Volunteered: August 2010 - August 2011
Programme: Wake Up Pune Coordinator/Volunteer Coordinator/Medical & Healthcare
I decided to spend a year in India for a number of reasons: I had fallen in love with India five years before, I had started studying Hindi and taking classes related to India, and I wanted to learn more about the real-life side of infectious disease. I study the biology of malaria parasite in the US and was planning on starting a PhD in Immunology & Infectious Disease, but felt that it was important to first get to know people and communities affected by an infectious disease and to learn about social issues related to public health, especially access to treatment. I was initially looking for a malaria-focused program in a primarily Hindi-speaking area, but after finding Deep Griha (through a friend who attends the church Dr. Onawale’s nephew pastors in New York), I knew that it was the right fit.
Before arriving in Pune, I thought that I would be working more in the clinic and pathology lab, but soon found out that helping foreign doctors conduct medical check-ups on the children in the crèche, balwadi and Aadhar Kendra programme would be more useful. I helped to weigh the children, mark their charts, give them stickers and attempt to use my (limited) Hindi to translate when needed. I also led some fun experiments and science classes at Deep Griha Academy, helped out with Wake Up Pune bootcamps, organized dental check-ups for children in our three communities and occasionally helped out at the DIYA Youth Centre. I enjoyed all of these projects and felt like I learned some about Indian healthcare in the process. Some of my favorite memories included talking about the biology of the HIV virus at bootcamps, translating medical problems of crèche teacher, participating in a skit about HIV-related stigma for World AIDS Day, dancing at a party for all DISHA staff and clients, and organizing a paper airplane contest at DGA with different planes representing different animals’ modes of flight.
After a couple of weeks at home for PhD interviews and five weeks volunteering for Nepal (because of visa requirements), I returned to Pune and Deep Griha. Finding the NGO I worked for in Nepal extremely frustrating, I had a deeper appreciation for Deep Griha and felt thrilled to again be working for an organization that I supported and believed in. Since I was the only international volunteer at this point, I became both the Volunteer Coordinator (which I was excited about) and the Wake Up Pune Coordinator (which I was not excited about). As Volunteer Coordinator, I communicated with potential volunteers, welcomed new volunteers, updated orientation documents and co-choreographed a dance for Deep Griha’s Anniversary party. As Wake Up Pune Coordinator, I presented bootcamps at Tadiwala Rd and in rehab centres and companies, talked with local movie theatres about showing HIV awareness ads, led fundraisers around the city and organized Global AIDS Week, an all-day awareness campaign at a local mall and Melava+, a matrimonial for people living with HIV. I worked very hard on all of these projects and feel proud of what I, with help from so many good friends and dedicated volunteers, accomplished. Initially I did not want to be WUP Coordinator because I thought I wasn’t passionate or outgoing enough, but I found that I was more passionate than I thought I was and I learned that I could end up being successful at something outside of my comfort zone. It was especially exciting and heartwarming to see the effect of Melava+ (an event that tooks months to plan); just as we had hoped, potential candidates made new friends, became more confident as the day went on, had fun playing silly games and found encouragement, community and romance.
Throughout my time volunteering at Deep Griha, I have been awed and humbled by the sincerity of the staff. Inspirational and welcoming, many of them have become close friends. In stories and in real-life, I have seen the immense impact that Deep Griha has had on countless lives and the hope that the organization has instilled in so many people. I have seen the organization and its leaders hold onto hope, faith, humility, integrity and vision through challenges of all sorts—truly a rarity in today’s world. My experience was nothing like I thought it would be—and especially as dual coordinator, was often very challenging—but I honestly wouldn’t change any of it. I really feel so blessed to have been able to work for such a genuine and compassionate organization and know that DGS will always be a part of my life in some way.