Worldwide - Marie Davis, RN, vividly remembers her first volunteer team with Medical Teams International. The year: 1984. The place: Ethiopia. "It was my first time overseas," she says. "Talk about shock." Davis lived in a tent infested with fleas and worked intensely as the camp grew from 3,500 people to 35,000 in just weeks.
Photo courtesy of Marie Davis
- Marie Davis, RN, vividly remembers her first volunteer team with Medical Teams International. The year: 1984. The place: Ethiopia. “It was my first time overseas,” she says. “Talk about shock.” Davis lived in a tent infested with fleas and worked intensely as the camp grew from 3,500 people to 35,000 in just weeks.
“I remember the pilot saying, ‘Look over there,’ as we flew into the Ethiopian refugee camp.” There, stretching into the horizon, Davis witnessed a line of thousands descending upon the feeding camp. Fathers and mothers had walked for days in search of food, water and medical assistance.
“They carried dead children on their backs and dragged toddlers behind them, barely able to walk themselves,” she says.
The need was indescribable. “I started to pray at that moment and didn’t stop for six weeks,” Davis says.
For more than a month, this young nurse from Oregon, with a husband and two young daughters at home, cared for hundreds of desperate refugees. “We had kids dying left and right from malaria, cholera, meningitis. But amidst the need, we saw how much good we could do.”
42 medical missions in 24 years
“It is human nature to want to save lives,” says Davis. “Life is so precious and once you see that you can help, you’re caught.”
24 years and 42 volunteer medical missions later, Davis is still completely dedicated to her work overseas. She’s amassed hundreds of stories about the people she’s met and worked with over the years. Some are still alive today because of her. Others have not been so lucky. But their memory lives on in her stories, which she tells gladly and often to friends and family.
“This work is so rewarding,” Davis says. “Sometimes you can see life returning to the face of a child within minutes of treatment.”
Like Beatrice in Liberia who recovered from severe dehydration and malaria just a week after her treatment began. Or a nine-year-old orphan named Daniel who had dysentery and came to our mobile medical clinic for medicine.
“These are not heroic stories, they are small victories,” Davis says. “I had the privilege of being in the right place at the right time with the right medicines.”
Some of her fondest memories originate in countries with a brutal history. It is hard to fathom a mother of two leaving for weeks at a time to work on the frontlines in a war zone. For Davis, the option to not go has, well, never really been an option.
“For me and for everyone working in humanitarian relief, the desire to go and serve is always stronger than our desire to go home,” she says.
Davis and her husband, Curt, have passed along this dedication to their two daughters, now grown and working in the nursing profession themselves.
She’s also dedicated to instilling the same passion for service in her grandchildren. They spent their spring break in 2007 working alongside Oaxacan families in Mexico, laying a waterline so the remote village would have access to running water.
“My grandchildren are so blessed to live in a country with food, medicine and safety,” says Davis. “It is our responsibility is to listen for the call and respond as we can.”
Now 62, Davis is a seasoned humanitarian aid worker—her total volunteer service hours add up to more than three years of full-time work. She continues to travel extensively. Next year, she plans to return to Sudan for the first time since the 80s, this time to serve Sudanese families caught up in the Darfur conflict.
Growing in faith
Davis’ work in such extreme and intense situations has helped her “faith grow by leaps and bounds,” she says. Her relationships with staff and volunteers have also been filled with acceptance, pure love and so many “examples of Christ’s hands and feet at work.”
“It has been a good life, a wonderful journey,” she says. “It’s my greatest hope to continue this work well past retirement. With God’s help and organizations like Medical Teams International, perhaps this hope can become a reality.”