**Sorry for the length of this post…I had a lot to say. Read and be inspired J**
For the winter holiday break, I had a little over a month off to do just about anything. Unlike the other Fulbright ETAs who went to exotic places like Goa (the Hawai’i of India), Thailand or Sri Lanka, I spent my break volunteering. I opted to pursue an HIV/AIDs health project in Rajasthan (East India) with an organization that supports women and children who are discriminated against because they have HIV/AIDs.
|Learn more about Aashray Care Home!|
I was specifically working with the organizations’ care home for HIV affected and infected children called the Aashray Care Home (ACH). I lived in that house along with three women, two of which re HIV+, and thirty children. Of the thirty children, twenty-seven are HIV+ and twenty are orphans. The mothers of the children who were not orphaned lived in a separate care home designated for women with HIV.
For the duration of my time, I was in charge of distributing medicine to the children twice a day, helping the women cook and clean, I accompanied the children whenever they needed to go to the hospital, and I facilitated English and health workshops. Majority of the kids in the home had poor English. Thus, I gave lessons on naming body parts in English and how to tell someone (i.e volunteers) something hurts. There’s only one lady managing the care home. She really depends on volunteers to fulfil errands for the kids. When I was there, I was very important because her son was going through treatment for his leukaemia and she had to attend to him most of the time.
Moreover, I applied my nonprofit management skills when I helped the care home establish their first newsletter (check it out!) to help them reach out to donors. Also, when the kids went to school, I got to shadow a female doctor at the local hospital. I basically helped her give workshops to groups of women currently living in the slums with their malnourished babies. Following each workshop, we distributed baskets of vegetables and basic nutrients for the mothers and their babies. Working with that female doctor was very rewarding. Aside from being with her, I must also say that being in the government hospital of Rajasthan is an experience in itself.
In the hospital, every room is packed with people who have been waiting for practically days to be waited on. It gets even better—in the general room, four or five doctors sit at a table with people swarming them to look at their sheet (which tells them why they’re there). You have to be very creative and lucky to get a doctor to see your paper. After getting your paper reviewed, the doctor then scribbles several numbers—14, 3, 6, 9, and 7. Each number is a room the patient has to visit. Each room has its role. When I had to take one of the kids, Ashish, because he had a HORRIBLE eye infection, a doctor scribbled down three numbers on his sheet. *I firmly declared I was an American working for an NGO to get him looked at quickly—CRAZY! Each room we went to was crowded with people. Considering that I didn’t want to spend too long in the hospital, I passed through each crowd (using the same excuse) to get Ashish serviced. It is really sad how I could conveniently use my status as an American to expedite being serviced at a hospital—UNBELIEVABLE!! While I believe doctors in India are amongst the best in the world, I wish they could think of a better system to manage their hospitals.
In the beginning of this experience, I felt very overwhelmed because while in India, I had yet to encounter poverty at this level for such a long period of time. In Kolkata, I am not living luxuriously but comfortable to a certain extent. Not to mention, I am at school Monday through Friday from 7:00AM-1:40PMish. Soon after, I have the choice to go home to my apartment with the other Fulbright ETAs aka other Americans. In this case, I lived day in and day out for about a month with the people I was serving. I was stressed out initially because it bothered me so much to witness firsthand how the women and the kids are ostracised by the rest of their community. Even schools have tried to deny these kids acceptance because they are ‘due to die soon’—UNBELIEVABLE!!
After a while, I saw these people as more than just people I am here to help, but rather like another family. In addition to these kids, I grew close with the women and through translation because I did not know Hindi too well, I learned how they have been discriminated and outcasted by their own families for being HIV+ (which was never their fault). This experience overall was detrimental. It instilled in me a deep passion for numerous facets of global health.