t have to go on a trip to be in the club. Either is a great opportunity and our RSO is simply an avenue to connect you to resources and experiences like these,” said Applebaum, who is also trying to get more local volunteer opportunities for club members.
Erin Brannick, a veterinary pathologist and assistant professor at CANR, eagerly jumped on board as the RSO’s advisor after hearing of the organization’s mission at an American Veterinary Medical Association conference.
Brannick said it was important for her to try to seek out opportunities that will change medical outlooks and benefit her students throughout their careers. “The students that seek out these kinds of immersive experiences end up being more well-rounded candidates for health-based professional schools, being able to offer a unique perspective that incorporates varying socio-cultural and economic outlooks to their respective field.” Some of the students, she said, have seen diseases she has only ever read about in textbooks.
Applebaum said, “I received clinical experience I could have never imagined on this trip. When I—hopefully–become a Vet, I’d like to do stuff like this–travelling abroad to help underprivileged people care for their pets.”
Aside from the veterinary exposure, she also got to put her Spanish minor to use by translating for some of the local pet owners who came to the clinics.
Emily Fritz, a member of the RSO who also traveled with the non-profit and who plans on applying to veterinary school, said “I think these trips are great alternative breaks for students applying to medical, dental, or veterinary professional schools, as well as for those students that want to gain a more global perspective on healthcare. It’s definitely made me a stronger applicant.”
Students interested in joining VIDA, attending a trip through the parent organization, or donating to the next drive are asked to e-mail Applebaum or visit “VIDA at UD” on Facebook.
Students interested pursuing health-based professional careers are asked to contact Dave Barlow or visit the Center for Premedical and Health Profession Studies website.
Article by Angela Carcione