Lacey Strachan's Equal Health India Experience 2012

In February this year I was lucky enough to be able to take part in an overseas aid trip to India with Equal Health - an Australian, not-for-profit, volunteer organization that provides free health care to people in developing countries. This was my first trip to India and it was definitely a bit of a shock to the system. After arriving in Channai I quickly realised that India was like no place I had ever visited before - car horns constantly blaring, people everywhere and oxen roaming free with right of way among traffic that inexplicably resembled ordered mayhem.

I'd known about Equal Health since childhood and heard many stories of India from my mother, Sue, as she's been volunteering her skills as an optometrist with Equal Health for several years. I loved hearing about her trips so much that I decided I wanted to experience it for myself.

I was part of a team of twelve health professionals which included doctors, dentists, optometrists, physiotherapists and nurses. We all crammed into a little bus, waved goodbye to our hotel in Chennai and commenced a six hour bumpy bus ride south to our base camp just outside the rural city of Trichy. We were housed in a local school run by SEVAI - the Society for Village Education Action and Improvement. Each day we were up early to work our way through endless queues of villagers in need of our services. As optical dispenser, my role was to select and fit glasses to the people after their eyes had been tested by an optometrist. I honestly think I had the best job in the team because it was incredibly gratifying to see each person's eyes light up and smile as their surroundings came into focus for the first time. I also really enjoyed teaching some basic optical dispensing skills to some of the trainee health care nurses at the school. Our team also spent two days working in Poompuhar, an east coast village that had been devastated by cyclone in December, 2011.

It was a whirlwind trip of long, busy working hours. The optical team tested the eyes of over 3000 people and dispensed over 2600 pairs of glasses. We were also able to arranged free sight-restoring cataract surgery for approximately 20 completely blind people.

I've always loved travelling overseas, and volunteering as an optical dispenser with Equal Health gave me the opportunity to combine using my skills to help others with exploring a foreign land. I certainly plan on returning to India with Equal Health as a registered nurse after I finish my studies and I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to undertake overseas aid volunteering at least once in their life. It is in my opinion the best way to soak up all that another country has to offer and experience things 'off the beaten track'. And of course it goes without saying that trips like these really make you appreciate all aspects of life in Australia - not only the important things such as our ability to access quality health care but the little things too, like taking a hot shower.

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