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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Perspectives on Lifeline Express

Update: Part of the IHI team at Chitrakoot waterfall. Photo taken by Kevin Frayer from AP

Hour 1: Board train
Hour 2-9: Sleep
Hour 9: Charu, Horace, Julia & Britt awake
Hour 10-13: Card games, books, and chai.
Hour 13: Seth awake
Hour 14: Chai
Hour 15-24: Card games, books, and HUNGER.

In short, our train ride from Madurai to Hyderabad. Luckily, Hyderabad airport made up for it with McDonald’s!! Yummy :)

After 48 hours of travelling, including the train ride, we thought we would die if we saw another train in front of us. How wrong we were...

The few days on the Lifeline Express have exposed us to an extremely underserviced population of rural India: the tribals. Let’s take a look from their perspective.

Fuelled by a promise of restored vision, ability to walk and run, a triumphant smile, they journey from far and wide. They travel for hours with brothers, sisters, grandparents, parents, children, to reach Jagdalpur. At last they see it. A train, the first one they’ve seen this close, with a huge crowded tent in front. Greeted by teams of doctors, nurses and volunteers, strangers dressed in green and white with masks. They are a little afraid, but they are resilient. Full of courage, they press onwards, placing all their faith and trust in the medical volunteers from afar…

From our perspective, this experience has been eye-opening (pardon the pun), to say the least. We have had the opportunity to observe the administration of health care in the most remote of locations, to people who have previously been untouched by the outside world. We have seen cataract surgeries performed on elderly tribal people (rows upon rows of sunglasses on these folks was a sight to warm our hearts), orthopedic surgeries on young children whose families cannot afford these high-cost procedures otherwise, screenings for cleft lip and other paediatric conditions (Pierre-Robin sequence. It was a difficult diagnosis but Dr. Cheng & Prasad managed it.). It has been a pleasure to see this dedicated team of physicians, nurses, and administrators from all over the country work together to deliver care that will significantly impact these peoples’ lives.

Tonight we prepare to part ways as a team: Seth off to Thailand, Brittany and Julia journeying to and through North India, Horace and Charu doing some learning and research (hopefully!) at All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi. We look forward to these new and exciting experiences, and though we will miss being all together, we will have plenty to share when we meet up in 2 weeks!

Pictures soon to come ;)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Coming to an end at ASSA...

Hello from the computer room at Amar Seva Sangam Ayakudi (ASSA)!

Nearly two weeks have come and gone, and here we are today marking our second last day at ASSA. While words cannot explain the experiences that we have shared with everyone at this organization; here goes our best shot at explaining it.

Since our last entry we have been keeping very busy. Some of the programs we have been working in include…

1) Post-Acute Spinal Cord Centre: Here we have been working with a vast array of health care professionals. This includes learning from the doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and other support personnel. The experiences here included but were not limited to observing the professionals providing treatment and education to the patients, hands-on experience in physical therapy and dressing, participating in leisurely activities and simply enjoying a lot of quality time with the residents.

2) Medical Testing Unit: Here the occupational therapy students had the opportunity to shadow various physiotherapists and assist by implementing fine motor activities with children following their physiotherapy treatment. In addition, we were able to leave these physiotherapists with a list of possible hand therapy activity ideas for children that they can continue to use when we leave with the materials they have already have available.

3) Vocational Training: Here we had the opportunity to observe a number of the patients in their work settings. It was so much fun to see how various products were made (toys, clothes, notebooks, etc.)! Through simply observing many of us had gained a greater appreciation for the work that goes into making so many of these items. Watch out Canada, when we come back we will be lean, mean, button up t-shirt making machines.

4) Schools: Here we observed the children in the classroom setting. Some of us had the privilege of teaching English and Music classes (we learned that some of us remember the words to Barbie girl more than the Canadian national anthem…embarrassing).

5) Special Needs Schools: Here we observed children with special needs in the school setting. This included assisting the teachers with daily programming as well as the in-school physiotherapists with treatment and hand therapy ideas.

6) On-site Government Project School Kids: Here we engaged in various semi-structured programs such as yoga classes, playing sports or doing the girls’ (and some boys’) hair and nails.

When we weren’t busy with programming in the various units we spent very enjoyable free time playing card games (don’t tell anyone though…apparently this is illegal in Tamil Nadu…oops), Frisbee or chess with the spinal cord injury unit men and other ASSA residents. In the evening hours, we could often be found joining the kids in dance classes, English tutions (extra schooling outside of class time) or for prayer time.

