Our History

Project Helping Hands (PHH) was started in 1994 by Jeff Solheim as an informal project to send teams of volunteers overseas to provide primary medical services and health education for people who lack access to health care.

PHH Founder and Executive Director Jeff Solheim


The Dakotana Fund was formed in 1998 with the purpose of establishing a non-profit organization through which donated supplies and equipment (primarily medical in nature) could be given directly to individuals and organizations that served vulnerable populations in developing nations. In addition the Dakotana Fund was to be an organization that provided a channel through which interested individuals could volunteer to help meet the needs of the world’s poorest populations.

When the Dakotana Fund obtained official non-profit 501(c)(3) status in 1999, Project Helping Hands became a program within the Dakotana Fund. Initially teams went only to Bolivia. Now PHH sends teams to Bolivia, Haiti, Kenya, Liberia, Sudan, Uganda, the Philippines and beginning in 2013 Peru. The name "Dakotana Fund" has now been changed to Project Helping Hands. The organization’s funding has come entirely from volunteers who pay for the cost of their trips, or donate money. Medicines, supplies and equipment are donated by team members, private individuals and organizations.

Project Helping Hands regularly organizes and executes volunteer trips that may be of medical, surgical, dental, or educational focus. Since its founding, PHH has organized and sent more than 80 medical and education teams (including more than 650 volunteers) to serve various countries around the world, including: Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Kenya, Liberia, Sudan, and Uganda. As we identify partners in developing nations, we recruit volunteers for teams to serve those countries and teams to continue to serve countries with existing relationships. 

Over the past ninteen years PHH volunteers have:

  • Treated and provided preventive health education for more than 100,000 patients
  • Provided health education and training for thousands of local health care providers
  • Performed more than 60 surgical procedures
  • Pulled more than 30,000 decayed teeth
  • Fluoridated 10,000 more teeth
  • Distributed more than 15,000 pairs of glasses
  • Collected and distributed medical and pharmaceutical supplies valued at more than $2.6 billion

Until 2008, PHH was a very small organization that organized only one to three medical teams per year. In the past four years PHH has grown dramatically. In 2012 more than 160 volunteers joined 13 teams to serve 6 countries. Prior to 2010 PHH was also completely volunteer-run. In 2010 a Program Director was hired and in 2011 a Director of Operations was hired.