Maria Bressi wasn’t sure what she was getting into when she signed up to volunteer overseas with Volunteer Africa and HAPA, the Health Action Promotion Association.
She wasn’t even certain the groups were legitimate when she first inquired.
But Bressi would come to realize just how important the work is that’s done by these organizations, and had the experience of a lifetime in helping them this summer.
The 27-year-old Realtor with Bressi & Martin Real Estate, Shamokin, spent from June 24 to July 6 in Milade, a small, rural farming village in Tanzania, working with other volunteers to build a medical dispensary. She picked the Volunteer Africa program because it was one of the few where volunteers actually stay in a village rather than being driven each day from a hotel.
Bressi was the only American volunteer among eight or 10 from around the world who were with her in Milade, and they all slept in one big tent.
It didn’t take long for Bressi to realize just how little the people of Milade had access to.
“There was one well in the village,” she said, and it took 25 minutes to walk to it. Also, the water had to be boiled before use.
“Most villagers could not afford meat or rice,” she added.
Milade is also more than six miles from the nearest hospital, and those in the village who needed medical care had to make the trip by foot.
Every day around 9 a.m., Bressi began digging large holes and carrying the dirt in a bucket to be used to make bricks and cement for the dispensary. Some days the group worked until 4 p.m., other days until noon, depending on how much work they had.
“If we ran out of bricks, they had to make new ones from scratch, which took three days,” she said.
Although it was winter in Tanzania, the temperature was about 80 degrees.
Volunteers were paid 4,000 shillings, about $45, for their expenses. The volunteers would put their money together and, each Saturday, they would go to a nearby city to buy food. They had to cook it over a fire just like the natives.
For Bressi, her favorite part was meeting the villagers.
“The people and children were just so happy that we were there, because they knew we were here to build the dispensary,” she said.
She plans to volunteer abroad every other year.
Bressi said it cost her $900 to volunteer and another $1,500 for the flight to Tanzania. Half the cost went toward building the dispensary.
“I wanted to tell my story so others could know about the organization and that their money is going to help people in need,” she said.
Volunteers must be at least 18 and able to pass the necessary medical and police check requirements, among other requirements.
To learn more or volunteer, visit http://www.volunteerafrica.org.