Why did you decide to volunteer with Global Volunteers in Tanzania?
Matt: I decided to initially volunteer in Ghana in Jan. 2001 because of an article I saw in the Philadelphia newspaper about volunteer trips abroad. At the time I was manager/partner in the family catering business. I always had time off in the winter when it was slow (roughly a month), loved any kind of travel both within the US and foreign, and so I decided to take an adventure to Africa. I liked it so much that I went to Tanzania in Jan. 2003. During optometry school, which I'm graduating from in May, I served as president of SVOSH on campus (Student Volunteer Optometrist Serving Humanity) where we were able to go to impoverished parts of Mexico several times on trips to do eye exams and dispense donated glasses. I was really happy to be able to carry on my out of country volunteer work.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Matt: In Ghana, our typical day conisted of a short walk to the junior middle school where most days I worked with the math teacher. I would mostly tutor individual students and help with class assignments. Also, one day I helped with the construction crew on building a new pre-school that Global Volunteers was helping with. Another day I spent in the medical clinic and got to see all different types of presentations of malaria. Free days we traveled to slave castles along the coast and to Kumasi which was the center of the Ashanti kingdom several hundred years ago. We did plenty of activities with the kids, including a baseball game using a cricket bat. The people were unbelievably warm and friendly and it was an awesome experience.
What made this experience unique and special?
Matt: In Tanzania I did some math and science tutoring and also did some work on setting up some computers that the school had donated to them by different organizations. We also did some construction on a new library and also did some tutoring and games. My favorite part of that trip was being the goaltender for the teachers' soccer team. Again, the people were unbelievably friendly and made you feel very appreciated. For both trips I was in the country for about three weeks.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Matt: My life has changed a lot since my volunteer trips. I had spent twelve years with the catering business in Pennsylvania and had free time in the winter to do trips such as Global Volunteers. In April 2008, I had finished up a year long bout with lymphoma and my family decided to sell the business. I packed up my belongings and moved across country to Arizona and a year later went back to optometry school. I think my desire to help people in other countries was a key factor to my becoming president of SVOSH and putting so much time into ensuring that the club would survive.