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God Bless America

Nurses Article   (4,353 Views | 16 Replies | 587 Words)

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"You mean you actually work for free?" the tall handsome Brazilian was saying as I noticed a look of incredulous spread across his face. I returned the same look while saying that the spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in the United States and everywhere you find Americans.

God Bless America
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You see, as an American nurse traveling abroad, I was still unaware of how different we appear at times to foreigners. I was volunteering at the seriously understaffed zoo of a European capital helping children safely hand feed small tropical parrots in a large walk-in bird cage. To this man, my admission was something akin to admitting my working career was a failure.

Fast forward eighteen months: I married that lovely man and moved to his hometown in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. During the next 4 years, I struggled to learn that complex language knowing full well that I would never work as a nurse again if I could not speak Portuguese well. I also struggled to understand the fine nuances of that culture. With a failing public healthcare system abandoned by the wealthy, why did the Brazilian workers spend so much time singing and dancing instead of protesting?

With a failing public school system also abandoned by the wealthy, why were there no protests in the street? No protests over health system officials pocketing money that was earmarked for ambulances; no protests over politicians pocketing money that was destined for textbooks?

Before I could ever work in Brazil, the 2008 Dengue season hit the crowded city of 11 million like a ton of bricks. Thousands of people were overloading the already underfunded urgent care centers, hundreds were dying from lack of care. I often walked past terrified parents and frail elderly who had waited for treatment for days.

Only after much bureaucratic discussion and far too much time, the Brazilian Army was finally given permission by the mayor of Rio to set up field hospital treatment centers in public parks that dotted the tropical landscape. Finally, I thought, maybe I could help. Even with my weak Portuguese, I could be helpful by triaging, starting IV`s, taking blood pressures, assuring parents.

I asked friends to make calls to agencies to find out how I could volunteer. Five days passed without news from any agency or my frustrated friends. In the meantime, I read in the newspaper that a Brazilian doctor had tried in vain to volunteer.

There is very little understanding of volunteerism in Rio de Janeiro. To the common person on the street, a volunteer is a rich person taking a job away from a poor person. To the more elite people, a person who volunteers without pay is some sort of fool. To the public officials, a volunteer is a nuisance who calls attention to their failing infrastructure.

On the day I met my husband I told him that if Americans stopped volunteering overnight, the entire economy would collapse. The US is dependent on volunteers in every sector, from parents in education to teenagers working in animal shelters; volunteerism is an integral part of our American culture. We are raised to believe that our time and money should be given freely to those in need, to the arts, to education and of course, to healthcare.

So, yes, my international healthcare experience was something not to be but it brought me to appreciate even more all that we are as Americans. They say that you cannot truly understand your own culture until you step outside of it. I believe that saying is true and I believe that even though Americans have shortcomings and failures we are so very blessed by our culture and especially our culture of volunteerism.

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124 Posts; 4,693 Profile Views

wow! There is very little understanding of volunteerism in Rio de Janeiro. To the common person on the street a volunteer is a rich person taking a job away from a poor person. To the more elite people a person who volunteers without pay is some sort of fool. To the public officials, a volunteer is a nuisance who calls attention to their failing infrastructure.

Really amazing insight!!!

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lamazeteacher specializes in OB, HH, ADMIN, IC, ED, QI.

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Volunteers certainly grease the works here in the USA, and many of us wish we had more (?any) time to do it. I am no stranger to volunteerism, having spent much of my time while I was married, with the American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, ASPO/Lamaze, La Leche League, Boy Scouts of America, and my house of worship. Other volunteers with whom I worked, were wealthy or older than those in the paid workforce.

I felt very fortunate to donate my time, and that was admired by all with whom I came in contact, except my husband who wanted all my time, and stated derogatorily that he felt like a "prince consort" on occasions when I insisted that he accompany me to fundraising functions while I was President of the Coastal Cities Unit in So. CA, of the American Cancer Society. The prevailing attitude then in the '70s, was that the little lady/wifey took a back seat to her husband and stayed home quietly if she was financially able. Then I took a

"Consciousness Raising" course given by a volunteer from the feminist organization.........

After my divorce, as a single parent, there was simply no time with my child at home, to do as much as I had before, but I was active in parent organizations of the schools he attended, mostly in fundraising; and in the early '80s I learned to teach fifth grade students to make a program on Apple computers! (There was no software then.) That was while I was getting adequate "spousal

support.

After my son was in college, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck near me in CA, and it was a "kneejerk reaction" for me to volunteer with the American Red Cross in shelters, as a Disaster Services volunteer. Now I do "Community Service" when I have a fine to pay which I feel is undeserved and illogical, rather than pay the coffers for which the fines were designed. I have noticed that those assigned opportunities are less in the spirit of giving, than being punishment oriented. I've cleaned windows and the kitchen at an animal shelter, and assembled blank forms for charts at a community clinic in those situations. Those could have been duties of paid staff, and didn't utilize my specific skills.

