India 2019 February

The 2019 Equal Health team heading to West Bengal was a small team, four volunteers to be exact, and the ideal allied health team: Me, an Occupational Therapist; Claire Nailer, a Physiotherapist, Beth Brett, a Speech Pathologist and Jack Brett, a Psychologist. When we met a couple of weeks before departure, it was pretty clear to each of us that with our relevant skills and experience and our personalities, we were going to make an awesome team! After lots of great team work collecting and purchasing needed resources before our departure, we met at Perth Airport on Friday 1stFebruary all charged up and rearing to go!

After a 7 hour stopover in Singapore during which we enjoyed a relaxed lunch at Clarke Quay, we arrived in unforgettable Kolkata, which I know well but had not seen for 5 years, Claire had not seen for 10 years, and Beth and Jack were first timers to.

After a much-needed night's sleep at the Lytton Hotel in Sudder Street, we were off to Howrah Station for our 3-hour train trip to Katwa Junction onboard the Intercity Express.


Anandaniketan – Society for Mental Health Care (AN)

We arrived at AN on Saturday 2ndFebruary in the midst of the Gramin Mela, a 5-day festival which AN has been hosting once a year for the last 10 years to foster links between the local community and the residents and staff at AN. WOW, the AN compound was unrecognizable with hundreds of people, bright lights, loud music, Ferris wheels, food stalls, and live stage performances. As always, we were enthusiastically welcomed by Mr. Subrata Sinha, AN's Director and by AN staff and residents, and by intrigued and curious villagers.

Well, after an exciting arrival, yummy dinner, hot shower and a good night's sleep, our first working day at AN began with a visit to each of the homes/shelters where we were once again warmly welcomed by all the residents and staff who were so happy to see us and excited as they know that "fun things" happen when Equal Health volunteers arrive. Our days at AN were jam packed and full-on, but we achieved so much, thanks to the ease with which we all worked together, shared our skills and just got in there, and did what we wanted and needed to do. We worked hands-on with residents like Mou, Moru, Sita and Akhtar , we altered and fixed wheelchairs, Beth tested resident's hearing, we applied lice treatment to 140 residents' hair; we ran art, craft, physical activity, and drumming and movement  groups with the girls and boys; we purchased clothes for the boys, clothing fabric for the girls and sports equipment for the boys and men; etc., and while doing all of that, we spent time, quality time, with each of the residents, which is the most fulfilling and heart warming part of the volunteering experience at AN!





In addition to the fun of experiencing the Gramin Mela while at AN, we were also very lucky to be active participants in the celebration of Subrata's birthday on the 12thFebruary, at which we (the team) recited a poem we wrote especially for him in English and then I recited it in Bengali, or tried to, at least!

All too soon Thursday 14thFebruary came along and it was time to say goodbye to everyone at AN, which is always a sad and tearful event for residents, volunteers and staff alike. As Subrata and Pradip both told us, when we are at AN so much is happening for the residents and staff, that when we leave it is always hard for everyone to settle back into the "normal" AN routine.

Upon our return to Kolkata we had the afternoon free to eat, shop, rest, and prepare for the next stage of the India Camp - a new adventure for all of us.

Childlife Preserve Shishur Sevay (CPSS)

We arrived at Shishur Sevay on Friday 15thFebruary at 10:00am to a very warm welcome by Dr Michelle Harrison and her family. Michelle founded Shishur Sevay in 2007, a community-based family type home and model of non-institutional care, where she cares for 14 orphaned girls ranging in ages from 5 - 20 years with the support of dedicated staff. After hearing about Shishur Sevay's incredible history and Michelle many wonderful future plans for Shishur Sevay, we immersed ourselves in Shishur Sevay's daily activities and started getting to know everyone and identifying what Michelle, the staff and the girls wanted us to do during out time there. The 3½ days that we were at Shishur Sevay flew by, but as at AN, we achieved a lot and got to experience so much of day to day life with the girls and staff. Some of the activities done and tasks achieved included assessing the postural, mobility, feeding, communication and sensory needs of the girls with disabilities, Claire introducing the girls to ballet, the girls performing a traditional and "inclusive" Bengali dance, assessing the postural/mobility equipment at Shishur Sevay, making sensory toys for the girls to play with, doing an inventory of the toys/resources at Shishur Sevay, etc.   



While in Kolkata we made sure we had time for two very important activities:

1) The unmissable Sunday early morning visit to the flower market on the banks of the Hooghly River, traditionally known as the "Ganga", a tributary of the Ganges River, and next to the massive Howrah Bridge, one of the busiest bridges in the world.


2) Our also unmissable farewell dinner at the Grand Oberoi Hotel for which we dress up in our finest Indian attire!


On Monday 18thFebruary we said our goodbyes to everyone at Shishur Sevay and headed back to the Lytton Hotel to pack, do some last-minute shopping, have dinner and head off to the airport for our return flight to Australia. We all agreed that the 2019 India Camp had been a huge success and an unforgettable experience!!

Written by Gillian Hurley, 2019 India Camp Team Leader

11 April 2019