I had researched various organizations before commencing my voyage to India. Though I do believe that travel can be spontaneous and unplanned, I think that when it comes to volunteering, proper research must be executed. There exists this "benevolent gratification" that many travelers are drawn to when it comes to going abroad and volunteering, however a lot of "aid" is not necessarily beneficial or productive. With that said, after much research, I picked two organizations to work with during my stay in India. One was with interest in alternative medicine (CHFI) and the other focused on modern medicine. I can say that with the comparison of the two, CFHI was undoubtedly the most engaging, dynamic, and nourishing organization that I've participated in. The locations were superb, as I got to work in the rural village of Patti, perfectly off the grid and secluded, which was therapeutic as much as it was mystifying and eye opening. Never did I think I would be in a tiny village at the foothills of the Himalayas, connecting with villagers like I did. We also had the pleasure of spending Diwali in Rishikesh, which was a natural paradise and truly one of my favorite places in the world. That area totally spoke to me as someone who is reflective and quite spiritual. Here we got to learn about natural healing with acupuncture, water therapy, mud therapy, and reflexology, as well as experience practicals from our instructors. It was magic. Finally we spent 2 weeks in Deradun where we got to live as medical students. This meant we took the bus to our rotations, which were actually quite encompassing (they took up the entire day) but in turn, extremely beneficial. I felt like I was getting what I asked for with medical volunteering. I learned about homeopathy, Ayurveda (with fabulous practicals), and speak with a 104 year old doctor for 2 weeks. It was such an amazing, moving opportunity. I really loved how thoughtful and easygoing our host family was, and our guide, Manyank was so elaborate with our entire experience. He took us to a wedding, taught us Hindi, helped us fabricate weekend plans, took us out to dinner, and had thanksgiving with us. I really miss him actually! I loved that yoga classes were included in the first 2 weeks of the program- it was the most immersion I've ever had in the practice. And honestly, with comparison to the other organization that I worked with, the material I learned through this program was invaluable. It was in depth, meaningful, impressive, and something that I share at any chance I get. The depth of the Ayurveda and homeopathy and alternative medicine that I learned was absolutely incredible. It truly means a lot to me, and has made me a more medically creative person. And the experiences I had during this program will always move me. India is in my bones now. I love this organization and what it does. I would 100% love to have the pleasure of working with CFHI again!
In April 2015, I participated in CFHI’s “End-of-Life and Palliative Care” program in Trivandrum, Kerala India. This was a four-week program volunteering with Pallium India, a charitable trust founded by Dr. M.R. Rajagopal (known as the “Father of Palliative Care” in India) that provides palliative care to Trivandrum and the surrounding villages and seeks to educate nurses and doctors in the art of palliative care. As part of Pallium’s mission to educate healthcare providers, Dr. Rajagopal and his team provide a few six-week training courses per year that will allow doctors and nurses to become certified in palliative care. My four-week program coincided with the first four weeks of one of these training courses, so I was able to gain valuable, classroom-based education in palliative care as well as clinical experience on the inpatient ward, in pediatric and adult outpatient clinics, and on home visits in the city and multiple surrounding villages.
Palliative care is all about providing patient-centered, holistic care as well as psychosocial and spiritual support for the patient and family. It’s a team effort (doctors, nurses, social workers, and volunteers), and Pallium recognizes this. They have developed a grassroots, community-driven model for delivering palliative care that relies on the generosity of the community for financial support and the commitment of local volunteers as the backbone of their home visit teams. As a fourth-year medical student, I found great value in the classroom instruction in communication, symptom management, bioethics, and end-of-life care. However, I was most touched by my clinical experiences with the patients, especially on the home visits. Getting to step inside someone’s home and observe the home-care team’s interactions with the patients and families was a privilege. Empathizing with a patient’s situation is necessary in palliative care, and there is no better way to do this than to visit a patient in his or her home.
I highly recommend the “End-of-Life and Palliative Care” program to anyone who is interested in palliative care, whether you are a student, doctor, nurse, social worker, or just someone looking to learn more about palliative care and experience the hospitality and beauty of Kerala (also known as “God’s Own Country”). It was a life-changing experience for me, and I am grateful to CFHI and Pallium India for allowing me to take part in the program.
