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!
It was one of the best rotations of my medical school career. Getting the opportunity to perform a number of procedures while also seeing what healthcare challenges another culture faced allowed me to develop tremendously as a doctor and person in the beginning stages of my career. As a group we got a better understanding of why diseases like TB and HIV are so prevalent because Avril Whate spent an extensive amount of time speaking with us about the decades of healthcare neglect during apartheid.
I can't stress enough how welcoming Avril and Marion Williams were to our group. They did an amazing job teaching us about the culture of Cape Town and the complex history of its people. Such a great 4 weeks and I would highly recommend this rotation.
Had a great 4 weeks here. Could not have asked for better experience. I was very impressed by the organization from our local coordinators Marion and Avril. Within hours of stepping off the plane we had a meeting with both if them to explain the ins and outs of Cape Town: how to be safe, what to expect in the hospitals, what to expect in our home stays, things to do in Cape Town. It was informative, fun, and a reassuring way to let us know they would always be there. Because of these two, there were never any surprises and I knew that if an issue did come about there would already be a plan in place to fix it.
I have done multiple trips abroad throughout undergrad with many different organization programs. Of all of the local coordinators I worked with, Marion and Avril were the only two that were constantly visible and in constant contact with the group. They didn't just show up when there was an issue, but instead would meet us for dinners and festivals and whatever else was going on in Cape Town that they thought we would enjoy. My amazing experience with CHFI was almost entirely due to these two individuals. I will definitely be recommending this program to other medical students.
Participating in CFHI's health program was the best clinical experience abroad I have ever had. The families I stayed with in both Quito and Chone were very kind, accomodating, and hospitable. They gave me a taste of their culture, customs, and values while making me feel a part of the fmaily. This program has helped me to become a more culturally sensitive, well-rounded, medical Spanish speaking future doctor. I would recommend this program for every current and aspiring health care professional. It's an experience of a lifetime. I came back with a refreshed outlook on life and better sense of self, and hope this feeling stays with me for a lifetime!
Attending CFHI´s Dentistry and Oral Health Program in Quito, Ecuador gave me a very different outlook to health care. This program is by far the best volunteer abroad program out there. The advantage of being able to receive Spanish classes whether you´re a beginner or want to brush up on medical or dental terms in spanish is really good. I am currently on my last week here in the program and it has been quite an experience. The people I have met and got to know better, come from all over the states. Together, we all struggled to better our Spanish conversational skills and to fit in to Ecuadorian daily life.
My time in the dental clinic so far is truly an unforgettable experience. The opportunity to work under a dentist outside of the USA and to see how they perform dentistry is a unique experience. In the clinic, resources and materials are very limited! I am very glad that I brought gloves and masks here to Quito because I more than likely would not have been able to help assist the doctors without them. Being here has really opened up my eyes to appreciate the things I have back home. Using everything effieciently and effectively makes a difference here and when I get back home to the dental office I shadow, I will definately make sure I am using things efficiently-
The people here in Quito are very nice people. I always make sure I greet whoever I pass by with ¨Buenos dias¨or ¨buenos tardes¨. The cultural here in Quito is very beautiful. I am always opened to trying the different foods that the homestay prepares, which is ALWAYS DELICIOUS. My favorite thing to have here in Quito is the hot chocolate with cheese, which always has to be eaten together.
When I wasn´t at the homestay, dental clinic or the language school, the other CFHI members and I would explore Quito. A popular place to go out here is La Mariscal. They have a lot of dancing clubs, bars and restaurants. There are also many things to see here that you must visit during your stay in Quito like the el mitad de mundo. A great thing about coming to Quito, is that everything is very cheap, which is a good thing if you´re on a budget. Since my program is only 2 weeks, I have spent about $150 so far!
Because of CFHI, I have abroad experience in the dental field. CFHI put in a lot of time and effort to make this program a true successs. This program has opened my eyes to the different concerns, diseases, techniques and treatments that exist outside of the USA. I cannot thank CFHI as much for this wonderful opportunity. I highly recommend anyone thinking about attending a CFHI program to do so without any hesitations as I did!
