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!
They helped me fulfill a lifelong aspiration to learn to speak Spanish. I am not fluent but after participating in the CHFI Intensive Beginner Spanish course in Oaxaca, Mexico I am vastly closer than I was before. While abroad I could tell CFHI was a respected community partner and one that valued sustainability. I would highly recommend working, volunteering, or participating in their programs.
I was awarded a scholarship with CFHI to go abroad to Durban, South Africa, to participate in the HIV & Healthcare program. To put it simply, this was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I'm an MPH student studying global health and was considering pursuing medicine after graduation but was still undecided before starting the program. Not only did the program answer that question for me, but it gave me so much more. It was a truly life changing experience for me.
Though my time was relatively short, the program packs an immense load of clinical experience into just a few short weeks. It would have taken years and a much more advanced clinical background to be able to have these experiences in the U.S. and I think it would have taken a much longer time for me to make future career choices without this program. I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity! And I really think I will return to South Africa in particular to work eventually, since my interest is in HIV. In terms of infectious disease, this program is also great for providing exposure to clinical conditions that are much more rare in the U.S. such as HIV and TB.
Durban was also such an incredible city! I was able to make such meaningful friendships with the other students in the program as well as my host family, and even some of the health care providers during rotation. I could not have chosen a better place to do this program.
Overall, I had an amazing experience and would recommend anyone considering a career in health care, an interest in global health or global service, or interest in HIV/TB to apply for this program. It is a very hands-on experience that provides great clinical exposure, and in one of the coolest places in the world :)