Maridel Constantino - 2015 Program Participant

Visiting the Taj Mahal in India

Fulfilling a dream and visiting the Taj Mahal - Words still cannot describe this experience but I do not think words are meant to

How did you decide to apply for an international program?

The decision to apply for an international program was actually an unexpected one. It was a great dream of mine to experience India and see the Taj Mahal. Over the past few years, I have had an increasing desire to fulfill this dream. Unfortunately, none of my friends or family members were able to accompany me on this trip. Not to be deterred, I made the decision to take a leap of faith and travel by myself. After much research, I figured the safest way to travel to India as a lone, female traveler was through an international program. Deciding to apply for the IVHQ health care program in Delhi not only allowed me to fulfill my travel goals, but it also allowed me to fulfill a professional goal of doing volunteer work as a nurse.

Why did you choose IVHQ over other volunteer program providers in India?

Upon reading about IVHQ's healthcare program in Delhi, I quickly became interested because India is a very progressive developing country with a rapidly growing population. I was extremely curious to find out what their health infrastructure was like and how their health care system was coping with the increased demand. More so, I wanted to see how those in poverty accessed health care and what resources were available to them.

I chose IVHQ because they were a reputable organization that had well established programs and connections in multiple countries around the world. This was important to me because I wanted the program I participated in to be well organized and efficient so that my time doing volunteer work could be utilized in the best way possible.

What was your favorite part about your placement location?

The program was in Faridabad, a suburb approximately one hour from Delhi. I found Faridabad to be a somewhat quieter and less congested alternative to Delhi. The area had many hospitals and clinics, something I was happy about since I was in the health program.

Delhi, on the other hand, was a complete culture shock. I have been lucky enough to travel to many different places around the world and I can say with great confidence that Delhi is like no other. The city is extremely crowded and very fast paced. I found my senses constantly overloaded with the smell of street food, the sounds of honking cars, and the sight of people everywhere. To describe Delhi in one word: intense. It is not for the faint of heart! Delhi provided a good traveling challenge as it forced me to go outside of my comfort zone.

Although I was initially overwhelmed, I eventually settled in and developed a deep appreciation for the Indian culture, history, and people. For anyone intending to visit Delhi, or India for that matter, I suggest coming with an open mind because the only way to get the authentic Indian experience, is to embrace the intense atmosphere and unique nature of the country and its people.

Patients at a slum clinic in Faridabad, India

Giving intravenous antibiotic therapy at the slum clinic in Faridabad, India

What makes IVHQ’s health care program in India unique?

IVHQ's healthcare program was unique because it gave me a chance to work in a slum clinic. In a previous volunteer experience as a nursing student in Ghana, most of my time was spent working in a hospital. While I valued the opportunity, I always wondered how the poorest of the population accessed the health care system. This program gave me an opportunity to not only answer my question, but also experience it firsthand. Giving care to this demographic and having an opportunity to contribute to the slum clinic was a privilege.

The clinic is invaluable to the community around it and its positive impact is visible.

How supportive was local staff throughout your program?

The local staff was amazing! They answered all of our questions thoroughly, were all easily accessible when we needed help, gave us sound advice to keep us safe, and ensured we were always enjoying ourselves. Of course, they were all great company and a true pleasure to get to know.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

The experience was so amazing that I wish I could have stayed longer. If I had stayed longer I could have played a greater part in the slum clinic, and perhaps explore other areas of India’s healthcare system. I also would have had the chance to participate in various health initiatives IVHQ was sponsoring, like the health camp that was scheduled a week after my departure.

My time was also not enough to explore more of India, something IVHQ encourages over the weekends. Although I was able to fulfill my dream of seeing the Taj Mahal, I feel like I left much to see and do. The country has a vast geography with such an interesting culture to accompany it. Between the Himalayas in the north with Tibetan monasteries, the desert in the west where you can ride camels, and the hippy beaches in the south, India has so much to offer and I hope to return someday to experience it all.

Describe a day in the life of an IVHQ health care volunteer in India.

The day started at 7 a.m., when I would get up, get dressed, and have breakfast with the other volunteers. For breakfast we usually had paratha, an Indian flatbread stuffed with different ingredients daily to provide a variety. My favorite was the paratha stuffed with potatoes. After breakfast, we would be picked up and dropped off at our respective placements. I arrived at the slum clinic at 8 a.m. and began work by assessing patients, giving medications through injections, and doing wound dressings. Nearly all the patients came on a walk-in basis, and for the most part the clinic always had patients to look after.

Often, I would accompany the doctor on home visits around the area. This was one of my favorite things do because it gave me a chance to go inside the homes of the local people and provide care within their environment. They were all very welcoming and open to having a foreigner enter their homes. At 10 a.m., a boy serving tea would come to the clinic and I eagerly anticipated his arrival everyday. Traditional Indian tea, known as chai, is so tasty that even though it was 40 degrees Celsius outside, I always accepted the hot drink with open arms. After teatime, the day continued with more patients and home visits.

I ended my day of volunteer work at 12 p.m. when I was picked up and brought home to have lunch. In the afternoons, we had free time to rest or sightsee. The other volunteers and I usually ventured out to the market in Faridabad or made the trek to Delhi to explore the city further.

Volunteers sightseeing in India

My orientation week group - the trip would not have been as amazing as it was without these people to get laugh with and learn from

What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your program?

My favorite activity outside of the normal day-to-day were the trips to the market the other volunteers and I frequently made. This is surprising to me because it was my experience in Chandni Chowk, the oldest and busiest market in Delhi, which had me feeling extremely overwhelmed and wondering if I would survive my stay in India. However, I came to really enjoy the markets, whether it was simply in Faridabad or if we actually made the one hour trek through tuk tuk and metro to Delhi. The markets were full of people and had plenty of things to see and do.

Being in the market always made me feel like I was experiencing an aspect of daily life in India and it gave me a chance to interact with the local people, something I valued greatly.

What was your accommodation like? What was your favorite part of it?

Our accommodations were great. There were comfortable beds with clean sheets, showers with running water, and a western style toilet that flushed. All of this was more than I expected and was certainly a pleasant surprise. To top it all off, the food served was amazing. We were served traditional Indian food like chapati, dahl, khatta aloo, paratha, chai, and paneer.

My favorite part was getting to live with the other volunteers, because I truly enjoyed getting to know all of them. Everyone came with such different stories, backgrounds, and motivations for volunteering, and yet, we were all in the same place, at this stage in our lives, working together to establish common goals for a community in need. I found these connections to be very special and something I will remember for a long time.

How has volunteering abroad in India impacted your life?

From a professional perspective, I can say that the program reminded me of how lucky I am to live in a country that is able to provide quality and equal health care to all of its citizens. Although Faridabad has many hospitals and clinics within the area, many people cannot afford to go to these health care sites. This program showed me the value of a primary health care sites, like the slum clinic, to the health and well being of a community and its people who would otherwise not be able to afford any health care.

The entire experience was so surreal and I still cannot fully describe the full extent of it all, let alone determine how it has impacted my life. When I made the decision to go to India, I simply wanted to fulfill a dream to see the Taj Mahal and visit a country I had long desired to see. As plans came to fruition, the opportunity to achieve a professional goal arrived at my doorstep. Although I was open to it, I did not expect to make an impact, learn any life changing lessons, or change in any way that would drastically alter who I am. Weeks after the trip, I still cannot say that I did. Maybe in a year or so I will recognize the full effect of this experience. However, for now, I can say for a fact that I came home from this experience with so much more than I expected and for that, I am extremely humbled and so thankful.