Working in an Indian girls' shelter was a life changing appointment for Massage Therapist, Kelsey Saar

When I was talking with Paul Clarke about his experience of volunteering in India, I had a desire to help and thought 'I would like to do that!'. It didn't matter what country it was, but I would be there! Paul's enthusiasm and desire to help those in India made me decide to volunteer with Equal Health.

Before the trip I tried not to have any expectations and be open, even though I knew it would be very confronting in a way I couldn't imagine. On arrival in India, I found it quite emotional. Reading the Anandaniketan reports and talking to people gave me a bit of an idea of what it would be like, but nothing can really prepare you, unless you have experienced something similar previously.

I really enjoyed the entire experience. There isn't anything specific I can identify - I enjoyed the whole thing. When I came back to Australia I found it took months to process the experience.

I worked in the girls' shelter in Anandaniketan. In the beginning I had to get a feeling of what I wanted to achieve and how. While I was finding my way, I saw five people a few times. One of them was brought to the women's shelter by the police and had been there for about a year. She was mentally disabled so I only massaged her face, back, arms and hands just to show I was there for her. The first time I massaged her she had her head down and didn't look at me at all. The second time she looked me in the eyes. The third time she handed me the cream and showed me where to massage her - she appeared more confident. The fourth time she massaged my arms and the last time she massaged my hands and fingers so then I knew that she liked her hands and fingers to be massaged. I think through my time with her she realised that someone accepted her for who she is. What I did for her was only little, but it was big for her.

What really moved me deeply was that two or three of the girls have to remain in the confines of a building and the restriction this places on their lives. They lack the degree of touch and caring which we take for granted and it doesn't seem fair. A lot of people are living with minimal interpersonal care and this really touches me deeply. When I go back again next year, I know I would like to mainly spend time with the people that have little contact with others as well as see the people the sister in charge wants me to see.

My time at Anandaniketan also touched a deep area within myself - a realisation of what it is like when there is no one there for you. To know what this is like and that I can give some nurturing and caring which we experience and take for granted. Personally, it has made me more compassionate and understanding for those less fortunate than me. It has also made me more aware of what is important in life and what is not.

After being in India, I feel I can see India clearly for what it is and how to work within their framework. I understand the reality of this is what India is and what they have done and what we do there needs to fit in. Any change takes time.

We had some fun times together too. One funny memory I have was when we were all on the roof-top courtyard having a debrief of the day when a monkey came along and sat on an adjoining shed roof. It then came a bit closer for a better look, which gave some of the team a huge surprise and there was a mad panic as they tried to make a quick getaway. It all looked very humorous.

It is extremely different to work in India compared to Australia. What we take for granted in Australia as an essential just isn't available in India. You have to work in very basic ways. You can't take anything for granted. What we take for granted you have to create in India. It is a really positive thing to do.

I would advise any new volunteer to understand that it doesn't matter how much you have read or heard it isn't going to totally prepare you for what is in store. Keep in mind that the people are no different to you, they just have a different lifestyle and situation, but as people they are no different.

Volunteering with Equal Health is an opportunity that you'll only get once in a lifetime. You'll have the opportunity to experience a developing community within a framework most people won't get, so don't miss it!

Kelsey Saar ­- Massage Therapist, Back In Action, Morley, Western Australia