Seawolves make health impact abroad

Photos curtesy of Joseph Lurtsema
Photos curtesy of Joseph Lurtsema

As summer fever filled the air, students were itching to leave town and play.  Among the mix was a group of students anxious to travel abroad and dive straight into volunteer work.

Joseph Lurtsema, who is a double major in Natural Sciences and Business, founded the UAA Volunteers Around the World chapter last year. VAW’s mission is to provide medical treatment and health education to less fortunate communities around the world. The organization was proactive and took their first international trip to Guatemala this summer to aid those in need with medical care.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to save all these lives!’ I was this big dreamer. But once you actually do it, it’s such a humbling awe inspiring experience,” VAW President Lurtsema said.

Many members of the organization bring to the table knowledge from their medical backgrounds.

Gary Lose, one of the vice presidents of VAW, recalled zooming down the streets of Guatemala to warn a patient about a near fatal prescription overdose. He said he saved the patient’s life. Lose is a triple major in psychology, natural sciences and nursing.

Kelsey West, another vice president of VAW, said some of the patients with common ailments like a cold suffered for months due to lack of medication. Students were able to aid those patients quickly with the proper medicines and treatments.

“Just 15 minutes of your time to improve the quality of life for someone — I found that really amazing,” West said.

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Many of the members of VAW said they wanted to travel around the world to help the less fortunate medically since they were children.

Lurtsema said his passion for helping others started in the eighth grade when he was bullied. His father taught him how to defend himself, and he has since defended anyone who is bullied. He said he doesn’t want any person to feel like the world is giving up on him or her.

Lose said he was impacted as a child by nurses who cared for his mother. His mother had cancer, and the nurses showed her compassion and care in her final days.

VAW is an international organization with chapters around the United States, New Zealand and Australia. To keep the UAA chapter thriving, Lurtsema said they will host a “Jogathon” event at the Alaska Dome to raise funds. There will also be a soccer camp for children too. The organization scored the reservation at the Dome free of charge for their events. VAW has several internal committees to keep an organized flow.

West said they plan to travel to the Dominican Republic this year and they will continue to travel the world to countries such as the Philippines and Botswana.

VAW has already outreached to high school students in hopes to keep VAW operating on UAA campus in the future.

“One day I want to be able to help every country in the world,” Lurtsema said. “It’s not something I think I’m going to do. It’s something I know I’m going to do.”