I participated in CHFI’s Intensive Beginner Spanish in Quito, Ecuador! I chose this location because I wanted exposure to South American culture and I also wanted to work on my Spanish. I went to Ghana during the summer between my first and second year of medical school and that trip was amazing. Studying abroad creates opportunities to challenge yourself on many levels and expand your world-view. I was truly blessed to have another opportunity to study aboard.
The Ecuadorian landscape is truly amazing! Definitely beyond any of my expectations! In addition to Quito, we spent time in Otavalo, Mindo and Banos! The Spanish classes were helpful and I was able to use this Spanish while volunteering with the elementary school kids. The healthcare experience was also interesting. The attendings were eager to answer questions and discuss the local healthcare issues.
Over all this trip was a great experience! I will be a family medicine resident in a couple months and I am grateful for the additional Spanish I learned and the opportunity to experience a culture different from my own. I've always been committed to helping underserved populations and expanding my worldview and through this program I was able to do both!
When I first arrived in Cordoba, I was more than little enthusiastic to see how my experience in Argentina will be shaped by my perspective as a (dare I say) adult and young almost-doctor.
I arrived in Córdoba, the second-largest city in Argentina, renowned for it's beautiful colonial structures and for being a center of higher education since the Jesuits established the first National University here in 1613. As a soon-to-be double graduate of Jesuit universities, I was obviously excited to be immersed in a city built on the same foundation. I was met by, Charly, the coordinator of Intercambio Cultural, the local partner of CFHI who made this trip come together for me. Charly greeted me like an old friend with the one-cheek-kiss hello, a simple reminder of the warmth that makes Latin America feel like a second home.
The warm welcome of the ICC team lasted throughout the entire trip, with lectures and day trips that made for an easy, educational transition and very difficult parting from my life in Argentina!
I just arrived less than a week ago from my CFHI Maternal & Infant Health Program in Pune India and what I have learned and experienced is incredible. I am a MSW (Masters Social Work) graduate interested in maternal and infant health and I have found this program amazingly educational, both professionally and personally. Here is a piece of this adventure:
What did I learn:
I know I will be asked this by everyone. I already have been many times.
So I watched many surgeries. You will ask, what does this have to do with social work? Well, for one thing, all knowledge is useful. Professionally speaking, I will not become a doctor. With this being said, whether I work in a hospital or not, my clients or patients will have surgeries. They’ll see doctors. I’ve had a glimpse into that scene, the decisions doctors make, how they say it, why they do. Doctors to me perform the role of social workers too, so the connection was easily made. If I have a patient that needs a hysterectomy or has undergone thyroid cancer removal surgery, I’ve seen it. I can tell them about it. I’ve seen childbirth and this made me feel wild, in the best of ways. I cried and I knew that my life needs to be centered around this miracle. Personally, I gained something invaluable. I am stronger than I thought. All my life I’ve told myself that I couldn’t see surgery, that I would lose it and embarrass myself. I discovered the contrary, that I found it very interesting and I found myself looking forward to being in scrubs and mask again and again. It isn’t glitter and rainbows. It’s gross but it’s us and I’m ok with this. How often do you change how you view yourself?
I know something about how India’s medical system works, how it’s like and unlike our own systems. This is easier spoken than written about so if you have questions I’ll try to answer.
I know what it’s like to feel alone, unlike everyone else, isolated. Does this compare exactly with a foreigners experience in America? No. Even here I hold my privilege. But I have feelings I’ve never had before, so maybe I can empathize with my clients, wherever they’re from. I’ve learned to observe quietly. I’ve learned to ask questions. I want to treat people the way they want to be treated, and this lesson comes up again and again, whether it’s with greetings, food eating, or lesson teaching. How to be respectful of other cultures while not losing yourself. I’ve learned to be flexible, to embrace not being able to control everything, the value of money. I’ve taken for granted the resources I have. How many times have I thought something was cheap but have it be insanely expensive in rupees? I talk about traveling the world but when I think of the rupee cost for education, plane tickets, living expenses, I realize how lucky I am, and how arrogant I must sound.
I’ve learned much.
India has surprised me. It is much more than I ever expected. It’s both traditional and growing. It’s dusty and bright. It’s overwhelming and comforting.
