Choose to Make a DIFFERENCE!

Have you ever thought about volunteering abroad? Have you ever wanted to volunteer in India? Only have a month or so? Read on about the volunteers like you who were inspired to make a difference through service.

Friday, June 23, 2006

“Dr. Sherry, Dr. Sherry,” I felt a tug on my hand as five little fingers slipped into my grasp. Looking down, I saw the hand belonged to Suraj, a young boy who flashed me the briefest smile and then quickly looked away, too shy to meet my gaze. He was dressed in a tattered, stained T-shirt, faded blue in color. His hair was shaggy, his teeth rotting, and his feet were calloused and bare. I knelt down to determine what was wrong. “Dr. Sherry, can you please help me?” he implored in Hindi. “I have a piece of glass stuck in my foot but my mom cannot afford to take me to another doctor to have it removed. It really hurts.” He sat down on the straw mat where my stethoscope, otoscope, and penlight were, in other words, my makeshift clinic. The glass had been in his heel for more than a week now, but there was nothing that his family could do for him. His foot hurt to walk, limiting his daily activity and curtailing his play. His heel was inflamed and oozing pus, obvious signs of infection. Suraj, having no one to pay for this simple procedure, became yet another victim of a system where quality of life is in direct proportion to monetary wealth.

During my past four months in India, I have encountered many stories such as that of Suraj. The amount of poverty that exists here is overwhelming at times, especially when each day someone new approaches you requesting help to deal with the exorbitant cost of necessary medical care. Yet, this was also part of my inspiration to take a year off between medical school and residency. In the last 50 years numerous amounts of Indian professionals have left India in search of opportunities, opportunities that could not be had in India. As they left, they took their professional capabilities with them and consequently, India has suffered. This realization helped prompt me to come to India, to return to the country that has given so many non-Resident Indians everything that they have, yet has suffered in the process. It is very easy for us to ignore what goes on in the country of our origin, yet I felt compelled to return and help to offer these impoverished kids some of the opportunities that I have been fortunate enough to receive.

The decision to take a year off between medical school and residency was not an easy one, but one that I am now glad I made. I have spent the last four months working on an AVSAR project in collaboration with an Akanksha, a Mumbai based non-profit that provides after-school education to slum children. I have been doing general health check-ups on all the children, then treating the simple ailments and referring the more complicated ones to local doctors. In addition, I have also been providing health education classes to both the children as well as their parents. Not only have I found the actual check-up to be necessary, but that the health education plays an essential part in the prevention of many of these illnesses such as gastrointestinal worms, scabies, skin infections, etc. that I have found to be very prevalent in these children. Thus, I believe my efforts have been effective in the actual treatment as well as will hopefully help to decrease the number of times that these children are sick in the future. As a supplement to my daily activities, I have also been working with a local rotary club to coordinate vision and dental camps for all 3100 Akanksha children which will hopefully occur during the next month.

My experience in India would not have been as fruitful, nor as easy, without AVSAR. After I came to India, I realized the value of this organization. Before I arrived in India, I knew what organization I would be working with and in what context. As a result, I was able to start working within a few days of arrival. This is virtually unheard of if you come to India on your own seeking an opportunity to do service work because it takes time to find an organization and then a useful project within that organization. Furthermore, AVSAR provides a furnished, air-conditioned apartment complete with cable TV and high speed internet, a kitchen, and a housekeeper. Knowing how difficult it is to get anything done in India, I appreciated being able to call the program director and have her take care of the little mundane things such as having the internet fixed, things that have a huge impact on the quality of your life in India. In addition, being a part of AVSAR has enabled to me to take part in twice weekly discussions about the issues that affect the indigent population. This has made me
aware of the types of problems that countless numbers of Indians suffer from, further strengthening my lifelong commitment to helping improve their situation.

Looking back at my work during the last four months, I would have to say my work has been fruitful as well as satisfying. I have been able to do check-ups on over 600 children that would otherwise have very little access to medical care, I have been able to educate the children and parents regarding basic concepts such as hygiene that are very importing in the prevention of disease, as well as I have been able to broach taboo topics such as the menstrual cycle with adolescent girls, many of whom are hearing or discussing this topic for the first time. It would have been a gratifying experience just knowing that I was able to do the medical check-ups, but because I was able to go above and beyond this makes me believe that my efforts in India will be long lasting. As a result, I intend to return to India in February 2006 to continue my work for a few more months, in hopes of making more of an impact and extending my services to even more Akanksha communities.


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