Tag Archive | medical

West Africa – Kelly Dahl (2009)

Kelly Dahl is a registered dietician and graduate of Pepperdine University. Kelly spent a year working on Mercy Ships off of the coast of West Africa — a floating hospital that helps those who have no access to health care. Kelly received a scholarship of $1500 from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Kelly’s travel safety tips:

Being cautious about your surroundings is important. Common sense is essential. Make sure you only travel in groups when going out. Hide all valuables such as watches or jewelry, or better yet, leave them at home. You never know when someone could see that ring on your finger as an opportunity for their own advancement. Talk with the local embassies and find out what areas of town are safe and unsafe for travel. Avoid those not recommended. Avoid traveling at night if at all possible, and do not use unsafe modes of transportation, such as a motorcycle without a helmet, or a car without a seat belt. Don’t put yourself in situations that could lead to potential danger. As a female, don’t wear overly revealing clothes, as this could be an invitation to disaster. Know the culture in which you are traveling and what is expected of you. Most importantly, though, have common sense. If something doesn’t feel right or seems unsafe, it probably is.

Cambodia and Ecuador – Tanya Gonzalez (2011)

Tanya Gonzalez is pursuing a medical degree at Howard University.  During the summer 0f 2011, Tanya contributed her medical expertise to under-served populations in both Cambodia (for two weeks) and Ecuador (for six weeks). Tanya’s volunteer work is possible thanks to a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Tanya’s travel safety tips for Cambodia:

I found the Cambodian people to be very warm and welcoming towards tourists – always very eager to practice English and share with foreigners the beauty of their country.

With that said, there are of course safety precautions that should be taken regardless.  As with any other place, traveling solo during the day tends to not be a problem but traveling in groups at night is strongly encouraged, especially for female travelers.  If you plan to cross the border by bus or car, do so only during the day.

The streets of Siem Reap, much like other Asian cities, are chaotic compared to those in the US.  Pedestrians must proceed with caution when crossing the streets as cars/motorcyles/tuk-tuks usually do not give them the right of way.  Common modes of transportation, such as tuk-tuks and motorcyles, are not equipped with basic safety gear such as seat belts or helmets, increasing the likelihood of injury should an accident occur.  Additionally, most modes of transportation are gross polluters so taking a motorcycle or tuk-tuk on a daily basis can greatly increase one’s exposure to atmospheric pollutants – a face mask is highly advised when traveling by such modes of transportation.

Since Siem Reap is largely based around the tourism from Angkor Wat, pick-pockets are abound.  Travelers are warned to be aware of this fact and to only bring small amounts of cash and no flashy jewelry or other electronic items (including cameras and iphones/ipods) when traveling about for the day.  Should you choose to wear a purse, I recommend a purse that has some sort of twist and lock mechanism versus a simple snap or zipper for closure – this makes access more difficult for pick pockets.

The number of street children in Cambodia is truly unfortunate.  It is difficult to not lend one’s heart to these children when they approach you selling items or for money.  Sadly, these children are often part of larger units (I hesitate to call them gangs) run by an adult exploiting them.  Often times, these children work all day long and must turn in their money to the adults, who in turn provide them with meager meals.  Instead of purchasing items from them or giving cash, I recommend donating to or volunteering with a local organization dedicated to removing children from a life on the streets.  To provide them immediate assistance, I would suggest offering to buy a meal for them.  Often times, I saw tourists purchase one item from a child and the other children would become enraged if the same tourist didn’t purchase from the other children as well.

Lastly, drugs are widely available in Cambodia, despite being illicit.  Many locals will bombard tourists with offers to buy drugs.  Please be aware that drug laws are often much more strict in Asian countries and the person offering to sell you drugs could potentially be an undercover officer.  Do not attempt to purchase or use illicit drugs while in another country – remaining drug-free is always the best choice.

Here are Tanya’s travel safety tips for Ecuador:

When traveling  around Ecuador, take caution when in the big cities as crime is large problem.  Avoid taking overnight buses – especially up and down the Andes!  These roads are supposed to accommodate two-way traffic but are barely wide enough for two buses.  Exacerbating this is the dreary weather usually found surrounding the roads of thick fogs and bus drivers that come careening around blind curves.  I would recommend flying if at all possible or taking a day bus, even if you spend the whole day traveling.  Also, be careful when traveling across borders – only do so during the day and take extreme caution if you are crossing the border into Colombia as only one or two border-crossings are currently deemed safe.