I’m lucky. I’m so so lucky.
Thank you so much Child Family Health International (CFHI) for giving me a chance to learn all that I have. I'm forever grateful!
I was involved with CFHI through the UC Davis study abroad center's joint Quarter Abroad program in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was at first hesitant to enroll in this program due to financial worries and insecurity thereafter, but I got to thinking: if not now, then when? What better time to travel abroad and meet new peers than now? CFHI's involvement in the program reassured me that we would do minimal harm as foreigners. For a nonprofit, CFHI certainly has made a name for itself and with good reason. The money charged for the program goes directly to the communities they are helping, which means there's minimal power being taken from the people they're helping. My only regrets are that CFHI felt absent for a large part of my stay, and that the University would charge so much for its role in the program, but that's a different issue. Nick Pencko is especially awesome and a great program director. He should undoubtedly receive a raise. ;)
As for the Oaxaca program, I would without hesitation suggest that those interested enroll in this program. It's such a beautiful, historical, and dynamic Mexican state, and one of the safest in Mexico. There are plenty of things to do, see, and learn. I for one discovered, thankfully, that general medicine is not for me. I further discovered a weakness didn't know I had when I became woozy while watching a surgery. More than that, this program put me more in tune with Mexican culture, which is becoming more and more important, especially in the Western U.S. I learned much about the health care system in Mexico in comparison to that of the U.S., and the pros and cons of each. Aside from learning, there is also a rich history and culture in Oaxaca, along with to-die-for culinary masterpieces such as mole. I would recommend CFHI to anyone who wants to immerse themselves in a culture and learn without the risk of upsetting the political or socioeconomic structure of the place they're visiting.
When I first arrived in Cordoba in the middle of the night, I had no idea what to expect. I had seen pictures of Buenos Aires but didn’t know what Cordoba looked like. After finally arriving at my homestay, I quickly fell asleep. Waking up in the morning, I hear “Yasamin! Yasamin!” and a little girl with curly brunette hair runs towards me and crashes into me as she hugs me. In that moment, I knew this was going to be home. I lived with an abuela, but her daughter and grandkids lived down the street so they were always over. We sat down and ate the classic Cordobes breakfast food, criollos, and talked for hours and hours, laughing, and getting to know each other. While I had studied abroad in Spain a few years ago and stayed with a family, this was their first time. The girls were so excited and asking questions left and right about different American movies and t.v. shows while I asked about their local food, tv. shows, cultural festivities etc. They were so welcoming and constantly checking to make sure I felt comfortable. I immediately felt connected to them and felt like they were my own family.
That night we walked along the Cañada river to Patio Olmos, the central shopping center of Cordoba. We had a great dinner and watched a live performance of folk music. The whole room was energized and the people were swaying to the tunes. I looked around and saw people of all age groups. What surprised me the most was the number of elderly people chatting away in the late hours of the night! Compared to the US where you barely see older people out during the night, in Cordoba their out regardless of the hour and full of life. I looked around and immediately felt at home with music in the background and people laughing and smiling all around me. The energy and warmth was contagious and I couldn’t be more excited to spend the next two months in this beautiful city with my beautiful family.
My goals for the time in India were to obtain an understanding of the very complex Indian healthcare system and improve my Hindi skills. Both of these goals I was able to accomplish with my Hindi reaching the level of being able to interview patients towards the end of my time there. I have visited India many times in the past, but usually in the comfort of my grandparents’ large home in the metropolis of New Delhi. This time, I was able to see the country in a new light.
CFHI truly allowed me to truly get a taste of the many different levels of Indian healthcare. I was able to see patients in the city with hypertension all the way to patients in small villages who had been in farming accidents. With my Hindi skills and knowledge of the culture I began to connect with the Indian patient population. I was able to understand their problems and complaints in the greater context of Indian society and values. I was also able to closely see the many issues like pollution and poverty that plague India and became resolved to help in a more meaningful way as I develop the skills to become involved in global health in the future.
