Joy Magazine

Goodwill Hunting

A Project Helping Hands volunteer nurse holds a sleeping baby in Haiti in March.Photos courtesy of Doug Peterson

Have you ever watched the television news, witnessed the devastating misfortune of others in some remote part of the globe and wished there was a way you could help besides sending a check?

Ashland's Doug Peterson found a way.

Peterson, who works at Liquid Assets, the wine bar on Ashland's North Main Street, is involved with Project Helping Hands, a nonprofit organization based in Keizer that facilitates humanitarian relief efforts to Third-World countries. In 2010, PHH teams have gone to Haiti, Sudan, Bolivia and elsewhere. In 2011, teams are scheduled to help in Kenya and the Philippines.

Peterson journeyed with PHH to Sudan in 2008 and 2009, and in March of this year he went to offer his help in Haiti.

PHH exists almost entirely due to the efforts of volunteers like Peterson who donate two weeks of their time to balance out the chaos and misery in the world. The organization's motto is "adventure with heart."

PHH founder Jeff Solheim, a registered nurse and author, says their mission statement is simple: "Our goal is to provide quality health care where there is none and to develop locally operated clinics in these locations. And, in addition, provide an unforgettable personal growth opportunity for the volunteer."

It's a goodwill vacation of sorts, but make no mistake — this is serious work. Anyone can volunteer, and although medical experience is desirable, it is not necessary.

"Everybody has skills," says Peterson, who recently returned from two weeks in Sudan.

"I like to communicate and problem-solve until I find a way to make myself useful. And there's always a use. You show up with your plans and ideas, but you have to be ready for change. You have to deal with the situation as it is."

Non-medical duties vary from organizing and maintaining a clinic to the demanding task of triage.

"It's a sea of need," states Peterson. "It can be incredibly stressful. But at the end of the day, you feel like you've made a difference in the world."

Some people walk for days to come to the field clinics, says Peterson. One man came in complaining of a headache. When asked how long he'd had it, he shrugged and said, "Six or seven years."

"We get to go back to the comfort of home," says Peterson, "These people stay here. Their life is day-to-day survival."

Volunteers who travel with PHH teams also find benefit from their selfless acts.

"It changes you," says Jeff Solheim, who tells about a doctor who began volunteering with PHH and now lives in Tanzania full time, devoting his life to working with the locals.

If you feel the need to help others in the world, have two weeks to spare and a sense of adventure, PHH may be the answer. You get to see a part of the world very few people see and interact with locals in ways you wouldn't be able to as a traditional tourist. And the bond that develops among team members and locals transcends language and borders.

To find out more about Project Helping Hands or how to become a volunteer, see

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