Psychiatrist Volunteer - Adam Brett

A few things made me want to participate in India Camp 2012 ... I always wanted to go to India and I always wanted to do volunteer work. Also, the Health Department is making it easier do humanitarian work. Then, the opportunity came up to volunteer with Equal Health in India so I took it.

I know a few people who have been to India with Equal Health and I was looking at Equal Health when my wife went to an optometrist appointment with my daughter and saw the Equal Health poster on the wall. She asked the receptionist about it and it all snowballed from there.

I didn't have many expectations prior to going to India. I just knew it would be a completely new experience.

When I arrived, I found Kolkata was smoggy, smelly, busy but exciting. Travelling to Anandaniketan (AN) past paddy fields was exciting. Then arriving at AN we had a tremendous welcome with a grand ceremony and dancers and speeches. It made us feel really welcomed and set the tone.

On the first day we had a tour of the facility, which was an eye opener, but I was actually expecting worse! The girls and boys' wards were hard work but demanding. The accommodation, showers and food were great. The morning walks outside AN were fantastic.

It's difficult to pick a highlight. The closing ceremony when two of the boys joined the stage and started dancing was very funny (you probably had to be there though). A welcome at one of the villages was also up there, as was the trip on the Ganges. Some of the girls (volunteers) running away from a monkey but inadvertently following a man carrying a large bunch of bananas was amusing. The smiles on the residents' faces when they were being involved in the group activities was awesome. Helping the optical team break the 'ricky ponting ton' on the outreach trips.

I will put my highlight though as the cricket. The boys were fantastically caring for each other and all levels of disability took part. Huge 'high fives' when the bowler deliberately hit the bat with the ball to enable runs, turn taking and sharing. At one point he tried to insert a cricket stump in my anatomy, but I managed to avoid that.

One day a one armed boy carried another resident down four flights of stairs on his back, before the others transported the boy to the game on a back of a trolley. It was a herculean effort and the look on his face watching the cricket was worth the entrance fee!

The difference in between working in Australia and India is like chalk and cheese. I work in an extremely specialised position in Perth but do work in a multidisciplinary team. The allied health team were talented and would all make great mental health therapists! I helped with all the outreach teams, did a bit of medicine, optical, dentistry and physio. At AN I did a bit of architecture, handyman work, pampering, dancing and a small bit of psychiatry.

The whole experience has hopefully made me more patient with my family. One day I hope to go with the whole family to do volunteer work somewhere. We can learn a lot from how they manage mental illness and disability at AN. They have limited resources but the way the residents helped each other (not all the time) was great. Huge improvements could be made but they are all resource rich. I hope that we improved the residents' lives for the short period we were there and introduced some sustainable changes. Hopefully they will take up the redesign of the safe rooms and the time out room.

My advice to anyone considering volunteering is to quote Nike - 'just do it'.

Also, talk to people who have been so you've got an idea of what to expect, have an open mind and get stuck in.

Adam Brett - Psychiatrist, Perth, WA

Back to Volunteer Stories