Interview with Merith Basey: AYUDA

Most of you who read this blog already know that I am extremely passionate about diabetes around the world. You may not know, however, that education is another enthusiasm of mine. Several years ago I was on track to be a teacher, but my path changed slightly, and I came to London to study international development and eventually started T1International. Through the blog I have been able to meet many inspiring people that have taught me a lot about global diabetes and have really encouraged and supported me in my pursuits. One of those people is Merith Basey. I cannot say enough wonderful things about Merith, but the focus of this post is her work with an organization called AYUDA.

The interview that follows is a long time coming, as AYUDA was one of the first organizations on my list to feature on the blog because of its wonderful vision and mission. It took nearly a year, but the exciting news is that the timing of this feature actually couldn’t be better because I am taking part in the life-changing experience of AYUDA this summer. The programme perfectly incorporates my commitments to both education and bettering access and care for everyone with diabetes.

I will go to the Dominican Republic in June to support AYUDA’s local partner organization, Aprendiendo a Vivir. Together, we will organize programmes for young people with diabetes (and their families) to promote leadership and motivate them to lead healthier and happier lives. For some new members, it will be their first experience receiving diabetes education and meeting other people living with diabetes. Please visit my fundraising page and consider making a small donation. I have a significant amount of money to raise, but it’s for the really important cause that you will read about below. And without the support of volunteers the education programmes AYUDA delivers wouldn’t be possible. The camps provide a long-term, grassroots impact on many people, so truly every small donation counts!

If you don’t already know about AYUDA, this is a great introduction to the organization. Even if you do, you may learn something new about why the programme exists or what benefits it has on participants both in-country and those visiting. Thanks so much to Merith for introducing me to AYUDA and for taking the time to educate readers about it through the below interview. Merith has been planning and organizing the summer programmes in multiple diabetes communities for almost a decade!

Merith and José Antonio Lopez

Merith Basey with José Antonio Lopez, Founder and President of AYUDA’s partner organization, Aprendiendo A Vivir (Photo by cpluncreative.com)

Can you tell readers a bit about AYUDA, how AYUDA was founded, and its mission?
AYUDA (American Youth Understanding Diabetes Abroad) is a US-based non-profit organization that was established in 1997 with the vision that youth can serve as agents of change in diabetes communities around the world. AYUDA is dedicated to working with local diabetes communities to develop and implement sustainable diabetes programmes throughout the world, with its initial focus emerging out of Latin America.

The organization was established by two young teenagers who were greatly impacted by the story of their Ecuadorian friend who, despite having access to medicine and doctors (unlike many others in the country), was struggling to manage his Type 1 diabetes. He struggled because of a lack of understandable education and support. This story lead to a trip to Quito, Ecuador, where the teenagers quickly realized that, as youth themselves, they could have a greater influence on other young people with diabetes in a way that their doctors, parents or others were less able to do. Today, AYUDA has run diabetes education programmes and projects in over 10 different countries – using this youth to youth education model.

The below video gives you a sense of one of the AYUDA programmes:

How is the programme funded?
Since AYUDA is fundamentally a volunteer-based organization, led by a small staff, a considerable burden is placed on our volunteers to fundraise. The funds raised by our volunteers directly cover a percentage of our in-country project costs as well as the volunteer’s extensive orientation and training. Without our volunteers AYUDA would be unable to deliver the services it provides to our in-country partners. Volunteer fundraising is complemented by additional year round fundraising and several AYUDA grants to keep the programmes running.

Can you go into a bit more detail about the training that volunteers receive?
Pre-programme training is well established at AYUDA. The purpose of the AYUDA Volunteer Training Programme is to prepare AYUDA volunteers to serve as agents of change in the diabetes communities where they will volunteer. The programme offers a comprehensive, culturally aware, and well-received approach to diabetes education, social entrepreneurship, and leadership training. Our training is carried out via three different approaches: an online e-course training, which begins almost immediately after volunteers are accepted and runs 10 weeks; an intense weekend in-person training course in Washington DC (at AYUDA’s headquarters) in March; and in-country training before and during the programme.

AYUDA volunteers and Campo Amigo campers (Photo by Ashley Jo Ernst)

AYUDA volunteers and Campo Amigo campers (Photo by Ashley Jo Ernst)

There’s nothing out there quite like AYUDA that gives people specific diabetes experience abroad. Why do you think it’s important that a programme like AYUDA exists?
Our programmes have a dual impact – on the local diabetes communities we serve and also on our volunteers. Peer to peer education is not a new concept but it is certainly an impactful one. The benefits of having youth volunteers in-country, working together with local youth leaders to inspire others to better manage their health through dynamic educational activities disguised as games and encouraging others to become leaders in their community, are endless. Often the presence alone of our youth volunteers living healthy with diabetes can have a major impact. Many families of children with diabetes in the countries we work cannot believe that some of the team have been living with diabetes for more than 20 years without complications. We provide hope and proof that you can lead a long and healthy life with diabetes with the appropriate access to diabetes education, care and support.

Also, on average about 50% of our volunteers are living with diabetes themselves. Often they share that prior to AYUDA they had never really put their diabetes in a global context and were unaware of the realities that people with diabetes experience outside their own health system.

Campers play an educational game (Photo by Ashley Jo Ernst)

Campers play an educational game (Photo by Ashley Jo Ernst)

AYUDA focuses on Education as a priority – can you tell me a bit more about this?
One of AYUDA’s guiding principles is ‘A lack of education is just as dangerous as a lack of insulin’. While there are access issues in terms of diabetes supplies for some of the people we support in country, access to diabetes education is a major issue. The diabetes education camps and other activities we provide in conjunction with our local partners provide children and youth with Type 1 diabetes and their families the opportunity to improve many of the basic skills for diabetes management as well as come to terms with other concerns surrounding the diagnosis. These sessions are typically followed up in ongoing education activities by local youth leaders and partner organizations.

Campers make drawings of appropriate injection sites (Photo by Ashley Jo Ernst)

Campers make drawings of good injection sites (Photo by Ashley Jo Ernst)

Is there anything else you want readers to know about AYUDA?
AYUDA is a unique organization that makes a difference in the lives of many young people living with diabetes and their families. It also aims to empower young people to become agents of social change through intense training and a life-changing in-country experience. It is an opportunity for anyone interested in diabetes, public health, Spanish, Latin America (and many other things) to get hands-on experience with a local grassroots organization.

For more about AYUDA and how to volunteer in 2014 programmes in the Dominican Republic and Haiti check out www.ayudainc.net.  The deadline for summer 2014 applications is Jan 26th, 2014.

AYUDA volunteers bond with campers (Photo by Ashley Jo Ernst)

AYUDA volunteers and campers (Photo by Ashley Jo Ernst)

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2 thoughts on “Interview with Merith Basey: AYUDA

  1. Pingback: Diabetes in the DR: Interview with Aprendiendo A Vivir | T1International

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