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Home » Features » The Needs Are So Many...

The Needs Are So Many...
A conversation with Dr. Aníbal Zambrano and Katy Zambrano
by Graciela N.V. Corvalan

Q. How many volunteers were involved in your last mission?

A. We were between 80 and 100 people. I believe that 70% or more were from St. Louis. We had a large group from Chicago, and also people from Detroit, Tampa, Washington D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, New York, Seattle-well, from all over the country. Most of the volunteers had learned about the mission from people who had participated in previous ones. When we went to Cajamarca, we had two Polish doctors with us, the last time we had four. Usually the people who participate in these missions volunteer on a regular basis, and this is very good because they know that the work is hard and they are prepared to do it.

Q. What are the ages and nationalities of your volunteers?

A. All nationalities and all ages. On the last mission we had volunteers as young as 13 and as old as 76. The 76-year old, who is a patient of mine, sent us a most beautiful letter. He wrote, "My doctor says that I am in good health. May I join the mission?"

Q. Are the first-time volunteers shocked when they see the level of poverty in Peru?

A. When we arrive we start working so fast that there is no time for any kind of shock. I think that they may get a shock after they return to the U.S.

Q. What do the volunteers feel they receive?

A. For many of us the only reward is knowing that we may have changed a person's life. Seeing happy tears in the eyes of a patient is all it takes to make you want to go back. You feel that you are doing something for others without expecting anything in return. The important thing is to know that you are doing something good. And why is it good? Well, I don't know. And it doesn't really matter what your political affiliations are. Some of the volunteers may not have a strong sense of social responsibility, but they still are very happy to participate in these missions.

Q. What you say is very interesting. Perhaps, even if they do not recognize it, they do have a sense of social responsibility.

A. Yes, that might be the case. Everyone who organizes a mission will tell you the same thing: people change because they discover that they want to help other people. We had some PhDs who, not being medical professionals, had to find things to do. A professor from Washington University became a carrier of medicines, intravenous fluids, etc., but he seemed very happy. If nobody gives you a job, you find it yourself!

Q. What feedback do you receive from the volunteers?

A. It's amazing! We do not send thank-you letters to them; they send thank-you letters to us saying that it has been the best experience of their lives. Human beings want to give. If you are able to do the work, even if it is under somewhat difficult conditions, you learn to appreciate what you have, to appreciate the work others are doing, and you become aware of what you can do. We always learn: by doing, by teaching, and by adapting to different circumstances.

Q. Could you say that a spiritual vocation or ideal is what motivates you and the volunteers to help disadvantaged people?

A. Yes, I think so. The volunteers are special people who donate their time and money, paying for their own trip and expenses. Good people have a spirit of giving. Everyone is responsible for others in this world and, yes, everyone has a personal mission in life, which they respond to in different ways.

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