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Review for The Tandana Foundation, Spring Valley, OH, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

After taking early retirement last year, I signed up for two weeks on a medical service trip to highland Ecuador with the Tandana Foundation last month. This exceptional organization has been active in the northern sierra of Ecuador for much of the last decade, establishing ongoing partnerships with a number of indigenous villages and contributing to efforts identified by the local communities such as healthcare, education, small business development and horticulture. The other volunteer participants had very diverse backgrounds and interests, came from many different states and provinces, of all ages, and all came with a desire to be of service to others and to learn and to share. Rarely in a rather long life have I met such fine people who have become great friends so quickly as we shared such intense and rewarding experiences together. This group cohesion was only possible due to the long experience and constant efforts of the Tandana leadership and staff to provide the necessary support and logistics, while making these trips exciting and fun for the participants. The TF is extremely skilled at finding and developing exceptional staff to fulfill their stated mission, to make the experience safe and enjoyable for all the volunteers, and to foster deeper cultural awareness between the local communities and those who sign up for these trips.
Each morning we took a chartered bus to a village higher in the Andean highlands, where our volunteer group- both lay and medical providers- set up in the local school or community center. The physicians, PA, and dentists provided free medical and dental care to children and adults, some of whom needed to be referred to local facilities or were followed up later by TF staff. Our group also recorded vital signs, performed basic lab tests, did vision screening, provided reading glasses, and our mobile pharmacy provided medications prescribed by the PAs and physicians. We ate very well, had a wonderful place to stay in Otavalo, and the volunteers had opportunities for activities later in the day such as visits to a master weaver, a local shaman, a cooking school, a maker of musical instruments, and outings to see waterfalls and hike around alpine lakes. The first week our group had a great time one night dancing in costume in an annual parade in a local village. The second week we went on a boat tour around a beautiful reed-fringed lake at the foot of Imbabura volcano.
Before signing up for this trip, I had heard glowing reports from several physician and PA colleagues who had been Tandana volunteers in the past. They described the trips in terms such as "an experience that will change your life", "this will remind you why you went into medicine in the first place", "I came back from this trip a better person, with more compassion, than when I left". I found all of these reactions to be accurate and true to my own experience. You will know that your money was very well spent, that you will never forget the people you met and the people you worked with, and that you have seen firsthand some of the best work that we can do for each other in this world.

Role:  Volunteer