In four days, I will “set sail” for a ninety-nine day adventure in Southern India. This will not be my first voyage to India. In January of 2008, I spent two weeks in Northern India skipping from Kolkata to Jaipur to small villages in West Bengal. I suppose that trip could be marked as “The Beginning.” The Beginning of my interest in the Indian culture. The Beginning of my desire to return to India and serve.
Much has happened since January of 2008. Here are the milestones that have brought me to this point:
- I left a part of my heart in India. I loved the strong, sometimes repulsive smells, the vibrant colors, the cacophony of sounds, the bold tastes, and the open-hearted people. I loved the juxtaposition of pure joy amidst dramatic poverty.
- I read a book. Not just any book, but a book that inspired me. It was written by Dr. Paul Brand, a surgeon that served many years in the city of Vellore, India at the Christian Medical College (CMC). Dr. Brand spent much of his time and energy working in the realm of Hansen’s Disease (HD), commonly known as leprosy, and wrote about it in his book The Gift of Pain. While reading his book, I often found myself thinking “There must be a place for me to help in the world of leprosy.”
- I quit my job. I was trained as a landscape architect, but within two years of practicing in the field, I realized that my creative side needed human interaction to survive and thrive. Sitting in front of a computer or drafting table wasn’t cutting it.
- I got my Master’s degree. Well, technically, I’m still working on that degree, but I quit my job as a landscape architect to become an occupational therapist (OT). I had heard of OT years ago and it had always fascinated me. For those reading this blog who are unfamiliar with OT, let me do my best to enlighten you. Occupational therapy is helping people overcome the hurdles that prevent them for doing the things that occupy their day—things like getting dressed, brushing their teeth, eating meals, and the list goes on. Some of the hurdles may be things like a stroke, severe depression, traumatic brain injury, amputation, or physical deformity resulting from diseases such as leprosy. I decided my creative juices and desire to interact with and help people might just be a good foundation for a career in OT. So far, I am loving it!
- I had an idea. During the first semester of OT school, the students in our program are asked to think about where they would like to complete their Fieldwork placements (clinical observations). Our program at the University of Puget Sound offers students the opportunity to complete an optional third placement after the first two mandatory placements have been completed. Typically this optional Fieldwork is reserved for a budding therapist interested in pediatric therapy; however, that is not a requirement. When asked to give my preference on Fieldwork placements, I took a deep breath and asked our Fieldwork Coordinator if the school would be supportive of sending a student to India. Having never done this before, she made no promises, but was willing to work with me on this endeavor. I knew that the CMC (where Dr. Brand did much of his work) accepted foreign medical students. I knew that the CMC was a medical institute of high reputation. You see, my first trip to India was with a doctor who had visited the CMC on numerous occasions and could tell me from first-hand experience what the hospital was like. I knew I had to at least ask. I have not been told “no” since that first inquiry, not by the faculty at University of Puget Sound, not by the staff and faculty at the CMC, not by the India government. All systems are a “go.”
- It is to update my friends and family on my travels and whereabouts—to let them know I am alive and doing well.
- It is to keep my university aware of my status—to let them know that I am have an incredible experience in India and that they should encourage other students from their program to follow my path (or to tell them NEVER to send another student this way because it is far too overwhelming) Hopefully this will not be the case.
- It is to let other OT students know what/how to prepare for a fieldwork placement in India, should they choose to follow this path.
In four days I will embark on this journey that began about five years ago. Please join me!