Having volunteered with numerous organizations on short-term medical mission trips, I often wonder about the efficacy of the mission. In too many occasions, it seems as though organizations show up at a village, conduct their “version” of a clinic, and leave — never to communicate to the village or other stakeholders again. In my mind, nothing has been accomplished except for the treatment of a few acute conditions. Even more troublesome is when these visits actually cause more harm than good. The importance of follow up and a sustained relationship with the host is pivotal!
Why Go Through the Trouble?
There are many potential answers to this question. I think one of the biggest driving factors for attendance on short-term medical trips is the self-fulfillment the volunteers receive from their participation. I often say that medical mission trips are one of the most selfish things I do. We are lucky to live in wealthy countries that generally have access to health care. Being able to share what we have been given and to lend a hand to those most in need is a feeling that is addictive. Going on any mission trip gives us the sensation of “giving back” and “purpose.” That’s what we were taught to do, right? And if you have to be addicted to anything, this should be it!
Another large driving factor is that the volunteer has the opportunity to travel the world. On all of the missions I led last year, a large majority of the attendees decided to “extend” their mission in order to immerse themselves in the culture of the country and see some really awesome sights. There’s nothing wrong with this! In fact, I think it adds to the cause; the more you can learn and feel the culture, the more perspective you can gain. However, there has to be a very fine line between costs associated with accomplishing the goals of a non-profit organization and tourism. GHR focuses their efforts on clinic and education costs, and you can always check our breakdown of costs that are done after the trip.
The list of reasons is endless. However, if you are going to spend your time and money on a medical mission, why not volunteer for an organization that has long-term goals with the communities that you are serving? Find one that meets your goals and has the transparency you need.
Medical Mission Trips Done Right
One of the unique features of going on a Global Health Reach medical mission trip is that we meet with community leaders to develop a 3- to 5-year project plan that will address their health care needs. During the “founding” trip, the organization and volunteers gather data and make recommendations to address these particular needs. Once a baseline has been established, GHR goes in to the “execution” phase — performing clinics, educating the communities, and training local health care workers to ultimately be self-sufficient. The end-goal is for a community to be completely self-sufficient in their health care needs without the assistance of our organization.
While this is a very high-level summary of our approach, it gives our volunteers an idea of how their donations are being used in the long-term to address the health care needs. If you’re thinking about spending your time to go on a medical mission trip, I encourage you to check out our upcoming missions and fill out a short application to volunteer with us!