Jona Szakacs

Jona Szakacs traveled with HLD in August of both 2011 and 2012. Jona graduated as a Biomechanics student from the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. He is 22 years old and has aspirations of continuing his education in a medical school in Alberta. He was born and raised in Calgary, played competitive hockey until he was 20 years old, is very active and enjoys trying new things… and country music.

Morning: There are two typical mornings during the HLD experience. During medical rotations, mornings usually start pretty early in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. I would get up in the Nu House Hotel, a gorgeous four star hotel in the heart of Quito, shower, hang out with my room mate for a few minutes and then we'd get dressed and head down to breakfast. Breakfast was provided down the street from the hotel in a small and hip cafe, located on the edge of the Plaza Foch, one of the busiest urban centres in the city. We would eat fresh fruit, eggs, drink freshly squeezed fruit juice and get ourselves ready for the day at the hospital.

Volunteer with kids in Ecuador

The second typical morning was during the volunteer week. Usually, we would get up early at the hotel or hostel that we were staying at, go for breakfast downstairs that included eggs, buns, butter and chocolate milk. Yes, chocolate milk with breakfast… it's common in South American countries. We would then jump on the bus or the truck and ride to the volunteer site where we would get together and discuss the tasks for the day. We would then break off into groups and get to work.

During the tour portion of the trip, mornings varied greatly. Mostly because the environment varied greatly. Sometimes you are waking up in a bed with a bug net on stilts in the jungle, other times you are waking up in a hostel where you are on the beach within two steps of your front door. Breakfast is always included, and wake-up times vary with the activities that are planned for that particular day.

Afternoon: During the medical rotations, a typical afternoon entails participating in the rotations that are scheduled for your group during that day. These include rotations in surgery, ER, ICU, obstetrics-pediatrics, radiology, sports med and internal medicine wards throughout the hospital. After going for lunch that includes popcorn soup, we would head back to the hospital and shadow doctors in these particular wards. Our tutors would provide us with valuable information on machines and protocols, describe procedures in surgery, explaining how to do a full internal exam with only your hands, quizzing us and answering any questions that we had.

In the volunteer site, the afternoon would generally start with a light lunch that often consisted of fruit and water, bread and cheese. We would visit with one another, the members of the community, talk with the construction foremen and plan for the afternoons jobs. We would work until supper time usually, taking breaks to play with the dogs and cats that lived in the community, talk with the villagers and to play jokes on one another.

During the tour, each afternoon would differ depending on the activity that you were participating in that day. These would include water fall repelling, river rafting, paragliding, surfing, hiking, or just hanging out and having some downtime. Lunches were always provided, and varied depending on the region of the country that we were in. These afternoons were always super fun and jam packed with things to do.

Jonah relaxing with other volunteers

Evening: during the medical rotations, we would regroup at the Nu House Hotel for dinner. We would choose a restaurant in the plaza that we wanted to try, and would go out with everyone to eat. We would usually sit out in the square at our restaurant of choice, and hang out and talk about what we all saw that day. After dinner, everyone would head back to the hospital and take part in the tutorial lesson that was scheduled for that evening. These were taught by medical students who were in their residency, and included shock therapy, first aid, suturing methods, etc. After these tutorials, if we were scheduled for night rotations, we would stay at the hospital. If we had the night off, we would head back to the hotel and jump on the computers to research our case study that we were responsible to present to the class and the tutors at the end of the week. Once everyones groups were finished studying and researching and rehearsing, we would head to our rooms, shower, and head to bed.

During the volunteer week, the evenings were awesome. Once the sun went down, and we had stopped working, we would usually start up a game of volleyball or soccer with the locals. These games were usually girls vs guys, locals vs students. They would get pretty intense but would always be super fun and rowdy.

Once they were done, we would jump in the back of the trucks and drive through the town, past the old concrete buildings and vibrant night communities and small squares, back to our hotel where we would shower… if there was hot water… get together and head out for dinner.

Once we were finished eating dinner, everyone would typically head back to the hotel and hang out for an hour or so before heading to bed to make sure that we were ready to work the next morning During the tour, evenings varied greatly. From taking in fountain light shows in Lima, Peru, to watching the sun set on Isabella Island in the Galapagos, to eating some of the most delicious pizza I have had in the jungle village of Mindo, to playing volleyball on the beach in Canoa, to playing cards under the lights of the lamps in the trees of Misahualli.

Evenings were generally free time for us, where we were able to head out to dinner wherever we within the town that we were staying, hang out with one another, and celebrate being in South America. Later on we would head out and check out the town, find cool little shops and restaurants.

HLD Volunteers touring South America

Highlights: The highlight of my trip for the volunteer portions is always giving the homes away to the villagers. In both years I have had the pleasure of presenting the completed product to the villages. This is touching… there is always a large ceremony with lots of speakers and formalities, followed by the cutting of the ribbons.

I always get very emotional giving these homes away to families with small children who were living in such despair before we helped them. They are always so thankful, giving us hugs and describing the differences in their lives now that their family has a home. There is always a huge party after the presentation of the homes, and we celebrate with the villagers and their children until late at night. It is just such a good feeling to be a part of such an intimate portion of these peoples lives. When you leave, even only after a week, the kids are crying, the adults don't want to see you go. It is amazing that in such a short period of time you can become so close with a community.

My absolute favorite part of the tour portion of the trip is always Canoa… it is the surf town on the coast of Ecuador. We stay with a friend of the companies, Gregs, who is the best cook and one of the funniest guys you can meet. He's from Kentucky and has a passion for music and ridiculously good food. Our accommodations are right on the beach, and you are able to surf, beach comb, go into town or just lay around in the hammocks and do nothing. Each night, Greg cooks you a massive meal that is delicious, and you spend the whole night visiting and dancing and having a great time.