Certainly no one's job here has been in jeapardy due to my time spent as a volunteer. Since Red Cross Disasteer work is spur of the moment, someone with a job couldn't leave it to do what I did, although student nurses were pressed into service with their instructors, later. However when I was thinking of doing something with the Canadian Cancer Society, the functions of Breast Self Examination Instructor, facilitator for Leadership Training, Train the Trainer functions and other tasks that I previously did without pay here, are the responsibility of paid staff there.

Appreciation for all the work I've done as a volunteer has been effusive and heartfelt. Volunteers in this country are rewarded at ceremonies for their contributions, with plaques, gavels for presidents, pins, etc. I prize those things more than the mortgages that were funded by my paid positions.

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1 Article; 66 Posts; 2,590 Profile Views

Well written response. Americans are fortunate to understand the necessity and benefits of volunteerism.

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In very poor countries, the volunteering we are used to is reflected in helping one's family and neighbours. It's an incomprehensible concept, not going to work just to help someone else. Not because they don't understand helping someone else for free, but the need of a paid job is a basic necessity, they wouldn't survive without that job. I have met people who thought westerners must be well rich, beyond their wildest dreams, to be able to work with no pay. Had your entire livelyhood depended on a paid job, you would think that volunteering is a bit crazy.

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Exactly my point: volunteering outside one`s family is considered crazy! But also look what you have written here, "but the need of a paid job is a basic necessity, they wouldn't survive without that job." In reality, few people have jobs in many countries, so how can those desperately poor survive without some assistance from someone. I wrote this article to help Americans understand how things are in other countries not to teach Brazilians or Africans what they already know about their countries. Brazilians already know that if there was less corruption in their country the schools would be better and the healthcare would also be better.

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lamazeteacher specializes in OB, HH, ADMIN, IC, ED, QI.

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Exactly my point: volunteering outside one`s family is considered crazy! But also look what you have written here, "but the need of a paid job is a basic necessity, they wouldn't survive without that job." In reality, few people have jobs in many countries, so how can those desperately poor survive without some assistance from someone. I wrote this article to help Americans understand how things are in other countries not to teach Brazilians or Africans what they already know about their countries. Brazilians already know that if there was less corruption in their country the schools would be better and the healthcare would also be better.

"Third world" countries' people have been indoctrinated with the futility of opposition, which is why they accept what is, about their lives. Isabelle Allende writes of the horrors of that in "House of the Spirits", about the Chilean governments' reaction to dissention. In America and Europe, uprisings produced some positive effects (think French revolution, the Boston Tea Party and demonstrations against Viet Nam), so we allow speeches against the goverment (as long as the place where they're held is duly compensated) vis a vis "The First Ammendment". Our standard of living isn't even imagined in the third world. Some of them haven't got running water yet and electricity, much less windows in their homes!! :(

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84 Posts; 3,854 Profile Views

"... To the common person on the street a volunteer is a rich person taking a job away from a poor person...

To a large extent this is the reason why volunteerism isn't that common in Third World countries; often that would mean taking away a paying job from someone. In many of these countries even children have to work to keep the family afloat. Most of those who work for free are either associated with a religious or political group, or students.

On the other hand, people do a lot of work for their families, often the entire family pitches in during weddings, sickness or funerals. In those countries, one would find it surprising that in Western countries people have to hire funeral services, catering services etc b/c these are often done by extended family members or neighbors.

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yes, this is the fear that keeps the volunteer infrastructure from forming and preventing much volunteerism. But the Dengue outbreak was bad because they did not have the paid personnel to treat people. They didn`t have the human resources to care for the masses of ill persons. So, how is this going to impact paid jobs to be able to bring in volunteer doctors and nurses? Read where I mentioned a Brazilian doctor tried to volunteer in his own home town. he wasnt taking any job from anyone.

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74 Posts; 3,468 Profile Views

We need to acknowledge that American volunteerism is a luxury as well as a national cultural value. In a country with a solid middle class (and opulence--compared to most other countries), we can afford to go out and pitch in for the community good. Of course, over the decades, we've also learned that it feels good to pitch in...and it offers bonuses to communities which can't afford paid staff.

Thanks for sharing the view from south of the Equator. I lived in Brazil for several months and was always impressed with their calor humano--in spite of their poverty. :-)

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1 Article; 5,758 Posts; 32,921 Profile Views

A BIG honorable mention to the volunteer fire fighters in my community and so many others. Also to the EMT and Medics that volunteer at so many community EMS services. Not that I don't really appreciate all the fire fighters and EMTs and Medics that get paid.

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Medic09 has 10 years experience as a BSN, RN, EMT-P and specializes in ED, Flight.

1 Article; 441 Posts; 7,024 Profile Views

Interesting post, thanks!

Your insight about volunteering struck a cord with me. We work and live in an area in the American SW which is heavily mixed 'Spanish' (Mexican, Mexican descent, and other Central and South American) and Anglo. We found it almost impossible to get volunteers for the local EMS squad. For the most part, the volunteers were Anglos. Those of us who came from other parts of the country wondered if it is, indeed, a cultural difference. Your post makes me think more about that.

And yes, we are very fortunate for the generally pervasive sense of volunteerism in America!

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