Kristy Tomlinson

Vice Chairperson/Team Leader Equal Health

[January Camp 2018]

The January 2018 team comprised of 15 passionate and highly motivated individuals from Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. The team split their time and energy between two of Equal Health's partner sites, Shishur Sevay in Kolkata and Anandaniketan Society of Mental Health Care in the rural town of Katwa, West Bengal. The team spent 5 days at Shishur Sevay working alongside the founder, Michelle Harrison, and her staff to implement projects that enhance the health, education and quality of life of the 15 girls living there. The team developed a curriculum to train special education/therapy assistants how to work effectively with children with disabilities, designed a literacy and mathematics program tailored to the specific needs of the residents of Shishur Sevay, modified a child's wheelchair to support her posture effectively, supported the implementation of various AAC communication devices for children who are non-verbal, trained the staff in basic first aid, and renovated the outdoor area to encourage outdoor play and recreation. Phew! Safe to say it was a busy 5 days!

After leaving Shishur Sevay, the team caught the train up north to Anandaniketan – a home for children and adults with disabilities and mental health conditions. There, the team created a sensory wall for the girls and boys shelters, provided soft helmets to children who suffer frequent seizures, trained staff in first aid, hygiene, behaviour management, safe feeding techniques, and physical exercise, re-stocked first aid kits, conducted mobility and feeding reviews of all children to ensure safety, treated all residents for head lice, made bibs to preserve the dignity of children who cannot manage their own saliva, modified a room used for 'time out' to ensure safety, developed daily activity boxes for carers to use with the children to encourage activity and stimulation, purchased warm clothing for all residents, set up vocations for some high-functioning residents, replenished the sports equipment supplies, decorated the interior walls of the girls shelter with colourful murals, purchased lockers for the boys so that they can keep personal items safe, upgraded the outdoor play area, repaired windows so that rats can no longer enter the bedrooms, fixed wheelchairs, organised plumbing in girls shelter to repair toilets and taps, adapted a ramp to allow accessibility of children in wheelchairs, and purchased a machine that will provide sanitary napkins to the female residents.

All projects aimed to provide "equal health" opportunities and outcomes to the residents of Shishur Sevay and Anandaniketan. While the team achieved a lot, we gained so much more in return. Our team departed India with a deeper sense of perspective, compassion, humility and hope. Lasting memories were made and, echoing so many volunteers that came before them, our volunteers stated "that was the best thing I have ever done".