Tibet – Nancy Zimmerman (2011)

Nancy Zimmerman is studying to be a nurse practitioner at UCLA. Nancy worked as a nurse practitioner in the Himalayan Health Exchange Program in Tibet this summer. Nancy received a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Nancy’s travel safety tips:

  • Do not be hesitant in whatever form of transportation that you choose (car, rickshaw, carriage) to tell the driver to slow down if you feel uneasy.
  • Do your research on the driving company that has been hired. Ask questions such as: how long have these drivers been with the company, what are the company’s driving policies, and are these policies enforced.
  • If driving long distances with a hired driver, inquire as to whether or not there will be night driving. Try to avoid driving at night if possible, since many cars on the roads do not utilize headlights.
  • Roads can be precarious in northern India, so know the kind of rocky terrain that you will be traveling and make sure the car is suitable for such conditions. Make sure that your car has working seatbelts installed, as many cars do not have this safety feature.
  • When in Delhi, wear a money-belt and keep it close to you at all times. Try not to have your passport on you, and instead keep it stowed away safely in your luggage or hotel.
  • Try to pay before getting in a taxi outside of the Delhi airport. You will avoid money scams and unauthorized taxis by doing so.

Nicaragua – Hilary Robbins (2011)

Hilary Robbins is a graduate of Duke University. Hilary spent six months in Nicaragua, performing a research study in an impoverished community to determine health needs, developing a program design for a free clinic, and then applying for monetary grants and medical supply donations to make the clinic a reality. Hilary received a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Hilary’s travel safety tips:

The following bullet points are pieces of advice that I have about staying safe in Managua and around Nicaragua. Some of them may apply broadly to developing countries, and others may be specific to my experience.

  • First, know your site. While I do think it is useful to learn generic travel safety tips if it is your first traveling experience, be aware that most pieces of advice don’t apply everywhere. Make a point to talk extensively with someone who grew up in the area and has high standards of safety about the best way to stay safe.
  • Take the time to learn the language as much as possible. Do not go to a new place where you do not speak the language and expect others to take care of you, especially if you are going to be there for an extended period of time. I have found that the better your language skills and knowledge of the area, the less likely you are to become a victim of any sort of crime.
  • In Managua, it is usually best to use nicer-looking taxis as opposed to the more dilapidated ones. The number on the license plate should match the number on the side of the taxi, and the driver should have official taxi registration.
  • Get contact information for taxi drivers who are known to be safe and reliable, and use them whenever possible.
  • Though city buses in Managua don’t always feel safe, the reality is that the drivers know what they’re doing and accidents are quite rare. The real danger is at night, as the robberies sometimes occur on the buses at gunpoint or knifepoint. Riding buses is a fine idea during the day, but something I did not do as a rule at night.

The great part about traveling in Nicaragua is that buses are cheap and run frequently all over the country. The troubling part is that the buses don’t always appear to be in great shape and some roads are much less safe than others. That said, I did not hear of any bus accidents while I was there and I am told they are extremely rare. While I did take public buses around the country quite often, I avoided traveling in or through the mountains as much as possible. During one trip I did this by mistake, and was frightened by the speed at which the bus traveled around corners lacking guardrails of any sort. I also avoided traveling at night, as any road is less safe in the dark.

It almost goes without saying that in Managua, one should not walk with any bags or purses and especially not at night. Many of us are accustomed to talking or texting on our cell phones as we walk, but in Managua it is important to keep your cell phone completely hidden if you are carrying it with you. Whether it is safe to walk at night is very dependent upon the area, but as a rule it is not a good idea to walk alone in the dark anywhere.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice I have for people in similar situations to mine – i.e. traveling as an individual volunteer to work with a new organization – is to have a frank discussion about safety before arriving in the country. Each organization has its own standards of safety, and it is important that your organization agree to uphold your standards before you arrive. For instance, in Managua it is extremely common to ride around in the back of a pickup truck – but Managua is a place where traffic laws are often ignored and accidents occur frequently. The members of my organization, including one American, made a habit of riding in the back of the pickup truck as that was the only vehicle they had to transport everyone. This created an awkward situation, as usually the most “important” people took the seats in the front and I did not want to act presumptuously. However, when I made it clear that I wasn’t comfortable riding in the back of the truck because of safety, the organization made every effort to accommodate this. However, I think it’s best that this sort of understanding occur before a volunteer commits to a long-term stay – not after.

Mexico – Sarah Isbey (2011)

Sarah Isbey, a graduate of Dartmouth College, is a medical student at UNC – Chapel Hill. This summer, Sarah worked in several rural villages in Mexico, implementing training programs regarding basic medical emergencies.  Sarah received a $1000 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Sarah’s travel safety tips:

  • Travel and work in groups whenever possible!
  • Get to know your area once you arrive
  • If at all possible, buy a cheap local cell phone to stay in touch with your host family or organization
  • Use your common sense – don’t stay out alone late at night, don’t eat food that you don’t see prepared, and don’t drink water/juice from unidentified sources
  • Learn some of the local customs before you go, such as apparel, attitudes, and any common religious beliefs. You will most likely still stick out, but try to assimilate yourself as much as possible!
  • Be friendly to those around you
  • Always wear your seatbelt, and avoid riding in the back of trucks if at all possible