The opinion piece “Voluntours not wanted” misrepresented our organization, Yale’s Volunteers Around the World, VAW, and our core values, which center on the awareness of health in other countries across the globe. The article starts by referring to the emails we send to prospective members, one of whom was the author of the piece, who have expressed interest in joining our medical outreach trips. In the article, the author criticized volunteer organizations that use language such as “serve the underprivileged” and the “needy,” seeming to include us in this category despite the fact that our emails never explicitly use these phrases. We believe such language is demeaning and against the values our organization holds dear.
By speaking broadly about all student medical trips to other countries, the article also insinuates that our members think they are trying to help people who “they deemed to be ‘guilty’ and ‘law-breaking’ immigrants.” These anti-immigrant claims are, again, very inaccurate and misrepresentative of our true beliefs.
The article then mentions that “at Yale, where the majority of students come from privileged backgrounds, it makes sense that students should feel a desire or obligation to help those who are less privileged.” However, the author failed to contact the VAW board and ask about the demographics of our organization. Most of us are not part of that socioeconomic majority. In fact, for most of our members, raising enough money is oftentimes the most difficult obstacle to overcome for the trip.
The article then claims that members in organizations like ours are sent abroad to “analyze vitals” and “use real human beings as practice grounds.” Such statements do not apply to VAW, as we don’t “analyze” medical information because we understand that we are untrained college students. We simply record vitals using skills we learn from Yale EMS and shadow local medical doctors who then interpret these recorded vitals, prescribe appropriate medications and make important decisions for the patient. The doctors we shadow even retake some of the vitals to ensure that the patients are receiving the proper quality care they came for.
Although we are not medical professionals, we are eager students who want to learn from these doctors and help make their jobs run smoother, thus making their services more accessible to the hundreds of patients who come to our clinics.
Lastly, the article suggests that we lack involvement in the communities we work in. This is inconsistent with the fact that the national VAW organization keeps all electronic patient recordings we take in order to understand ongoing health conditions in the community and to prepare for future visits by other VAW teams. The article neglects to mention that we do work with established groups in the community including local doctors, churches, mayors and other government officials to set up clinics and provide free care for citizens. Furthermore, alongside the doctors we shadow, VAW dedicates a day during our trip to educate local community leaders, teachers and school children about topics such as CPR and first aid emergency services, all in their native Spanish language.
Although the article claims that VAW is “a foreign medical adventure,” our main goal is not to invade or impose our ideals onto communities abroad, but to listen and collaborate with established local organizations to help give free healthcare to people around the world who would not have access to these services otherwise.
IRENE PAK is a sophomore in Benjamin Franklin College and the president of VAW. VANESSA BLAS is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College and the vice president of human resources at VAW. OSCAR GARCIA is a sophomore in Davenport College and the vice president of education and training at VAW. AGNES KUMI is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College and the vice president of finances at VAW. Contact the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com .