Click to View Latest IssueClick to View Latest Issue

Medical Missions Foundation: Life-Changing Service and Connection

By  0 Comments

My first mission experience as a volunteer for Medical Missions Foundation, or MMF, was in September 2005. I packed my bags and boarded a plane out of KCI with approximately 40 other volunteers headed to Botosani, Romania, a remote community in the northeastern part of the country. At that time my daughters were 3, 5 and 13 and I was terribly nervous to leave them. I had been told by so many MMF volunteers that this would be a life-changing experience, unlike any other volunteer experience I had ever had. While I had the full support of my family, I wondered if it was selfish of me to travel halfway around the world to help children while I had three of my own at home. I knew it would positively impact my life, but looking at my three-year-old daughter sleeping, I wondered how it would impact her life.

In 2021, Medical Missions Foundation will celebrate 25 years of sending teams of volunteer doctors, nurses and support staff to provide surgical and medical care to underserved communities around the world. Their mission is to provide surgical and medical care to positively impact the lives of children and their families. Women and children make up approximately 75 percent of those served by MMF in countries such as Panama, India, Guatemala, Vietnam, Mali and the Philippines.

That first mission to Romania was overwhelming in so many wonderful ways. The first day I worked as a floater in the clinic at the children’s hospital, a four-story, sandblasted building. The halls were packed with families who had traveled great distances, either by foot or horse-drawn cart, as well as toddlers who had walked hand in hand from an orphanage just down the street. There were no waiting rooms with televisions or iPads to play games, or air-conditioning despite the oppressive August heat. Mothers with two or three little ones in tow stood patiently, often for hours, with not so much as a whimper of impatience, which, if it happened, was usually corrected with a stern look or the yank of the arm. They were all there for the chance to see the American doctors.

Between the stoic faces and the language barrier, it was almost hard to connect. I used to think I was a “tough” mom, but these moms had a tough life, one I couldn’t begin to relate to. It was really overwhelming, so much so I decided I needed a break. As I snaked my way through the crowded hallway, I paused to peer into the surgical waiting room. At that very moment a mom, about my age, was handing her toddler to one of the nurses for surgery. The little girl was terrified, crying uncontrollably and holding onto her mother as if her life depended upon it. A translator tried his best to calm them both, but finally the nurse broke free and whisked the girl out of the room. Then as this strong mom turned to take a seat, she looked up at me with tears streaming down her face. That’s when I realized why I was there. I might not have been able to relate to that stoic Romanian mom, but I knew this scared, worried mom very well. I sat with her for three hours holding her hand, shedding my own tears and lending her my shoulder, until her daughter emerged from surgery. 

I have been on four other missions since that first trip to Romania. That same scene has played out time and time again. The circumstances and languages are different, but the connection is the same. Each time it reminds me of how strong we women are and how motherhood transcends borders and cultures and races. It’s a testament to the impact Medical Missions Foundation has beyond the vital medical services they deliver. Their work transforms the lives of the communities they serve as well as the lives of those who provide the service. I know it’s made me a better woman and a better mom. My most recent mission was to Uganda last September. This time my daughters were 17, 19 and 27. When I told them it was still hard to leave them, they told me I need to go, that it was important to go. That’s when I realized my experience had truly been life-changing for us all.

To learn more about MMF, please visit

Written by: Nancy Chartrand