By Dr. Georgiana Farrugia Bonnici, a Maltese, 29 year old medical doctor, and diagnostic radiographer.

[email protected]

 

I always thought about what I could potentially do to offer my voluntary services around the world, because not everyone is as fortunate to live in a well-established country, as we are. I have shown interest to go in India, primarily to be able to use my professional abilities to help others in need. Thus, I am very grateful of having the opportunity to embark on this particular voluntary work experience in India, because it has enabled both my husband and myself, a married couple, to merge our professions together and work on this project with Mission4Changes. Our role was to live in an orphanage, along with the sisters from the congregation of the Sacred Heart. