Due to the extreme poverty in most parts of India, healthcare is not accessible to the majority of the population. Most people never get any type of treatment for life threatening diseases such as malaria, typhoid and tuberculosis. The lack of clean water, immunizations, proper nutrition and overall cleanliness contribute to the growing number of sick. Free clinics have been put in slum areas to provide basic checkups to those in need. However, most of the population still isn’t educated well enough on basic hygiene and health, making it even more difficult to ensure everyone has proper healthcare. In addition to all of this, there are just not enough doctors to cover the massive population. Most doctors see over a hundred patients a day and that still is not nearly enough.
For my Haney Fellowship, I traveled to Faridabad, India for three weeks to take part in a medical volunteer program. This project is run by “Plan My Gap Year,” a travel organization that plans volunteer trips to over 17 countries around the world. I chose this particular placement because I plan to study in a medical related field during college. I also love to travel, make new friends and experience different cultures; this program seemed to be a perfect match.
After researching about the city I would be spending the majority of my time in, I was inspired by what I could do to help but also a little nervous for my upcoming journey.
Nothing could have prepared me for the reality of what I was about to experience. The culture shocks began as soon as I stepped out of the airport.Before departing, I knew that Delhi wasn’t an ideal, relaxing vacation destination, and that Faridabad in particular, was run down and in severe poverty. However, nothing could have prepared me for the reality of what I was about to experience. The culture shocks began as soon as I stepped out of the airport. Taxi drivers yelled to me, pretending to be my designated driver and take me with them. This was a jolting wake up call that reminded me I was really on my own here. I didn’t have a parent or even someone that spoke the same language as me to make sure I was going with the right driver.
The culture shocks continued on the ride to the volunteer house. There was trash everywhere, and I mean literally everywhere. We passed by a strange looking mountain that after a double take, I realized was all trash. As surprising as this was, it made sense seeing as Faridabad is the second most polluted city in the world.
You couldn’t see the sun either. Smog, from the burning trash piles, covered the skyline.Animals lined the streets, from stray dogs to hogs and cows. Most children didn’t have on any clothes and were covered in dirt. Houses were made of a few sticks and plastic bags found on the roadside. You couldn’t see the sun either. Smog, from the burning trash piles, covered the skyline.
The volunteer house had just the very basics of living. There were three main rooms, each on a different level of the house, that had six-eight beds in them. Bathrooms had a small sink, “western style” toilet and shower all in the same area. Water squeegees were used to move the water into the drain so we weren’t stepping in puddles when brushing our teeth.
There was plastic fencing and sheets over where the windows would go to keep out dust and the monkeys at night.There were water coolers on each floor to fill bottles with because tap water wasn’t clean and could only be used for showering and hand washing. There was plastic fencing and sheets over where the windows would go. This was to keep out dust and the monkeys at night. It took a week or so to adjust to this living style but after a while, I didn’t think twice about it. The heat, however, was something nobody could adjust to. The low in the middle of the night was 95 degrees. During the day it would reach up to 115 degrees. It was a constant cycle of sweating and showering and then sweating some more. Fans in the house were only allowed on during the night to keep us cooler when trying to sleep. Too much electricity was used by them during the day so we would lose power in the whole house for multiple days before the problem could be fixed.
The volunteer house was filled with friendly people of all ages, from many countries and working on various projects there. The majority of volunteers were between 17 and 24. However, some were much older. I made friends with volunteers from Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Scotland, Hong Kong, England and many other places. I was fortunate enough to meet a few fellow Americans that shared my nostalgia for Panera and Ben & Jerry’s. Most volunteers were on the medical project, but others worked in women empowerment and English teaching.