I had an absolutely amazing experience with CFHI’s HIV/AIDS program in Durban, South Africa. As an incoming 3rd year medical student at the Ohio State University, this was one of my first hand’s on clinical experiences. Our coordinator, Maureen, housed all 6 of us with local Zulu families. All of us had wonderful experiences with these families. They provided us with a place to stay and home cooked traditional Zulu meals. Many of them had children our age that we were able to spend time with. This greatly enhanced our understanding of the Zulu culture and language. Over the following 3.5 weeks I rotated through various departments at King Edward Hospital in Durban, a public secondary hospital. During the first week I was able to participate in Pediatric morning rounds, Intern lectures, and assist in my first Caesarean section. I spent the following week with a team of general surgeons. I was able to observe various endoscopic procedures, observe general clinic days and stay on overnight calls to observe and assist in surgeries. I was able to assist in a leg amputation and observe an appendectomy, gastrectomy, lymph node biopsy, inguinal hernia repair, exploration laparotomy, as well as other smaller procedures. I learned procedural skills for the first time as well as continued to expand my medical knowledge. During the 3rd week I rotated through various departments including Psychiatry, Urology, and Casualty. Although many of the conditions were similar to those seen in the US (burns, asthma, GSW, hydrocele, etc) many cases were complicated by concurrent HIV/AIDS and/or Tuberculosis. Virtually every patient is screened for both of these conditions- something that is rarely done in the US. It was incredible to see how these diseases can manifest in hundreds of different ways-ways that I may never observe in the US. In my final week I worked at the Blue Roof Clinic, a clinic providing free HIV/AIDs care to the community. I was able to shadow a HIV specialist and observed how she incorporated education and wellness into each of her patient's care.
Aside from the clinical experience there was ample time to explore South Africa. On my first weekend, I went on a Safari in St. Lucia and Hluhlwe Game Reserve. Maureen helped coordinate this experience with a local tour guide. On the second weekend, our group stayed in Durban to go horseback riding , experience the local nightlife and attend a township tour organized by CFHI. On my third weekend, I went to Cape Town-which was certainly a highlight of my time here. During the week days, we had most of our afternoons free. We were able to go to the beach on various occasions (Durban weather is warm almost every day of the year), Victoria Market, Durban Botanical Garden, Pavilion Mall, and Florida Road. Overall, the CFHI clinic schedule allowed for a balance of educational clinical experience and social and cultural exploration in South Africa. With no reservations, I would recommend this program to any student interested in pursing a health care related field that has an interest in exploring a new culture and health care system.
CFHI connected myself and a classmate, both fourth year medical students, to a great healthcare organization in Kabale, Uganda called KIHEFO. At KIHEFO we were able to study tropical medicine, learn about the complex social issues affecting healthcare in Uganda, and learn how Ugandans are working to tackle big problems to like access to care, HIV and malnutrition. The clinic is organized in a way that highlights the interwoven nature of maternal and child health, HIV and nutrition in Uganda.
This past March i participated in CFHI's Amazon Community and Indigenous Health program which brought me to Ecuador for the first time in my life. My experience was one of personal growth, adventure, friendship, and broadening of the mind. Our first week was spent in Quito a large, beautiful but culturally a rather bland city. The intensive spanish courses helped refresh my spanish and prepare me for the challenge of adapting to the the various dialects I would encounter throughout my trip. My time spent shadowing a doctor in the emergency clinic was full of excitement, and I left with a better understanding of the routine of admitting and examining a patient. At the end of the first week we took advantage of the days off in Baños, a cool little adventure/eco-tourism town in the cloud forest of the eastern Andes. We had a large group of students from the program in town together, so we had a blast getting to know each other while enjoying the attractions the town has to offer.
The next three weeks of the program were spent around Puyo, a large town of roughly 70,000 inhabitants on the edge of the Amazon. Based there, we spent our three weeks at clinics in Pitirishca, Mera, and staying with a Shuar family 12 km into the Amazon from Pitirishca. The last week in the Amazon was especially enlightening. A somewhat challenging trip involving a 6 hour hike through the mud to reach the village, this opportunity provided me with an experience that would be difficult to arrange otherwise. Immersed in a whole different world, we experienced a community completely in tune with the environment around them. Gustavo, our Shuar host and guide, lead us through his world and shared his knowledge of natural medicine and his peoples culture. It was an experience I will never forget, and one I will be hard pressed to replicate.