AYUDA in the Dominican Republic
Fifteen months ago, I was lying in a hospital bed with various wires attached to me. Multiple IV bags fed me electrolytes and different solutions that made me freezing cold. I was exhausted from being up all night with nurses trying in vain to find my veins (that pun was unintentional). They dug around in my arms for what felt like hours, trying to find a place to insert my IV — they had a hard time because I was so dehydrated. Though I was exhausted, I couldn’t sleep because of the news I’d just received. We believe you have Type 1 diabetes, the doctors told me.
Over the next few days, while I was in the hospital recovering from diabetic ketoacidosis, the diabetes educator and nurses taught me how to administer insulin shots. An endocrinologist came in to explain what my life was going to be like now that I had diabetes: checking my blood glucose multiple times a day, taking insulin shots at every meal, counting carbs. I walked out of the hospital feeling a general sense of relief — I finally knew why I had been sick for so long. Despite my diagnosis, I was feeling better than I had in months and I was armed with all the tools and knowledge I needed to manage my diabetes. I was lucky. However, I began to imagine what my life would be like if I had been born in another country where people, even medical professionals, don’t have a solid understanding of what diabetes is and how to manage it. Would I have felt the same relief leaving the hospital? Would I have the same easy access to diabetes education, insulin, test strips and a continuous glucose monitor as I do now?
A few months later, I started a chapter of the College Diabetes Network at my school, the University of California San Diego, in an effort to connect with more T1Ds that were my age. With my chapter of the CDN, I decided to host information sessions at UC San Diego for an organization called AYUDA (American Youth Understanding Diabetes Abroad). I didn’t really know what AYUDA was at this point, but I was looking forward to the info session because I’m always interested in hearing about organizations in the Type 1 community. At the info session, an AYUDA representative and former volunteer came and told us everything about the organization and their mission.
I learned that AYUDA is a nonprofit volunteer organization that empowers youth to serve as agents of change in diabetes communities around the world. They have the following guiding principles:
- A lack of education is just as dangerous as a lack of insulin.
- Youth can serve as powerful agents of change.
- Understanding is just as important as doing.
Every year, AYUDA organizes volunteer trips abroad to help underprivileged T1D communities overseas. This summer, they are taking volunteers to the Dominican Republic to help put together two education programs for people with Type 1 Diabetes: Campo Amigo Dominicano (a diabetes education camp for young people living with diabetes), and En El Camino (a new program to take the diabetes educational and empowerment experience on the road to multiple provinces in the Dominican Republic).
I identified with AYUDA’s mission and guiding principles, so I decided to apply to volunteer in the Campo Amigo program. As I had volunteered with a medical outreach program in Latin America before and loved it, the idea of taking that experience and focusing it on diabetes excited me. Finally, I would be able to help my fellow T1Ds who might not have been as lucky as I was due to available resources!
I am excited to travel to the Dominican Republic, help organize the camp programs, and meet the children at the camp. AYUDA endeavors to remain a grassroots volunteer organization in a unique way: by asking its volunteers to participate in fundraising for their programs. If you’d like to help send ambassadors abroad donate today! Together, we can help these children and their parents see that you can a live long, healthy life with Type 1 diabetes if you are given the knowledge and tools necessary to manage it.
Read about T1International and Their Global T1D Mission.