As far back as her memory stretches, Dr. Julie Spaniel has roamed the world; a global citizen raised on a steady stream of far-away places and varied cultures.
It’s not surprising the daughter of an airline pilot who grew up to be a dentist puzzled her twin passions of travel and service into a non-profit organization that provides remote care on two continents and is now building a school in Kenya.
“We go to very rural areas where there’s no access to medicine. They have no supplies. We have to pack everything in. Medicine, anesthetics, we bring everything with us,” said Spaniel, the founder and executive director of One World Brigades.
The international service organization, formerly known as Summerwood Dental Brigades after her Tigard/Tualatin-based dental practice, leads volunteer trips to Africa and Latin America for dental, undergraduate and high school students.
It’s an ever-evolving continuation of the work Spaniel began in dental school, first donating her time and skills domestically for the Cherokee nation.
And the profound experience is as life-altering for some of the volunteers as it is for the communities they serve.
“It fills a part of your soul and heart that you didn’t realize was empty,” Alyssa Duckworth said.
Duckworth, a Dental Assistant in Spaniel’s office, worked in Uganda with the organization in early 2020, and traveled again with Spaniel on a recent trip to Honduras.
It was the second of two volunteer journeys in three months for Spaniel. She visited Uganda and Kenya earlier this summer, taking books and monetary donations she’d collected to help line the shelves of Gilisho Freedom Academy, a still-evolving school she’s building in the Masai Mara region of Kenya near Nairobi.
“100 percent of donations go directly to the people,” she said.
The project is a collaboration between One World Brigades and the school’s co-founders, Josphat Gilisho and Anita Muldoon, the American woman who first helped Gilisho realize his vision.
Last summer, Spaniel and her team of volunteers engineered a new water source uphill from the school that will supply its water, filling future tilapia ponds and irrigating gardens as it travels from its source to the campus.
She aims to create a sustainable system that will eventually produce enough to keep students and staff fed.
“I’m putting in Tilapia fishponds. I’m putting in gardens to feed the students, so as the water filters down, it can produce food,” she said. “We’re doing a chicken, cow, and goat fundraiser, so they have milk, so they have eggs, so they can make cheese from the goat’s milk.”
She modeled the project on another non-profit, Kenya Partners, that developed a K-12 boarding school, multiple pre-schools, and a 24-hour clinic a few hours north of Nairobi, after conferring with its founder, Diane Hamrick.
Hamrick, now in her 80s, is a family friend who spearheaded the project, then enlisted sponsors to cover the tuition for students who are orphaned or whose families can’t afford the cost, about half the school’s population.
The Gilisho Campus now has four simple classrooms and a small playground serving pre-kindergarten to second-grade students. They’ll continue to expand with additional classrooms year by year as the oldest students progress.
Ultimately, the team plans to develop Gilisho into a boarding school with girls’ and boys’ dorms and a community center that can double as a medical/dental clinic.
“This year, we’re citing out a spot to build a multipurpose community center,” Spaniel said. “We built the first two school rooms for $7,000. Now we need desks, supplies, and chalk. Through generous donations, in 2021, we built a rainwater capture system on the property, providing clean drinking water. About $65,000 would build the whole center.”
While there’s plenty of room to expand on Gilisho’s 10-acre property, the number of students who can attend remains limited by a lack of roads connecting the villages peppered through this rural region.
“There are well over 1,000 families in small communities [that the school would serve], but there aren’t roads to all of these people,” she said.
Spaniel, who leads multiple volunteer stops throughout Africa and Latin America every year, also ran free dental clinics – the genesis of her visits – during the One World Brigade’s two weeks in Kenya.
Participants pay about $5,500 and cover the cost of their flights for an all-inclusive “voluntour” experience that has them assisting in the clinic or helping with construction before relaxing with a private wildlife safari tour on the savannah.
She’ll return to Kenya in March 2023, followed by trips to Honduras in the summer and Uganda in the fall.
To learn more or to make a donation to One World Brigades, visit: oneworldbrigades.org/donate.