Tell us a little about VIDA and your role at the company.
Marla: VIDA is a 501c3 nonprofit from Minnesota, USA. We work with volunteers from around the world to bring medical, dental and veterinary care to low resource communities in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. At VIDA, I am the Community Manager, so I am in charge of managing our website, blog, newsletters, Facebook, Twitter and online profiles. This helps us get the word out about VIDA and find more volunteers so we can continue to spread to more communities throughout Central America and help those in need.
How did you get involved in the volunteer industry?
Marla: Volunteering has always been an important part of my life. I am originally from Wisconsin, but moved to Costa Rica 7 years ago. Here, I didn't have many opportunities to do volunteer work, as I was going to school full time. When I graduated from college and was offered a job with VIDA in 2010, I knew that I had found the perfect organization to work for. VIDA has given me the opportunity to help those in need, and also travel throughout Central America while meeting amazing volunteers from around the world.
What makes VIDA unique?
Marla: VIDA offers life changing experiences to those who are interested in studying medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine. We offer hands-on service learning opportunities in a controlled environment where students can learn from local doctors and help communities in need; but we also let the volunteers have fun outside the clinics! All VIDA Adventures include sight-seeing and cultural activities such as tours of historic cities, whitewater rafting, hospital visits, canopy tours, visits to historic buildings, etc., which let the volunteers learn and see more about the countries they visit.
In your experience, what characteristics make a good international volunteer?
Marla: A good international volunteer is someone who wants to take time out of their schedule to help those in need. A great international volunteer is someone who travels with an open mind, is prepared for anything to happen, and learns from every experience they face. International travel will open your heart and mind to many new experiences, and if you come prepared to accept and learn from these situations, you will get much more from your travels!
How do you ensure your programs are sustainable and mutually beneficial for you, the community, and the volunteers?
Marla: VIDA's main goal is to help the communities in Central America receive the medical, dental and veterinary attention they deserve. In order to obtain this goal, volunteers pay a fee to attend the trips. This fee goes towards paying for their accommodations while on the trip, but also pay for the staff, medications and equipment we need in order to run the clinics. In the future, we hope to apply for and receive grants within the US to be able to purchase more equipment in order to help more communities in need.