I've done it twice. Dumb story time!
First time: I went to Mexico for a couple weeks during Christmas break last year. There was a construction/dental/medical project going on in a little Mayan village. I was a translator in the medical project. Basically what I did was ask people what was wrong with them, got some basic info, and then told them where to go. I had a hell of a time trying to spell everyone's name right! It was a pretty interesting job. Two of my favorite stories:
1. One day towards the end of the project, a guy came up to me and was telling me how happy he was because the drugs we gave him relieved his pain and he hadn't been pain-free for such a long time. He wanted to know if he could have more because we would never be back to his town again and he didn't have any money to buy more drugs if they even had them at the Dr.'s in the city. He was thanking me like crazy for the pills, but I was just a translator and didn't really do anything.
2. Before we left the town sang us a song. It was in Spanish and they gave us all hand-written translations (in really terrible English...I still don't know who helped them translate). It's hard to describe and it sounds cheesy, but it was a really touching moment.
That was a pretty cool trip. We lived in stick houses with dirt floors and slept in hammocks. We got to keep the hammocks, so that was neat. It was interesting to hear what people's medical problems were. It was usually shoulder pain or knee pain or something like that....not our typical cholesterol/I'm sick because I'm lazy problems. Another interesting yet sadder note: they had a lot more miscarriages. I actually had to ask all of the women how many times they had been pregnant and how many kids they actually had. Not something you'd think to ask every woman around here. Every night the kids would play a different game: soccer, basketball, volleyball, etc. with some of the most beat up balls/equipment you could imagine. Nobody cared because it was still fun. It was like being a kid again. I have more dumb stories, but you get the idea. That trip inspired me to do #2.
Second time: I went to Honduras for 5 weeks doing volunteer stuff. I started out at a children's cancer center. I did that for a week or two, but the place was so poorly organized and there was nothing for me to do, so I moved on to an elementary school to teach English.
English is a funny language....our verbs are so easy! It was pretty interesting....the kids were more interested in hearing stories about America than they were about learning English, but I would have been the same way. I was working with another guy from England and a girl from Canada, so it was a pretty diverse group. Kids are awesome to work with...they have so much energy. I loved recess time because I could just watch the kids running around playing soccer. Before I left there they had a little program for us thanking us for teaching them. We even had pizza. I lived with a family and e-mailed home from McDonald's every day (McInternet...it's free!). It's so hilly there...I wanted my bike! Actually...I first got into cycling as a fundraiser for this trip. It was the "Honduras Endurance Ride," and I rode across Indiana (158 miles). I didn't raise much money, but it was still fun.
I'd love to do another trip again, but I'm out of money for now. Maybe next year.