Nurse Volunteer - Lydia Graham

Wow! ...was my first impression of India. As I was going through the airport I could hear the noise ... it sounded so busy.

As a kid I always wanted to be a doctor and work in Africa so when I finished school I studied nursing. I had wanted to do voluntary work for awhile as I always felt the need to help those less fortunate. I think it is our obligation as Westerners to help others as much as we can.

My sister and I were originally going on another trip, but it was cancelled. I had been talking about the trip with the girls at the local GP clinic so when they received an email from Equal Health they phoned me because they knew I'd be interested. We then 'jumped' at the chance to volunteer with Equal Health.

The Camp was better than I expected and the highlight was definitely the people - meeting amazing people and seeing how they live their lives. It wasn't only the patients but the Indian people we worked with. They look at us in awe, but we aren't anything special or different to anyone else. We just came to do a job. We don't deserve the awe they have for us, but it makes me realise how grateful they are. I think of all the wealth and privilege I have and I don't deserve it. I'm just fortunate that I have it.

The people were so sweet, welcoming, humble and hardworking. It was wonderful getting to know them. The Equal Health team was fantastic. It was so much fun - you couldn't top it!

Using translators could often provide a good laugh. We didn't always have official translators and sometimes we used two or three translators. You had to 'ping pong' the message back and forth, but we always got the message through in the end.

My nickname on the Camp was the Indian Whisperer for my ability to manage the people in the crowds without knowing the language. What I couldn't convey in language, I did in signs and in the end we often just ended up laughing. I really enjoyed this part of working with the people.

It was quite common for old farmers to come to us with only one tooth or a couple of teeth left and we would recommend that they be pulled out, but they would be very reluctant because it was all they had left. I found this rather amusing.

There is no comparison working in India to Australia. Clinically the work is the same because everyone's biology is the same. Everything else is different. There are language barriers, situational barriers and cultural barriers. Working in a hospital, like I do, it is quite multicultural, but it isn't anything like working in India. We were seeing people as quickly as possible because we didn't want to turn anyone away. We don't even think about this in Australia. We are so fortunate. People in India are just struggling to pay their medical bills.

Personally, I would like to hope that I'll make some positive changes in my life because of the experience. I'm slowly making some cultural changes because I've had the time to sit back and see how lucky I am. The main impact of the Camp has been the factor of feeling lucky and also having the time and perspective to reflect on life in Australia.

My recommendation to a new volunteer is: just go for it! Try not to have any expectations - have ideas, but not expectations. Although, expect to be challenged, personally and professionally. It is best to be open-minded and very tolerant of other people and cultures.

It was really great travelling with my sister. It brought us a lot closer together. I'm glad I took the opportunity to volunteer with Equal Health. I would love to do it again - I would do it in a heartbeat!

Lydia Graham - Nurse, St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria

Back to Volunteer Stories