Volunteering Abroad, Together
CMMB volunteers, Sarah and Martin Rubino, have been serving in Nzara, South Sudan since May of 2018. Sarah serves at St. Therese Hospital as a nurse and midwife, and Martin serves as the lead engineer for the St. Therese Hospital expansion project. In this interview, they share what it’s like to serve as a couple with different skills and career paths, and speak to the challenges and the joys that come with taking on an international volunteer experience, together.
How did you find out about the opportunities with CMMB and what about the organization seemed like a good fit?
It is quite a challenge to find an organization that has opportunities for a clinical/non-clinical couple to work. We both wanted to serve in a developing country, but found it difficult to find an organization that could fully utilize our individual skills. When we found CMMB, it was a perfect fit. For a midwife, the organization stood out because of their focus on women and children. For an engineer, a major hospital expansion project happened to be underway at St. Therese Hospital in Nzara, South Sudan.
Because CMMB has many projects that go beyond the realm of just medical work, we are both able to volunteer in a place that utilizes our potential. The job satisfaction is quite high for both of us, and what we have been given in return, both as individuals and as a couple, has been 10-fold compared to what we have been able to give to the community.
Now that you are in the field and serving, what is the benefit of having each other there?
One of the biggest challenges of working and serving in the field is the fact that everything is stripped away, and all we have left are ourselves. We have no T.V., limited internet, daily power and running water outages, all meals are cooked on a fire, and laundry needs to be hand washed – all we have left is our work and who we are. This is a challenge but, we truly believe it is improving our marriage. We aren’t distracted by creature comforts of screens and “time savers” such as washing machines and microwaves, but are strengthened by the daily tasks that make living in Nzara possible. We are faced head on with who we are individually and what we have to give to our marriage. Volunteering in areas that are underserved strips away all of the masks a person has and what’s left is the true self – all the good and the bad.
For some couples, it might be difficult to see who their partner truly is. It might be even more difficult to see who they are themselves. Despite the challenges that come with seeing this change, in the long run, the bond between a volunteering married couple is strengthened beyond what either can imagine.
How has this experience been different from when you served internationally without your partner?
Serving together has given us a unique support system. We both have experienced the same individual challenges, heartaches, and joys of serving in an underserved part of the world which makes the “alone” feeling of serving and coming back home, much less of a burden. When one of us comes home feeling drained by the day or the week, the other can come in and help with a chore or give reassurance – small acts make a big difference in these situations. It is very easy to give too much when volunteering. There is a risk of becoming overworked, stressed, and even ill from being spread too thin.
Both of us, in our own experiences here in Nzara, struggle to find a balance between giving ourselves, and caring for ourselves so that we can continue to give. As a couple, we are able to help keep each other in check so that we can maximize our skills and talents, and continue to serve the community in the ways that it needs.
How has serving in Nzara impacted your relationship?
We were only married for a little over four months before we jumped into the commitment of serving as volunteers in South Sudan. We were newlyweds just starting out, something that will impact our marriage the rest of our lives. From the beginning of our marriage, volunteering stripped away all of the unnecessary layers of who we were individually, and left us with the pure form of who we are. Having this life altering experience in the beginning of our marriage has set us up for a richer marriage.
Now that you are there, and have seen and experienced things, how have your hopes/ideas/expectations changed or adapted?
Life here in Nzara is filled with joy in its simplicity. Even though daily tasks take much longer then they would in the west, or that we are presented with challenges that we never dreamed would even come up, our marriage and life outlook is far richer. Our ability to be flexible and adapt to a new and ever-changing world has strengthened as a result of our experience. Wherever life takes us in the future, we know that this life of simplicity and service is what we should be striving for.
Do you have any advice or suggestions for couples considering a similar volunteer experience?
Volunteering together may be one of the most challenging things for a couple but, it is also one of the most strengthening things a couple can do for there marriage. It allows a couple to look beyond themselves and to serve globally side-by-side. It is a huge decision to make, but one of the most rewarding experiences that a couple could go through.