Blog Post

An eye-opening but enriching experience gained by all


Another 10 international volunteers returned home this month having experienced working and living in rural areas that many city-dwelling South Africans have never seen in a lifetime of living in South Africa.

They got to experience the daily struggles to access primary health care faced by the majority living in an area with bad roads, lack of transport, limited water resources and no electricity. They also witnessed and were impressed by the dedication of not only Donald Woods Foundation (DWF) staff but the doctors and nurses working for the Department of Health under very trying conditions.

Some returned from their first few days humbled and shocked by local living conditions and how people make do with very little, but all were struck and touched by people’s welcoming smiles together with Foundation staff stories about why they do what they do.

DWF hosted its third group of 10 international Connecting Hearts Abroad (CHA) volunteers – all Lilly employees – who spent two weeks working with Foundation teams on health and education programmes in and around the Mbashe region.

Representing a United Nations of countries, the group included Jason A Tharp (USA), Nihal Abbas Elmously (Egypt), Renee Sullivan (USA), Xiaoming Wang (China), Christine Hardwick (USA), Marc Adamsbaum (Switzerland), Ellen van Houwelingen (Netherlands), Una Feeney (Ireland), Kamlanathan Kodiappan (Malaysia) and Benjamin Joseph Stock (USA).

The first part of their stay saw them going out into the field with DWF teams on outreach clinics and following-up health education by visiting homesteads in designated areas.

Following their immersion in the Foundation’s programmes, the group spent the second week developing and delivering training interventions following discussions and the identification of needs with DWF staff.

The training ranged from an introduction to microbiology and infectious diseases to managing organisational change, handling stress for care givers and more in-depth training on diabetes/insulin together with tuberculosis – a major health issue in the Foundation’s area of operation.

We asked the Lilly CHA ambassadors to share their highlights with us from their two weeks on the programme:

“Absolutely love what you are doing for embracing beautiful African culture and love the hard work you are doing to improve their health in each hut. You inspired me and I will reach my heart out to all of you in DWF and to all South Africa people through you. Thank you very, very much.” – Xiaoming Wang (China)

“What a fantastic experience working with all of you at DWF! You have truly inspired and motivated us all, what you do is truly amazing and inspiring! Thank you for allowing us to be a part of the DWF Family.” – Benjamin Stock (USA)

“Working with Sister Linda at the clinics and outreach locations has been an amazing experience! Her dedication to the patients shows in her bright smile and laughter … I will forever be saying Ehhhh We”. – Christine Hardwick (USA)

“What a unique experience it has been staying two weeks in Hobeni.  Hard to single out a highlight: seeing how people live in the huts, being warmly welcomed every time, learning about the Xhosa culture … Befriending colleagues from around the world and members of DWF was also very enriching.” – Marc Adamsbaum (Switzerland)

“This was really a life changing experience, full of passion inspired from the whole staff; we learned how to save lives every day.” – Nihal Abbas Elmously (Egypt)

“The two weeks we have spent with you all, here in Hobeni, have been incredible. You probably don’t realize how LARGE the impact is that you’ve had on all of us, but we will forever remember this place, and will especially remember you all who work so hard to make life better here for your patients and your community.  Thank you for your hospitality, your eagerness to learn, your songs, and your smiles!”  – Jason Tharp (USA)

“It was great to experience first-hand the health challenges faced by the DWF team in Bomvana and to be closely involved in the public health interventions in the huts, the schools and during the outreach programme. Thank you to the team for sharing this short but meaningful journey with us.” – Kamnathan Kodiappan (Malaysia)

“DWF, you inspire us with your impact in the community. Go forth and CHANGE to make it better!” – Renee Sullivan (USA)

Irish Blessing: “May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields.” Sláinte – Una Feeney (Ireland)

Ek sal jullie vreselyk missen. Fantastiche ervaring! – Ellen van Houwelingen (The Netherlands/Holland)

Connecting Hearts Abroad is an employee volunteering programme of Eli Lilly which annually selects and sends teams around the world to volunteer with partners aimed at providing opportunities to employees to view the world through a different lens and to apply their skills and passions towards improving health in low and middle-income countries.

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