Sometimes, being a student leader means fighting for the needs of your fellow volunteers. This year the student leaders of the Inter American University of Puerto Rico School of Optometry’s Service Clubs, and myself included, have found ourselves trying to balance the needs of the people that we are trying to help with the needs of our own volunteers.
Every year, the IAUPR School of Optometry makes at least one mission trip abroad to help underserved communities outside of the U.S. The trips are typically a joint effort by the school faculty and our three major service organizations- Lion’s Club, NOSA and SVOSH. This year, instead of going to the Dominican Republic in the Spring, we are planning to go to Panama in the fall. In most cases, the school helps cover the trip costs for student volunteers because, as students, we are living on a tight budget. This year, however, the school is facing some outstanding expenses, which means that our students are digging into their own money in order to volunteer.
I know from my experience as member of Lion’s Club, NOSA, and SVOSH, and as a club leader within both NOSA and SVOSH, that attending a mission trip is a privilege and an honor. As such, every club selected students who have logged plenty of screening hours and have gone out of their way to help ensure that our beloved organizations remain active after Hurricane Maria devastated the island and our schedule.
As a student, on the other hand, I also know that most of our members are working with an income that is both limited and borrowed. While helping others inherently requires sacrifice, our students are already putting in abundant time and effort to plan and execute this trip. To help our student volunteers, myself and the other club leaders have banded together to form our Service Club Leader Team, to help minimize the cost for every single student who will be traveling for the Panama mission trip regardless of whether they are Lion’s, SVOSH, or NOSA volunteers.
So while our student volunteers are working tirelessly to sort donated frames and medications, I am working overtime to help ensure that our volunteers aren’t stressed about affording housing, or food, or Christmas gifts, or board sign-ups, at the end of this semester simply because they took this trip.
Want to help? Check out our GoFundMe Page: https://www.gofundme.com/manage/iaupr-panama-trip
Quick Note: We actually completed the trip before I had a chance to get the article into publication and the experience was simply amazing. We saw nearly 500 patients- some of whom had never before had access to vision care- and fit over 200 glasses. We wouldn’t trade our experience for the world. Which is why we have committed to splitting any extra funds between our three organizations to help fund future screenings, mission trips and events.