Volunteering at any point during your life, especially while abroad, can be a rewarding and fruitful experience. Personally I believe interacting with the local community would be mutually beneficial—I would practice my French while giving back to the neighborhood that welcomed me in January. Volunteering can also be a way of observing different facets of the culture in which you are temporarily immersed. It may also help facilitate the liminal phase in which you retain an anonymous identity in order to discover yourself in a new light.
Given that it is very difficult to find volunteer positions that work perfectly with my schedule, I decided instead to research a non-profit organization that is based in France called, “Médecins Sans Frontières” or “Doctors Without Borders.” Founded in 1971 by a group of doctors and journalists, MSF (as it is commonly referred), employs teams of medical personnel to countries where the standards of living are quite low due to natural disaster or war. Their mission statement is as follows:
We are Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
We help people worldwide where the need is greatest, delivering emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care.” (Doctorswithoutborders.com)
In France alone, there exist nine satellite offices. Future volunteers flock to these centers to receive the best training before being shipped to a more permanent site. These offices keep in close contact with their affiliates to stay abreast of the political, religious and social climates in that particular country at that particular moment.
Aligned with the Universal Human Rights doctrine, the physicians and journalists who founded MSF felt that health care was an inherent right that all men, women and children bear. It should thereby be respected and carried out with the equality with which patients in first world countries receive: their lives matter just as much as ours do. Dr. and founder Bernard Kouchner explains,
It’s simple really: go where the patients are. It seems obvious, but at the time it was a revolutionary concept because borders got in the way. It’s no coincidence that we called it ‘Médecins Sans Frontières.’ (Doctorswithoutborders.com)
Global community is, according to our class, a shared living space of interdependent individuals endowed with universal human rights while choosing to act upon them, embracing differences and working towards common goals. Although I may not live in the same state or even the same country as those lacking basic medical care, we still partake in the same global community. An article from Business Insider titled, “The Ebola Epidemic Threatens the Global Chocolate Market” dated October 13th, 2014, shows how a mass outbreak of a disease can impact an entire industry. Any farmers working the crops, for example, were susceptible to exposure, thereby weakening the work forces needed to harvest. Not to overshadow the seriousness of a life-threatening illness with what seems to be a frivolous market, but this example articulates the ripple effect felt by other nations if there is political, social or economic upheaval.
Author Richard Slimbach says,
The first step in this journey is to venture outside our comfort zones and get involved directly and personally in the lives of others, especially those occupying the margins of society…to create respectful and mutually beneficial relationships.
I have chosen to include a scene of a mountain where one man is reaching out his hand to assist the other to the top. This symbolizes the work of MSF: the man at the top is the physician with first-world training and experience, while the climber is an underrepresented nation that is in the process of improving, but just needs a little help getting there. Through this philanthropic interaction, we are able to create life-lasting relationships with people, as they will not forget that they were helped in a time of dire need.