The first two weeks were spent getting to know people, adapting to the new culture, and trying my hardest to learn this new language. I loved getting to know all the students in the program. We all came from different states and had different paths for our medical careers, but we all had similarities that allowed us to get along with one another. There were people in med school or working to get into med school, public health majors, nursing majors, and someone about to go to dentistry school. We all shared the common belief that we wanted to help people and we wanted learn and understand another culture other than our own, which helped us get along. It was nice having someone to talk to when you were missing your family, and one of the best parts about being with a group of people is we were always going and exploring the new environment. There were so many things to go do on the weekends. We took trips to Otavalo, Banos, Cotopaxi, Cuenca, the jungle, and much more. One of my main regrets was that at first I wasn’t going on weekend trips because I wanted to stay and take more Spanish classes. Taking extra classes is good, and I am sure it helped me a little bit; still the best way to learn is by going out and talking to people. Learning about the culture and experiencing it. I realized this later on and decided to change my flight for a later date and allow more time to travel. Anyone who is planning to have an experience like this one, I suggest planning time and allocating money to travel, even if it is weekend trips. The public transportation in Ecuador was cheap and interesting; I saw so many things I would never see in a plane. On the way to Cuenca, I got to see so much of the Andes Mountains. We got to see how different cultures were from different parts of Ecuador. People that live in Cuenca have a different culture than people that live in Otavalo and people that live near the jungle have a different culture also. Ecuador is so diversified. I highly suggest visiting different places and planning time after rotations to see some of the amazing places in Ecuador if anyone is planning to do this program.
During clinical, I was able to see and learn many things about the culture. My eyes were opened about how people live on limited resources. When there is limited access to resources, the health care that is given is limited. Patient satisfaction and comfort is the last concern. During my clinical I got to apply knowledge and skills that I learned in nursing school. I was pleased to develop a better understanding of global health care and community health. Each clinical taught me a lot about family practice and preventative health.
This experience has developed me into a stronger and wiser person. I see the world in a different light. I believe I have only started to open my mind into seeing what the world is truly like. I have now seen what it is like for people who have to fight every day. I appreciate all the blessings and luxuries that I have growing up as an American citizen I can’t even put into words how amazing this trip was. I hope to make more trips like this in my lifetime and expand my knowledge about the world.
I was a volunteer with CFHI’s Public Health & Community Medicine in India program in August 2012. I chose this program because while I feel that while health care workers and doctors are instrumental in increasing a population’s health, they are not able to do it alone. Public health infrastructure is essential to keeping people healthy and providing programs and resources. I felt that CFHI’s program in India was unique from a lot other programs I considered. Our rotations ranged greatly, exposing us to many challenges that India faces. Our visits included free outreach medical care programs in addition to well-funded private hospitals. We had discussion with female sex workers, went to juvenile de-addiction centers, and homes for street children among others.
The program was well organized and I never on my own could have seen and visited all the organizations we went to. The local coordinators were very helpful, not only with logistics, but they were also great resources to understanding more about India and the culture. The program did not sugar-coat any medical or public health issues, and I felt I got a much more real understanding than I could have from any book or article.
I am applying to medical school, and the public health rotations in this program gave me a more unique perspective and deeper understanding of the complex issues involved in providing health care in a developing nation than clinical work alone could have.
I went to Oaxaca in 2006 as a part of the first cohort with my undergrad university and CFHI was incredible. They were well prepared, accommodating, and super helpful. The clinical rotations were really great and the doctors were as eager to teach as we were to learn. Even in the midst of some intense political turmoil, CFHI made me feel safe and cared for. They also were able to secure rotations even when we were evacuated to the coastline because our university decided it was too unsafe for us to stay in the city centre.
