Holiday Hero: Gionnette Sarino

When and how did you know you wanted to help others in a third world country?

I remember as a child, my mom’s nursing school professors would let me tag along with her to the health clinics. My mom’s service to others and dedication strongly influenced my life. I became more involved in the community and started volunteering whenever I could. I graduated college in 2016, and thought, “how else can I help people?” The idea of volunteering globally came to mind, which led me to my first volunteer abroad opportunity in Nepal.

Has the experience changed your view on life? If so how?

Yes! It amplified how I view life. It taught me about perspective. How lucky am I to have the opportunity to go abroad and volunteer, to experience what it’s like to live in a rural environment, learn and interact with these people, provide medical aid, and then come back to my comfortable life here? I know that I have been very fortunate.

Who are we to say that having certain opportunities, money, or resources makes you “happy?” It’s incredible to see how little people need to be happy and how people make do with what they have. It also reinforced how similar we are despite our differences. They want their children to grow up healthy, happy, and smart just as we do here. It inspired me to look for opportunities that will allow me to do international/global health. One of my many dreams now is to one day be a United Nations Volunteer.

What was the most memorable thing about this trip?

The most memorable thing about this trip was being able to teach the children and helping those in need. We educated the kids on handwashing, dental hygiene, nutrition, and general healthcare. It was encouraging to see how receptive they were to us. They were enthusiastic and excited to learn which made my job way too easy. We had interpreters, but it’s cool to see how you can communicate through games and activities. Seeing their faces light up after we painted their nails, played games, handed out stickers, toothbrushes, notebooks, and pencils filled me with so much love and happiness.

What advice would you give others who want to do this?

Keep an open mind, remember your purpose, and enjoy every minute of the journey! You can research and read about the country and people you’re visiting, but you’ll always encounter some surprises. Keeping an open and remembering your purpose there will ground you for the challenges ahead. You’re there for them, not yourself.

Were you prepared mentally and physically for this?

Mentally, I felt prepared, but I always kept an open mind and heart. It did, however, make me sad to leave, I wish I could’ve stayed longer.

Physically, I wish I could say yes, but no, I was not at all prepared. I live at sea level here in the U.S. and the elevation there was above 14,000 feet at one point. It was challenging to acclimatize, but I eventually did. I should’ve listened and exercised more before making it out to Peru. Oops.

Were there any surprises and were you well equipped with the proper knowledge and equipment?

Yes, there were a few surprises, one of which was an error on my part. A few of our clinics were set up in communities located in the Andes Mountains. We had to trek up the massive and unforgiving Andes in the rain, hail, and cold. The elevation was about 15,000 feet. They warned me to be physically fit for this 5-6 hour trek. I might have slacked off the cardio and working out a bit. That, combined with the insane altitude was the cause of my agony.

At one point my oxygen saturation (I brought my pulse oximeter with me) was at a whopping 77%. I was short of breath, tired, cold, and thought I wouldn’t make it. With breaks, water, food, my inhaler, my altitude medication and the support from my group, I was able to get my levels back up and finish the trek safely. We had several volunteers that did this same medical mission before, so they were an excellent source of knowledge. We also partnered up with Llama Pack Project, a local non-profit from Peru that helped us throughout our stay there. As far as medical supplies, I think we did a great job gathering the needed medications and provisions! The only item we were short on were sunglasses, which they needed the most, especially in the Andean villages.

Do you see yourself doing this once a year or long term?

Last year I volunteered in Nepal, and since then I promised I would do everything I can to volunteer abroad annually. I see myself doing this once a year, every year for as long as I can. My only wish is to be able to volunteer for more extended periods. Hopefully, I find opportunities where I can volunteer for months at a time!

 

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