This past weekend we took a vacation to Madurai and Kanyakumari (the most Southern tip of India). Friday night we arrived in Madurai where we stayed at a beautiful hotel with a rooftop restaurant located in the heart of town. We started Saturday morning off early visiting the Gandhi museum, followed by a visit to Thirumalai Nayak palace. Following this we had plenty of opportunity to use our bargaining skills as we shopped up a storm. To finish off the night we visited the Meenakshi temple where we got to see a number of cool exhibits and FINALLY see an elephant- an elephant which blessed us for 10 rupees, well worth it! Late late Saturday night/Sunday morning we took the train to Kanyakumari where we arrived at 4:30 am and went straight to the beach to watch the sun rise with hundreds if not a couple thousand Indians- incredible turn out. The rest of the day was spent enjoying the super hot heat (some of us a little too much), the beach where we swam in three bodies of water at one time ( Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean)- fully clothed and sticking out a lot as the only foreigners, shopping and a visit to the Gandhi memorial.

Just yesterday, along with the 4 volunteers at ASSA from Project Abroad we visited the local Courtellam Falls which is a favorite bathing location for MANY Indians in the Tenkasi area. We joined the locals in separate male and female lines to bath under the main waterfall- where we lasted less than one minute because of the ice cold water. Afterwards, we trekked through the monkey-filled forest attempting to find the top of the waterfall and stumbled across a second smaller, more secluded set of falls (more secluded meaning only 100 indian people with us) where we bathed again. Very enjoyable. Highly recommended.

Out of all of the activities we have done the past two weeks, one of the best parts of our time here has been the people we have met. All the staff and residents at ASSA have welcomed us with opened arms and treated us like family. We have shared so many amazing experiences and learned so many lessons from these special individuals. As we continue at ASSA and the other NGOs we look forward to many exciting adventures to come.

For more updates STAY TUNED as we head North to Jagdalpur as we visit our third and final NGO, Lifeline Express.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Photo update

A massive photo update with some key snapshots of our amazing journey thus far :)

Beautiful Kerala
Photos from the back-water houseboat tour.

Amar Seva Sangam
ASSA is located in the village of Ayikudy, a valley in the foothills of the Western Ghats. As a result of the geography there is a constant breeze throughout the campus, a real treat for those of us not used to the hot weather of South India.

Pictures of the Amar Seva Sangam school

A function to celebrate the achievements of the students and residents along with thanks to some of the generous donors from across the country.

Card games with our friends at the Spinal Cord Rehab Unit.

Village-based rehab home visits


Weekend trip to Madurai and Kanyakumari.

Elephant Pooja


Sunrise at Kanyakumari, the southern most tip of the sub-continent.

Hanging out with volunteers from Project Abroad at Courtallam Falls.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Greetings from Ayikudy

Dear fans,

We apologize for the delay in updates - our watches have been delayed to Indian Standard Time! Starting from where we left off: Houseboat Shopping. We settled on a boat called Shalom. The crew took us on a two day (60km) excursion through the backwaters of Allepey. Along the way, the houseboat stopped at a few small villages where we explored and met some of the locals, along with the wildlife. Our houseboat excursion ended on Canada Day, which we spent touring Allepey and its numerous jewelry stores.

Our journey to Amar Seva Sangam began Saturday, July 2nd. We took the train to Trivandrum and from there a taxi to Ayikudi. The taxi ride requires some explanation: it was a 3 hour rollercoaster of narrow, winding roads in which our driver passed all vehicles we came across no matter how life-endingly small the space to do so was. The taxi driver distracted our attention from the excitement outside, which was inducing nausea for some, by putting on a cheesey, dubbed Bruce Lee movie. Finally, we arrived in one piece at our destination regardless of everything.

At Amar Seva Sangam, we are staying in the midst of palm trees, mountainous ranges, and cool breezes. Here we have been able to experience: Village Base Rehab, wound care, aid with spinal cord rehabilitation, physiotherapy, medical clinics and rounds. Along with all this hard work, we have somehow managed to find time to relax and learn a few Tamil words with the local residents and children. It is currently 8:12pm, which means supper time! Thus the blog ends here until the next update. (Pictures soon to come).

Tata for now,