AYUDA: Changing the Face of Diabetes Volunteering Abroad


Editor’s Note: AYUDA is accepting volunteer applications for summer 2019 through February 15, find all necessary information here.

When things changed

After February 8, 2007, I no longer had a “normal” childhood. I spent my days calculating insulin doses, counting carbohydrates and constantly battling my biological disorder’s effect on my life. At the age of 5, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, beginning a new journey of poking myself with hypodermics, watching everything I eat and visiting my endocrinologist to get my test results and hear a lot of incomprehensible words.

Diagnosed with this autoimmune condition close to the big medical research hub of Stanford, I have participated in many clinical trials to help professionals better understand my disorder. As a clinical trial participant and, later, a MiniMed Medtronic Ambassador for the Hybrid Closed Loop 670G System, I have been lucky enough to experience the newest and best technology in type 1 diabetes (T1D) management.

As I got older, I began to recognize my immense privileges with these technologies, and coupled with my love for service, I knew I wanted to advocate for my diabetes community. From speaking at Medtronic events to being a JDRF Children’s Congress delegate, serving my community gave me a sense of purpose. Eventually, I wanted to take my passion for advocacy to a global level. After a quick Google search, I found an organization named AYUDA.

All about AYUDA

AYUDA—American Youth Understanding Diabetes Abroad—is a nonprofit dedicated to creating culturally sensitive and sustainable diabetes volunteer programs around the world, where American youth can work with youth abroad to make a difference in their communities. From Ecuador to the Dominican Republic, AYUDA is and has always been based on three 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.

AYUDA currently offers two programs in the Dominican Republic: En El Camino and Campo Amigo. For the past two summers, I have been a volunteer and volunteer mentor for the En El Camino program, where volunteers work with local volunteers and travel around the country to host outreach workshops on ways that members of those communities can better manage their diabetes through nutrition and exercise. Going on this program opened my eyes to the hardships that those with diabetes face in developing nations and gave me insight to what a career involving global health might look like. This summer, I will be a volunteer mentor on the Campo Amigo program, where volunteers work with local leaders to run two weekend diabetes education family programs to support young people with diabetes and foster a community between them.

AYUDA is unlike other service programs abroad in that it works with a local partner organization—Aprendiendo a Vivir (Learning to Live) to support both En El Camino and Campo Amigo. Rather than simply going to a foreign country for a few weeks to gain life experience, AYUDA volunteers feel the satisfaction of creating long-lasting change in lives around the Dominican Republic.

My second summer volunteering with AYUDA, a local approached us at one of our outreach workshops proudly holding his very own blood glucose meter. He told us that AYUDA and Aprendiendo a Vivir had given him that meter the previous summer and thanked us, as he explained the huge effect it had on his blood sugar levels. Our workshops had a long lasting effect on the locals who took the initiative to come, and I was able to see that difference.

Making an impact

Through AYUDA, I was not only able to benefit my diabetes community abroad, but connect with others my age who knew exactly what I was going through. From being around people who know what you mean when you say you are high or low to having group blood glucose checks, AYUDA allowed me to forge a strong bond a resilience with my fellow American volunteers and the youth I met in the Dominican Republic.

AYUDA can only continue making great change with the support it receives from its driven volunteers and generous donors. If you are interested in volunteering with AYUDA this summer or making a donation, check out their website here! Together, we can teach hundreds of Dominican children and adults to not only survive, but thrive with diabetes.

¡Juntos somos más fuertes!

Together we are stronger!

WRITTEN BY Nikhita Gopisetty, POSTED 02/11/19, UPDATED 08/04/23

Nikhita is 17 years old from Morgan Hill, California. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 5 years old, she has served as an advocate for her community as a JDRF Children's Congress delegate, MiniMed Medtronic Ambassador and an AYUDA volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She hopes to study biomedical engineering and global health in college to continue supporting her diabetes community around the world.