Physiotherapist Volunteer - Kathy Finlay

While I was doing a Community and Heath Development course at uni I saw an Equal Health advertisement in a physio journal. It fitted in with the voluntary work I always wanted to do and what I was studying at the time. Being a musculoskeletal physiotherapist it is not common to find volunteer positions and Equal Health had positions available for this role. So, I happened to see the information at an appropriate time.

This was my third trip to India. I have been twice to Urapakkam and this year I went to Trichy for the first time. I always like to see if a project is sustainable and that is why I returned to Urapakkam for a second time. However, since the team didn't go to Urapakkam this year I went to Trichy. Trichy was really good the way it was set up - I especially enjoyed eating outdoors and staying close to where we worked. We didn't need to travel each day.

My favourite memories involve the people in India. After I finished treating one lady she started to bend down and when I asked the interpreter what she was doing I was told she was bending down to kiss my feet. I quickly told her to please don't do that, it was my pleasure to treat her. I was overawed by what she was going to do and how incredibly grateful she was - her gesture of appreciation was amazing! It makes you feel so humble.

I also remember the masses of people and the roads - just trying to cross a road is an adventure.

This year was a great opportunity to see the difference between Urapakkam and Trichy. We went to a cyclone affected area for two days where the people were the poorest of the poor - it was fantastic to be able to help them, even though it meant we experienced a five hour disgusting bus trip.

I enjoy experiencing different situations and cultures and it is interesting to see how some of the younger new volunteers who hadn't been to India before cope with this. Sometimes this can be quite humorous, for example, a few of the girls found that their shower wasn't working that well so they used the hose closer to the floor, which unknown to them was meant to be used after you went to the toilet. It provided all of us with a great laugh!

The only similarity to working in Australia is that we are trying to relieve any pain or disability for the people we see. Everything else is different - the treatment room, we only see the patients once, the language barrier. It is very very different, but the principles we are trying to apply are the same.

Personally, visiting India or any other developing country always makes me sit back and reflect on life in Australia. You get it into perspective and reflect on what really matters. In India, the happiness scale is very high, but they have very little in material terms. In Australia, we have a lot of material possessions, but we are nowhere as happy as the Indian people. It makes you think about 'what do you really need to make you happy?'

On a professional level, I look at it like an apple. The core is the basic treatment, while the flesh is the office, staff, atmosphere and what surrounds me in what I do as a physiotherapist. In India, it is all about the core, you don't have the fleshy stuff. India shows you how important the core is. It makes you question, 'do we back in Australia really need all the fleshy stuff that people tell us we need?'

My recommendation to a new volunteer is to speak to other people who have been to India. Watch a DVD to see what the living conditions and the food are like - I think this would be most helpful.

Equal Health does a great job preparing you for the trip, but you can start by brushing up on your lateral thinking.

Kathy Finlay - Physiotherapist, Good Sport Physio Clinic, ACT

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