Many Hands. They’re All Needed.

Todd and I were both eager to sign up as volunteers on a Partner for Surgery mobile medical mission. But once everything was arranged and we still had weeks to wait, I confess we had moments of doubt. Neither of us has a medical background of any kind. I speak no Spanish; Todd speaks a little. Apart from a willingness to help, we felt we didn’t bring much to the table. Would we only be in the way?

Turns out, a willingness to help is the most important quality to have, and it was evident everywhere. Doctors, nurses, staff, returning volunteers, and brand new ones — everyone pitched in when and where there was a need. If you can improvise and you have a sense of humor, you are welcome and appreciated. Many other tasks can be taught.

Each day we arrived at a new location to find men, women, and children already lined up. They waited stoically, sometimes for hours and hours, to see a doctor. This might be their only chance all year to have a mysterious condition diagnosed and treated or scheduled for surgery. We didn’t want to make them wait any longer than necessary. Once we found the space designated for us at the health center, we set about unloading our supplies from the truck, screening off examination areas, arranging the pharmacy, and beginning intake of patients.

My job was photography, and Todd’s jobs were many. He was particularly useful in setting up spaces, but he worked hard all day. Some tasks seemed simple but were crucial: he was the tall, easy-to-spot guy who would escort women through the rabbit-warren of hallways to find the cervical cancer screener. Other jobs were entertaining (and I could kick myself for missing this): he used the blue stuffed dinosaur with the big teeth and bigger red toothbrush to teach proper dental hygiene to the kids. Sometimes he took the photographs of surgical patients that would be added to their records. Other non-medical volunteers were trained to take blood pressure or to count out medication in proper doses.

No one was idle. Our goal was to make sure every patient was seen, heard, and treated with dignity. And I think we did a pretty good job.

If you have questions about volunteering on a mobile medical mission, you can read the FAQs here.


  1. Dorothy, these are beautiful photos of a moving journey–I am so glad you and Todd were there, and that you are sharing the inspiring experience with others!

  2. I am so proud of you and Todd, Dorothy. What an experience!

Leave a Reply