Cristy returns to India for a second time

I initially volunteered with Equal Health in 2010 as I wanted to see how Equal Health delivered health aid. I have an interest in looking at different health models of not-for-profit organisations and had previously worked in Tanzania and Rwanda. I love all things about India - the clothes, food, people − so it was a good way to do both.

This will be my second trip with Equal Health and I'm looking forward to getting there and doing some work and immersing myself in the Indian culture.

Volunteering provides many wonderful memories. My favourite is when the kids in a village took me down to the river at the end of the day to show me around. They put all these chain daisy leis on me and I then had all the little kids following me like the Pied Piper.

I will also never forget the little boy (6 to 7 years old) who presented as the first patient of the day on Day 2 with a grossly infected adult tooth (lower right first permanent molar) and stoically sat through his extraction in the plastic chair. In Australia we would put the child on antibiotics for several days before attempting the extraction, however we were only in this village for one day so we had to do the extraction there and then. Not only did the boy sit still and had some silent tears running down his cheeks, he came running back excitedly after school (when the anaesthetic had definitely worn off!) with his mouth jacked open to show me he was the kid I'd pulled the tooth out of. He was very happy to be rid of the tooth! Try getting an Aussie child to do that? I'm sure they would run away ...

Improvisation is often called on during the camp, and one day two of the optical volunteers came to me to get some wire to join two -6 lenses together for a woman who was -12 or so. The result: she was pretty pleased with herself to be able to see out of her newly engineered specs.

I am also impressed with the camaraderie which develops very quickly within the group between people who are there to do their best in often limited circumstances. The people that go on the Equal Health camp are great - a really good group of people.

My advice for any new volunteers is to go prepared to work hard, but create memories of a lifetime. The cultural experience is invaluable and the people very welcoming.

Equal Health is an extremely well run operation both in Australia and India, with the inevitable detours along the way in Indian style. Sometimes the detours are the best part of the journey!

I'm not sure what the biggest challenge for the coming trip in February will be as I haven't been to Trichy before. I think it might be working in pretty basic conditions, but like I tell everyone, "You can't put a price on the experience you get. You get a lot more out of the experience than you put in."

Cristy Norton, Dentist, Armidale, New South Wales
India Camp 2010 and 2014 volunteer