I was a volunteer with the CFHI Rural/Urban Himalayan program in Uttarkhand, India in August 2012. There were three students involved in the program at the time and we spent four weeks living in a variety of settings and experiencing the different modes of health care delivery in each place. Overall, the experience was fantastic from a cultural and public health perspective. Health care and the large-scale challenges in health infrastructure in India were very different from my home country, Canada. I gained a much better understanding of the crucial role that social and environmental determinants play in health. Clinically, the placement did not offer many learning opportunities directly related to clinical, patient management on an individual level. However, I went into the program expecting that to be the case and I am already a medical student in Canada so I know I will get that clinical experience at home. Most importantly, I never felt as though my position as a foreign student was ethically questionable or exploitive. I was particularly welcomed by the staff at the Landour Community Hospital in Mussoorie, and I plan to go back some day and spend more time there. It was a Christian hospital, which may not be appealing to all students, so be aware of that when you sign up for the rotation. I never felt pushed to join in with religious services etc. Logistically, the program coordinators did a good job. We never had any transport issues and the home stay was very comfortable. Overall, I would recommend this program to medical or public health students, with the caveat that it is not a hands-on clinical experience.
I think this is a good time to look back and reflect a bit on the hospital experience in some detail. It was amazing to be able to go to places and observe things that I’ve never had the opportunity to go or see before. Even though there were some slow days, overall I loved it.
So, this is how the overall month went. Each week we rotated to different hospitals or to different units within hospitals and tagged along with Doctors/Surgeons and Nurses. Some weeks we would go to multiple different locations. While in these rotations we would observe so much. We got to follow along in rounds, and occasionally even participate in the discussions, and we were able to observe almost all aspects of the state health care system. In my time in South Africa, I spent a week in King Edward’s Pediatrics Department as well as it’s Surgery Department. In surgery, I was able to observe some amazing procedures such as laparoscopic gall bladder removal and (in the trauma ward) the insertion of an intercostal tube into a stabbing victim. That was amazing!
I was also able to spend a full week at St.Mary’s Hospital, where I did rounds in the medical ward, pediatric inpatient ward, and pediatric outpatient ward. I also spent a considerable amount of time in the theater as well as the Antiretroviral (ARV) Clinic. The last week of my stay, I also had the opportunity to visit an orphanage (picture below) and go to the Malagasy clinic, which was a really great experience. At the clinic I got to see firsthand the first line of institutionalized healthcare; the place where basically everyone went previous to arriving to the hospitals. This time spent within the medical system of Durban was more amazing than anything else I’ve had the opportunity to do in my pursuit of medicine thus far. It was stunning to be able to interact with patients and physicians on such an intimate level (or as intimately as possible given the language barrier with many patients). One of the most interesting things for me was that, as an African-American, this is the first time I’ve ever truly just blended in. It seems like a minor thing, but it was strange to me to be surrounded by other black men and women everywhere. At hospitals where I’ve been before, I always stuck out like a sore thumb, but here, I was home. I truly loved it.
I was a participant of one of the CFHI programs, Confronting Tropical Infectious Diseases in Mumbai, India this past July 2012. This volunteer experience has taught me so much about the world and myself. I have learned that I can adjust to any circumstances and live in any place in the world. I am looking forward to become a doctor and to practice medicine in rural areas where the supply for is limited and highly need it.
I knew that being part of this program and being exposed to a complete different culture will aid in increasing my awareness for global health understanding, I just did not know up to what level my understanding will increase. The experiences I have acquired through this program will facilitate to establish self-confidence as a future physician. They will enhance the development of trust between my future patients and me regardless the difference in religious beliefs and culture.
Along with gaining new skills, I also enjoy learning about India, and its people, culture and customs. There is no right or wrong way to do things, there are just many different ways to do them and accomplish the same results and goals.
One of the challenges I faced was not speaking Hindi. My channels of communication with people from this country were limited due to this barrier. I could not understand what they were saying either, although being humble and having a smile helped me to feel welcomed everywhere I went.
I am looking forward to get involved in more programs that will allow me to visit countries where there are an increasing number of underserved communities in need for medical care. I recommend this program for anyone thinking about specializing in Infectious Diseases. Visit www.cfhi.org and click on Confronting Tropical Disease Challenges in Mumbai Program for more details