The late Anthony Bourdain was an influential proponent of traveling. He believed to his core that to experience the culture of other countries would expand understanding and enrich the lives of all involved. Sometimes, though, traveling is not for pleasure in the traditional sense, it is for the lessons learned and for the betterment of communities.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind,” Bourdain wrote.
Traveling to make a difference is now gaining traction and has for the past decade. Now called a slew of things like responsible travel, sustainable tourism, volunteer travel, volunteer tourism or voluntourism, this form of traveling is becoming more and more common for medical professionals and the next generation. A 2015 survey by Marriott Rewards Credit Card from Chase revealed that 84% of millennials said they would travel abroad to participate in volunteer activities. That percentage, according to Volunteering Solutions, has not changed with the passage of time.
2021 has proven a year of reflection for many adventurers. Travel restrictions from the worldwide pandemic and global safety concerns have stymied travel plans of even the most adventurous.
Dr. Angela Carol makes use of her memories and experiences from previous trips, and one definitely rises to the top: her 2012 trip to Haiti. It could be because of the surge of adrenaline when she felt so afraid at a roadblock of armed men, a situation that was fortunately diffused by the police. Yet, the greater influence is because she was there to honour Peter Johnson, former CEO of Henderson Hospital, at the Hospital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) where he and his wife Cathy Johnson volunteered and fundraised. She had known Peter and Cathy since high school, since she was friends with their son. Traveling to Haiti in his honour to continue the work that he started felt necessary and important.
“When you lose someone who made an impact in your life, it is important to find big and small ways to honour them. I have always believed that is instrumental to the healing process,” she said.
Angela Carol credits her colleagues who were also on the trip and the people with whom she met while volunteering in the hospital and when she passed out birthing kits to midwives and spent time with them in the mountains. Everywhere she looked, she saw people struggling, sometimes even just to find a meal for the day, and she also saw people determined to help despite their own palpable problems.
“International travel will absolutely change you, particularly when you are faced with incredible poverty. Volunteering abroad means full immersion and a more intimate knowledge of the struggles of the people. I was amazed by the resilience, character and pride of residents of Haiti, particularly with regard to education and religion,” Dr. Carol said, having visited an orphanage to deliver school supplies.
Dr. Carol said traveling to Hospital Albert Schweitzer in order to assist was also an extension of the effort of the Hamilton region, which raises roughly $40,000 annually to help fund the hospital.
Albert Schweitzer became a physician at 38 years old and he and his wife, a nurse, decided to breathe life into equatorial Africa via establishing a hospital in 1913.
Inspired by Schweitzer, Larimer Mellon opted to leave his ranch in Arizona when he was 37 years old, went to medical school and devoted his life to what would be the first modern hospital in Haiti. Founded in 1956, HAS is a continuation of a long-established dream to make a difference.
Now, their hospital in Haiti breathes life into an entire region.
“In the starkly beautiful Artibonite Valley, filled with 300,000 people living in unfathomable poverty and previously without any form of modern health care, the birth, survival, and evolution of HAS has grown into one of the most important stories in international health,” according to Dr. Stephen W. Nicholas.
The domino effect of difference has now impacted people who have received care and those providing it. One physician, Dr. Y. C. Yen was even inspired to write a poem about the philosophy that guided Dr. Mellon’s work:
Go to the people.
Live among them.
Learn from them.
Plan with them.
Start with what they know.
Build on what they have.
Dr. Carol said the continuation of legacy, a person honoring another who honors another, the power of purpose and the driving force of the hope to help is powerful.
“Great things happen when we set out to honor good people. Lives are saved and changed. My life certainly changed,” she said.