Animika's joy with her new wheels

Perth occupational therapist, Amy Rushton, recounts her experience of providing a wheelchair to a young girl in need.

Occupational Therapist, Tarin Dempers with Animika in her new wheelchair.

Many of the patients we saw were memorable, especially Animika. She is a young girl with spastic diplegia who lives and attends school within the girls' shelter in Katwa. Animika is a highly intelligent girl, although she can't speak, she is very communicative with her eyes and hands.

Animika moved around on her bottom and was pushed to school in her wheelchair every day. Her wheelchair looked like it was 100 years old, and was about to fall apart! Prior to leaving Australia, we received a donation of wheelchairs made out of recycled bicycle parts, one of which we issued and fitted to her.

Multiple changes and adjustments were made to the chair to best suit Animika. When we gave her the chair, her eyes sparkled and she had the biggest smile on her face that I had ever seen. She raced over to the wheelchair on her bottom! Then she proceeded to try and lift herself into the chair. In the beginning she needed a little bit of help, however after a few days of practising she was able to get herself in and out of the chair independently, which was important as we knew that this is what she would be required to do when we left.

The look on her face when she propelled herself for the first time was just priceless. It was just the most amazing feeling to see that with a simple piece of equipment (that is readily available in Australia) meant she could now move around independently and take herself to school every day. It was such a touching moment for me.


When I arrived in India, I experienced a complete shock on the sensory system - I was completely overstimulated! The air was thick with pollution, the traffic was intense and the noises and smells were just out of this world. It was overwhelmingly intense, yet extremely intriguing. A very seductive place - it just leaves you wanting more.

Although I was expecting poverty, I do not think I was prepared to witness the level of poverty some people experience in India. It was sad to see that some people had so much, while others had barely anything.

The thing that surprised me though, was how friendly, generous and welcoming the people were despite their circumstances - particularly in Kolkata. One of the highlights of my trip was when we stumbled across a lot of people standing around dancing and singing one night returning to our hotel after dinner. When we went closer to watch, we were invited into the backstreets of the slums to enjoy the celebrations of a local wedding. It was the most amazing experience. There were hundreds of people - so happy, generous and welcoming us into their homes and lives (even for just a moment). That was definitely an experience of Indian hospitality!

If you compare working in India to working in Australia, things happen a lot slower - you have to work on Indian time! My patience has definitely improved since working in India!

Volunteering in India has impacted me more than I could have imagined or prepared for. A lot of the things that I saw during the trip really challenged me - personally and professionally.

I felt sick thinking that while people were struggling to make $2 a day in India, I had everything back home (not realising how lucky I was) - like a loving family, friends, a fiancée, house, car, a clean environment - and the only difference between me and them was that I just happened to be born in Australia.

I am still processing it all, and think it might take me some time to come to terms with everything that I saw and experienced. All I know is that my whole life has been put into perspective. I will always be eternally grateful for everything that I have in my life, and will treat it with upmost care and respect.

Doing volunteer work in India has really put my working life in Australia into perspective. We are so lucky to live in a country where people have equal access to a broad range of services and support.

In India, you have do not have access to resources, equipment or supplies that you usually would have in Australia. For example, while volunteering in Kolkata, we made seating inserts with old mattress foam as this is all we had available. You have to make use of the resources you have in your environment, and roll with it! And, most importantly, it worked!

Volunteering with Equal Health

I decided to volunteer with Equal Health because I had heard good things about the organisation. It had a good reputation, seemed very professional and had done multiple trips previously plus the placement was a lot shorter than other international volunteer placements.

My recommendation to a new volunteer is to throw away all of your expectations. India is a crazy place, and will 'throw' you - regardless of how prepared you are. Don't become disheartened if you feel you have not accomplished a lot, as this will likely be the case. If only one thing you do is carried through or taken on board, then that is an achievement. If the only thing you do is make a child smile that hasn't smiled in a while - than you have exceeded expectations.

It's a rare life experience, so enjoy every minute!

Amy Rushton, Occupational Therapist, India Camp 2013 volunteer, Perth.

Above: Occupational Therapist, Tarin Dempers with Animika in her new wheelchair.
Below: Amy Rushton with a mental health care institution child in India.