For local nurse Tracey Frew five weeks volunteering in India has proved to be an experience she will never forget.
Tracey has recently returned from working in a rehabilitation clinic located in Narela, a small village north of Delhi. Travelling with her sister Anne, a teacher, the pair lived and worked at Sewa Ashram, which provides free healthcare to the very sick and the very poor.
Tracey was inspired to go to India after reading an article in the Waikato Times about a nurse who had spent time at a similar clinic. Having always felt an urge to see India she felt she wanted to “do something worthwhile rather than just go on holiday.”
For the poor and homeless of India access to healthcare is very limited. Many hundreds of people move from their villages to the city everyday in the hope of finding work. But the overcrowded living conditions and a lack of education means illness spreads easily and TB and HIV are rife. The Ashram where Tracey volunteered is able to look after up to 120 patients at any one time and relies on donations and volunteers like Tracey and her sister. But sady it cannot help everyone. “On one trip to collect the sick we picked up a man from under a bridge that weighed 28kg, too weak to move,” says Tracey. “For every one person able to get help at the Ashram there are 10 more who plead to be taken, however due to limited space, funds and people power many are left behind”.
Sewa Ashram provides more than just healthcare facilities, operating as a shelter and community for those who stay there. Tracey says the idea is to rehabilitate the patient, “not only physically but mentally.” The clinic provides classes in Hindi and English and life groups, which provide tuition in skills such as sewing and gardening. As the patients get better they take on roles within the clinic, carrying out everyday chores such as washing, feeding, cooking and teaching.
Tracey’s role at the Ashram was varied. Looking after her patients involved changing lots of dressings, dealing with medication and helping with physiotherapy exercises. Supplies were limited — she says for dressings it was a case of “one size fits all because that’s all the clinic can afford.” As she also lived at the Ashram she felt it was not like a usual job. “You’re living on site, eating with the patients, playing games with them.”
The heat meant she would be up early in the morning – her first chai tea would be at 5.30am – and everyone would take a sleep in the afternoon. Ceiling fans provided some respite from the heat but facilities at the Ashram were basic and Tracey says it was like “being in an oven” most of the time.
Tracey says the experience was one she will never forget and has “taught me a lot about the human body and mind’s ability to persevere in conditions that are never seen in NZ.” It’s an experience she would recommend to others and one she hopes to be able to do again someday. The other clear message she received from working at the clinic was that everyone cared for each other no matter what their background, social caste or medical condition.
Tracey is also grateful to her colleagues at West Coast Health clinic who covered her shifts while she was away and the Raglan Lions Club who also provided support. Emma Brooks