UNC Nursing Student & CFK Intern Lisandro Reflects on What It Means to Volunteer July 9, 2013  by      

By: Kai Schwartz, CFK 2013 Peacock Fellow, and Nick Johnson, CFK Staff Associate

Lisandro_2_Caitlin Kleiboer [web-res]

A perk of being affiliated with prestigious universities like the University of North Carolina and Duke University is having access to a pool of students interested in service projects and fellowships abroad.  Every summer, Carolina for Kibera sends several student volunteers to Kibera to complete projects by working with and learning from staff there.

One of our volunteers, Lisandro Hernández, still talks glowingly about his 3-week internship in Kibera after returning to the U.S. only a week and a half ago.  His impressive background includes over 10 years of experience in the medical field, 4 of which he spent working for the public healthcare system in his home country of El Salvador.  After moving to the United States, he began working as an anesthesiology technician at Duke University Medical Center while getting his nursing degree at UNC.

As a result, Lisandro provided a unique perspective on global health while volunteering at CFK’s Tabitha Medical Clinic.  He spent most of his time working with the clinic’s community health workers (CHWs), who conduct medical home visits throughout Kibera and assist with CFK’s new cervical cancer screening program.  He also helped administer daily care and health advice to patients at the clinic and CFK’s brand new nutrition center.

Reflecting on similarities between his native country and Kibera, he mentioned how communities in El Salvador “share very similar problems,” but that it was hard to fathom the severity of those same problems in Kibera.  His experience working in El Salvador’s public health system closely matched the work done by the CHWs in Kibera.  “El Salvador is a third-world country,” he explained, “so we did a lot with sanitation, water purification—mainly preventative medicine, stuff like washing your hands and cooking your food thoroughly.  The CHWs’ project really drew me to CFK.”

Though Lisandro provided the Tabitha Medical Clinic with an abundance of both professional assistance and experience, he remained conscious of his roles as a student, a volunteer, and most importantly, a foreigner to Kenya.  Instead of going to “fix” anyone’s life, he focused on sharing his experiences and learning from others:

Lisandro_US1_Nick Johnson [edited]“I knew that I wasn’t going there to fix any particular person’s life.  I knew that I was there still under my role as a student.  However, once I got there and started engaging with the community and the people and the staff and everything, I started pulling things from different places that I already had in me, and trying to work on different projects.  At some point, I learned that my work, even if I was working there 24/7, even if I was doing this or that, I was only one person.  What I learned there is actually to make a difference, you need to mobilize.  And it’s not just that.  You need to have the agreement and the understanding of the people you are working with.


When asked about one piece of advice he would give to future volunteers, Lisandro said, “The basic thing that you can do is offer your heart.  I just offered myself.  That’s something that I really love, to share the little that I know with others, and to help others with what I have.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.  Lisandro’s perspective on what it means to share one’s time and skills really speaks to what CFK stands for, and how both students and local leaders learn from each other when they volunteer abroad.  Our staff agrees, and expressed their thanks to Lisandro:

“We’re glad you learnt so much from us, for we also learnt a lot from you.  We thank you for the amazing things you did for the few weeks you were ar ound.  We liked your zeal and your spirit of self, and how you are open to learning and at the same time to support.  Thank you for choosing CFK as a place for your professional development and we wish you well and all the best as you finish your studies.  Kind regards.”


3 responses to “UNC Nursing Student & CFK Intern Lisandro Reflects on What It Means to Volunteer”

  1. […] To read more about Lisandro’s experience in Kenya, read Carolina for Kibera’s recent story. […]

  2. Jeffrey says:

    Where do you believe the situation seems to be worse, in El Salvador, or Kibera? Developing wise. I am a student at Orange High in Hillsborough, NC. My family as well is from El Salvador and I was wondering what your perspective of El Salvador is.

  3. Jraed says:

    I’m a student from Hillsborough,NC its good knowing the Slums of Kibera are getting so much support from CFK. Its good that we get volunteers from UNC and Duke to help run clinics for Kibera. CFK is giving the the people of Kibera better health which helps families greatly.

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