Simplicity is the essence of happiness – Fiona Breen – UCDVO
In this reflective piece, I will reflect on how a typical day would play out for myself and my fellow volunteers whilst on placement.
In June 2018, five other volunteers and I journeyed to the South of India, located near a town called Hanuman Junction, where we spent four weeks. Four of us were physiotherapy students while one physiotherapy clinical tutor travelled along with us too. We were heading to “Asha Jyothi Handicapped Welfare Society”, which is an orphanage for sixty children. Up to twenty of these children were requiring physiotherapy for conditions such as Cerebral Palsy and Polio, and this is why we were going there as volunteers.
Despite all the helpful pre-departure training days and nights we had spent in preparation, nothing could help us to avoid the inevitable fear of the unknown we were experiencing on our journey over. None of us had previous placement experience working with children, let alone with such little resources and in a low to middle income country. Little did we know, it was going to be the experience of a lifetime, and one we would never forget. Looking back on that first day where we gathered in Dublin Airport ready to depart, I am pleased with how far I have come in terms of my own personal development and I look back fondly on the whole experience.
A typical day on the South India Physiotherapy Project would begin when we would wake up between eight and half eight each morning to find that the scorching sun was beaming down on us at over thirty degrees.
The excitement on all the children’s faces when they saw us arriving to the physiotherapy gym every morning was undoubtedly contagious, and it also was a daily reminder of why we applied to be a part of the UCDVO programme in the first place. I feel nostalgic when I think back on the warmth of everyone’s greeting at Asha Jyothi - “Sister!” or “Brother!”. We were made feel welcome from the beginning.
The boundless energy of the children paired with upbeat music made our days working in the physiotherapy gym go by all too quickly. It was incredible to experience the positivity of all our patients throughout treatment, despite having such little resources and equipment.
After we finished our treatment sessions, evenings were occupied by activities with the children - dancing, water balloon fights, wheelchair obstacle courses - whatever our hearts desired!
Before heading to bed every night, we were lucky enough to eat delicious, homemade curries and plenty of rice, followed by freshly picked mango, melon and jackfruit. We were overwhelmed by how accommodating everyone was in the orphanage and how much they did for us every day.
My chosen Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for the Global Citizen Award is SDG 3: “To ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. I feel as if this SDG links to the children and surrounding community at Asha Jyothi as this is what we had in mind prior to departure and throughout the experience. We were trying to sustain the health and well-being for these children and the surrounding community and their families through the delivery of physiotherapy and basic advice and education on first aid. Our input was needed due to the lack of rehabilitative resources available to this community in India, when in reality, rehabilitation should be made a priority. We provided education around basic healthcare and tried to ensure anything we taught or left behind was sustainable, for example, teaching carers the basics of hand hygiene and general hygiene and making up leaflets and posters to leave behind.
This experience has without doubt taught me a great deal about physiotherapy, but most importantly, my biggest learning for me on my overseas placement was that “Simplicity is the essence of happiness” - being happy is all about finding the beauty in life’s simple pleasures. And that is what the children of Asha Jyothi and the surrounding community showed us every day.
Name: Fiona Breen
Volunteer Sending Agency: UCDVO