After graduating in the United Kingdom in 2015 as a midwife, Lara Zestic was eager to make a difference in the world. She decided to do this by devoting the first nine months of 2016 to overseas humanitarian work.
In January 2016, she arrived at a rural village in Thailand, ready to volunteer at a children’s home where approximately 60 children lived. This home also operated the only ambulance service in the remote village and a small clinic that offered free-of-charge services and medicine for the villagers.
“At first I felt out of place,” says Zestic. “I couldn’t speak the language, the scenery was all so different and there were mosquitoes and lizards sleeping next to me.” Her bed was a suspended bamboo floor and rice became the common staple at every meal. But she gradually began to feel a sense of contentment and peace, believing she was there for a reason.
During her time in Thailand, Zestic had the opportunity to visit an even more remote village, accessible only by a small boat and then a journey on foot. This village had no nurses or qualified medical professionals to carry out health examinations and Zestic’s assistance was needed with a pregnant woman who had just gone into labour. Zestic was able to swiftly examine the woman, however the woman was still in the early stages of labour. Unfortunately Zestic’s visit to that village ended before the baby arrived.
Having trained as a midwife in a country where maternal assistance is taken for granted, Zestic was extremely reluctant to leave this woman to give birth alone. There was no trained maternity care available and they were days away from any hospital or clinic that could help the young mother in case of any birthing complications. Zestic was struck by the fact that this woman’s situation was only one of myriads around the world where women are left to give birth without medical help, and it left an impression on her heart.
As she left the village, Zestic was determined to return the following year, specifically planning to provide the residents with basic health education and checks, as well as help to care for pregnant women. She didn’t have a clear outline of how she would accomplish this, but decided to keep the matter in prayer.
Following her time in Thailand, Zestic’s next volunteering stint was in Greece, spending three months in a clinic that served 650 refugees. During her time in Greece, Zestic became friends with a fellow volunteer, a young Greek-Australian man named Theodore Dimitriou. She shared with him her intentions to return to Thailand and help the village residents there. At the time, Dimitriou was in the midst of completing his university degree and had previously been impressed to give the year to God’s service, however he didn’t have a clear vision of what that would look like. But as he worked with the refugees in Greece, he felt a sense of fulfilment in being able to share God’s love in a real and practical way and a desire to reach more people with this method grew in his heart.
As Zestic and Dimitriou continued working together, their friendship began to grow and eventually they began a relationship. Realising they had similar passions for helping the less fortunate, they began to discuss what their future might hold.
“As we prayed together, discussed possibilities and communicated with contacts Lara had made the previous year, doors opened and opportunities began to appear before us,” says Dimitriou.
They decided to return to Thailand in 2017, focusing their attention on reaching the Karen people, a highly marginalised and persecuted tribe from northeast Myanmar.
“We have various projects in villages within close proximity to the Burmese border in Thailand, in a village within Myanmar and in a medical missionary training school, which focuses on services to the Karen in the north of Myanmar,” says Dimitriou. “We are providing services in basic public health and hygiene workshops, including general medical care, women’s health and maternity care education.”
“As a midwife, I can tell you that birth is something extremely important and extremely special,” says Zestic. “If you’ve ever given birth or been part of a birth, you will remember that day for the rest of your life. We want to provide women in these remote villages with a birth that’s going to stay in their memory as a good experience.”
Recently engaged, Dimitriou and Zestic decided to create a Facebook page so that their friends and family could follow their projects and journeys while they were overseas. They began receiving unexpected donations of medical supplies and equipment, as well as financial support. This Facebook page has become “Dare to Care”—a non-profit ministry where all equipment and financial donations go toward their work with the Karen people.
“We believe that this kind of ministry is highly relevant, in this time, to reach the hearts of those who might not be otherwise reached,” said Dimitriou. “As Christians, we are to offer a better narrative to the world. Of the Karen people, women are the most marginalised. Almost immediately after birth, they are often required to do vigorous manual labour. We have already seen one woman with extended bleeding after her birth due to inadequate recovery, starting manual work a day after giving birth. Therefore we believe that our work in assisting with the needs of the Karen, with a particular focus on women, is a highly needed and effective method with which to reach the hearts of these people.”