Every night we would sign up for our placement for the next day. By the end of my three weeks, I had the opportunity to work on every medical placement and a few on other projects. One of the medical options was to shadow a doctor at a hospital. We sat in on his morning consults, read over patient charts and learned how to vital signs such as blood pressure and breathing sounds. Then we would make rounds with him. First we would go to the ICU to be briefed on each patient in the room and ask questions about their cases. Next we would go across the street to the other section of the hospital where most admitted patients were housed. This is where we saw diseases such as malaria and typhoid. Another placement option was “medical camp.” This was where we would set up a table on the side of the street for people to get a basic checkup for free. Each day would be in a new location so more people could have the opportunity to be treated. We learned how to ask the patients their name, age and symptoms in Hindi. This interaction gave both of us an opportunity to practice communicating in each other’s languages.
I was able to scrub in on a femur repair, wrist repair, humerus repair, C section and a natural birth. As interesting as these surgeries were, they were very hard to watch. Most of the patients can’t afford full anesthesia so they would still be half conscious during the surgery. Then they would have their blood pressure and blood sugar taken. Finally, the doctor who was with us would prescribe them medications which we would measure out and give directions for in Hindi. We could also volunteer in the “Slum Clinic.”.There was a doctor, OB-GYN, optometrist and pharmacist here. People could come for a free exam or basic treatment and medication. We watched the doctors and helped them with blood pressure and dressing wounds. Other places we could shadow were in pediatrics, ultra sound and surgeries. I was able to scrub in on a femur repair, wrist repair, humerus repair, C section and a natural birth. For as interesting as these surgeries were, they were very hard to watch. Most of the patients can’t afford full anesthesia so they would still be half conscious during the surgery. They would kick and yell but that was their best and sometimes only option. The treatment of the patients, specifically the women, was like nothing I had seen before. They were hit during surgery if they made a noise while the procedure was going on. Doctors are not allowed to reveal the gender of the baby to the mother until it has been delivered. This law has been put in place to end female feticide. Women and children were told their symptoms weren’t severe enough to even receive a checkup. Most of the time, they were written a prescription without any type of exam or tests. We would then see the same patients back at the hospital a week later with worsened symptoms because the medications were incorrect and didn’t help.
In addition to all of the medical placements I went to, I also worked on other projects. There was an orphanage next to the volunteer house that we could hang out in. There were seven boys who loved the company. One night we took them out to see Incredibles 2 and eat at KFC; they had a blast! I worked in a few other orphanages where I taught basic English. The little girls loved having me braid their hair. The kids loved to play on Snapchat and look through our photos to see what our lives were like. Seeing their smiles made all of the tough parts about the trip completely worth it.
The kids loved to play on Snapchat and look through our photos to see what our lives were like. Seeing their smiles made all of the tough parts about the trip completely worth it. I worked in a disabled school one day where we played with a group of ten people from age two to 45 with varying disabilities. One little boy in particular melted my heart. He was dropped off at the school as a newborn baby because his parents couldn’t take care of him with his disability. He is now three years old and doing well. He loved to give lots of hugs and snuggles!
On the weekends when there was no volunteer placement, we could travel and see different parts of the country. On the first weekend I was there, a group of volunteers and I went to Jaipur to see the “Pink City” where all the buildings were a salmon pink color. This city was also home to the Amber Fort and City Palace. The next day we rode elephants through the streets of Rajasthan and fed them bananas. On the way home we went to the Taj Mahal which was even more breathtaking than I imagined.
The following weekend, three friends and I traveled to Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world. This city is set in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains. Our first day here we took a yoga class and went to a lotus flower ceremony on the Ganges River. The next day we traveled up in the heart of the mountains for zip lining. On my last weekend in India, I did some local traveling in Delhi. I saw the Lotus Temple, Akshardham, India Gate, Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Humayun’s Tomb.
My trip was life changing to say the least. It was both the best yet toughest thing I have ever done. There were so many cultural changes that you eventually adapt to and learn to love. We often forget how lucky we are to have clean water and a roof over our heads. I have been given a new outlook life and huge appreciation for all I have, especially a great Abbey education. I can’t thank the Haney family and Portsmouth Abbey enough for this eye opening opportunity. I am eternally grateful for this humbling experience.