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Adventures in Volunteering: The Crawford Family Story

Drs. Glen Crawford and Suzanne Abkowitz Crawford have been volunteering with HVO’s orthopaedic project in Tanzania since its beginning. They discovered HVO when an HVO volunteer presented a lecture on volunteering and teaching to Dr. Crawford’s senior residency cohort. Both he and Dr. Abkowtiz Crawford were interested in travel and teaching medicine and felt that a volunteer trip to teach abroad was the perfect opportunity at that stage in their lives. They packed all their possessions into a storage unit and headed to Indonesia for three and a half months on assignment with their one- and three-year-old children.  

“Looking back on it, it seems kind of crazy to have done, but it was a wonderful experience and it started us on a life-long love of volunteering and adventures together,” says Dr. Crawford. It went so well that the family decided to continue their life of international travel. They were drawn to Tanzania because Dr. Crawford had spent a year studying wildlife at the University of Dar es Salaam between college and medical school and had even studied Swahili. At the end of medical school in 1985, the couple returned together for a three-month elective rotation at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center (KCMC) in Moshi, Tanzania. After volunteer trips with HVO in Indonesia, Bhutan, South Africa, and Vietnam, it seemed natural to return to Tanzania. In 2008, the family traveled back to KCMC to conduct a site assessment, and soon after HVO opened an orthopaedic project there.  

The Crawfords returned almost every year, taking their children with them. They have seen sweeping changes over the years. Dr. Crawford notes that when they were at KCMC during medical school, there were no orthopaedic surgeons at the hospital. When they returned with HVO in 2008, there were four surgeons and three residents. Now, there are twenty residents and a well-established curriculum. When they began their volunteer assignments, the department had limited equipment. Dr. Abkowitz Crawford was also a volunteer with the International Medical Equipment Collaborative (IMEC) and through her connection was able, over the years, to have seven large containers of medical equipment sent to KCMC, helping to substantially increase the ability of local physicians to provide life changing patient care. The Crawfords and other volunteers have been helpful in providing guidance on the new equipment: “HVO volunteers have been critical in teaching the orthopedists there how to use the equipment they now have as well as teaching general orthopedic knowledge. The attending physicians are quite busy with administrative duties and the residents truly appreciate the volunteers’ teaching efforts.” 

When asked what he feels has most improved over his years of teaching, Dr. Crawford responded, “I think the biggest improvement has been how technology has allowed for improvements in medical care and especially in teaching. The residents and orthopedic surgeons have instant access to information that used to take hours to look up in books, if they were available.” 

The Crawfords are unique in that they have shared their volunteer experiences with their children: “Traveling with the family has been the best part of our volunteering. Our children have met people from all over the world and made long-term friendships…It has made them much more accepting of people from other cultures, religions, and ethnic backgrounds.” 

 Dr. Crawford’s advice to future volunteers is, “[I]f you have any inclination to work with Health Volunteers Overseas- take advantage of it. We all feel we are important and vital in our jobs, but it is amazing how well our practices can adapt when we are away. I also would encourage anyone to bring children along as it really does make them better citizens of the world.” 

A huge thank you to the Crawford family for their many years of dedication to HVO’s mission.

Dr. Crawford made a video about his family’s volunteer work and travels. You can watch it here on YouTube, or on the video player below: