Media Release

by the brand agency

Volunteer for the trip that changes lives

 

A trip to India with Equal Health as a volunteer, while she was studying speech pathology in 2007 changed Kristy Tomlinson's life. She literally fell in love with the country and its people. Since then, she's made the trip 21 times.

"For me it's like going home. I love the people the culture, the way of life. I feel more comfortable there than in Perth! The locals are so grateful and respectful," Kristy said.

Each visit, Kristy spends two-weeks at Ananda Niketan in West Bengal, which literally means house of joy, but is actually an overcrowded mental health facility filled with hundreds of patients with a variety of long-term mental health and physical disabilities.

Now a qualified speech pathologist and with a Masters of International Health, Kristy is part of the Equal Health team that helps deliver much needed health services to people residing in rural communities throughout India.

"I felt that I could make a significant change to the lives of the people there simply with my hands, brain and heart – rather than fancy technologies or state-of-the-art equipment. I was able to help so many more people than I could if I was working in a clinical setting. It's really wonderful how many lives you can positively impact in just two weeks. You're making human connections in the most authentic way," added Kristy.

"The biggest gift you get in return is the gift of humility. You gain new perspectives and there's a real sense of achievement. There's also a strong sense of camaraderie and friendship with the other volunteers you're working with. Some of my lifelong friends are people I've met on trips, the teamwork is really meaningful, and you share in the joy, which comes in spades. Every challenge I've faced since being to India has seemed easier because everything is relative."

Over the past 22 years, Equal Health have been sending teams of medical and allied health volunteers to India. Over that time, it's estimated they've carried more than 110,000 treatments. Health professional volunteers making up the teams that travel to India include GPs, nurses, dentists, dental nurses, optometrists, optical dispensers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists and massage therapists.

Doctor Andrew Heap has been a dentist for 40 years and been involved with Equal Health for 13 years, he's made six trips to India to volunteer. It's also his role to co-ordinate the dentists and the equipment they'll need for each trip.

"My first trip in 2005 was a total bombardment of the senses, but that's India, the sights and sounds, the smells and noise and all the people. What we take with us is a basic dental set-up, but we need to take all of our equipment with us. We use plastic garden chairs as the dental chair because we need to be able to take all our equipment from village to village on a daily basis," said Dr Heap.

"In the rural areas, the medical treatment we provide is often all the locals will ever get. We're talking about people who have barely had any dental treatment in their life. It can be quite a confronting experience but also a very rewarding one. For everything you give, you get so much back, it's rewarding to be able to give them that level of care. On a busy day, at a busy village, and we have three dentists, we'll see between 60 and 80 patients. It can vary but it can be very busy."

Perth-based optical dispenser Paul Clarke is the co-founder of Equal Health and the India camp coordinator. His first fact-finding and spectacle aid initiative was in 1997 in the village areas of Tamil Nadu. Now, around 5,000 pairs of glasses are pre-made by inmates at Casuarina Prison, the frames are donated by retail and wholesalers in the optical industry in Australia. They're then taken to India where they give locals the gift of sight.

"It's amazing the difference a pair of glasses, dental care or health care can make to someone's life. Bringing freedom from dental pain and improved health are what Equal Health works hard to achieve each year.Imagine not being able to go to the doctor when you're unwell or to the dentist when you have a toothache," said Paul.

"Equal Health's motto is a life changing appointment, because the trips are life changing for the person receiving the medical treatment and for the person delivering the treatment."

Sadly, for the first time in the not-for-profit's history, next year's trip to India is under threat, with a shortage of health professionals signing up to volunteer their time and expertise.

"I think the tightening economy has affected a lot of people and the health profession is no different, we're all feeling the pinch. Ideally, we'd like to take 35 health professionals but the biggest team we've taken was 81 and the smallest was 18," added Paul.

"We're looking for health professionals from a range of fields, from all across Australia. The cost is $3,790 and that includes everything, airfares, accommodation and meals. Being only two-weeks it's the perfect opportunity for a health professional who might be thinking about volunteering their skills overseas to try it out for a short time to see if they like it, before committing to a much longer stint."

"I generally recommend volunteering from the point of view of giving back and the fulfillment in a professional sense and the challenge of improving the services you're delivering in a rural setting, without all the equipment you normally have in your clinic. That feeling of being able to give something back to your profession without there being a financial reward is a unique experience," added Dr Heap.

Kristy Tomlinson said that as well as providing the opportunity to volunteer your skills, volunteers are able to explore and enjoy what the country has to offer, visit temples, go for a cruise on the Ganges and indulge in the local food.

"We always have a celebratory dinner on the last night where everyone gets dressed up in saris and suits and it's amazing how many of them tell me, that the two weeks volunteering was the best thing they've ever done," Kristy added.

To find out more or to register your interest in being part of the team travelling to India next year between February 1-17

go to equalhealth.org.au

or email info@equalhealth.org.au