Sporting a jaunty new moustache that he grew especially to support the Movember Foundation (more on that later), Joshua Witt is happy to discuss his biggest volunteer undertaking this year — a 10-day trip to Sierra Leone, West Africa, to help an American team of doctors and nurses deliver health care.
Joshua Witt and Lauren Harning took part in a medical mission last October to Sierra Leone, West Africa.
Witt took time off in October from his job as environmental health program manager for UCLA’s Office of Environment, Health and Safety to go on the trip, organized through Lighthouse Medical Missions
, which serves the sick and dying in impoverished and war-torn communities in Africa. Joining Witt was his girlfriend, Lauren Harning, a clinical specialist with UCLA’s Rehabilitation Services. Harning applied her skills as an exercise physiologist, while Witt — who admits to having no medical skills — volunteered to do whatever he could to help keep the Mahara Village clinic running smoothly.
“I spent my time scribing for the doctors, which means I basically wrote down everything they were saying, working with the interpreter, how they would fill the prescriptions,” Witt said, adding that he handled “even the ‘fun’ tasks, like taking out the garbage! I tried to manage the facility as best I could.”
Villagers crowd the Mahara Village medical clinic.
Being continents away from home was nothing new to Witt, an experienced traveler. What made him most nervous, he said, was the fear of being unprepared to meet the needs of local residents visiting the clinic. “The biggest thing was just pressure to be the best you could be while you’re over there,” he said. “You see people lining up outside the door, and you want to help as many as you can, to be really efficient.”
In November, having returned from that mission, Witt grew his moustache to support the Movember Foundation
, which raises funds for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and LIVESTRONG
(the Lance Armstrong Foundation). To bring attention to men’s cancers, the foundation has a campaign that asks men to start off the month of November clean-shaven and end the month sporting a “Mo” — slang for moustache in Australia, where the movement began.
“What made me passionate about this campaign is that my father had some medical issues, one of them being prostate cancer,” Witt explained. “This is my opportunity to raise awareness, tell the story and convince guys to keep prostate cancer in the forefront of thinking about their medical issues.”
Witt’s efforts also reach back to Westwood, where he served for two years in a row as a task captain for UCLA's Volunteer Day, helping introduce thousands of new students to volunteer opportunities throughout Los Angeles. A little charity — even from a single individual — goes a long way, he firmly believes.
“Not everyone is going to have the same power (to promote large-scale change) as the Gates Foundation,” Witt said. “But if you make a small dent, and you put your passion into that, you may change someone’s life. That can make a difference, and it can snowball from there.”
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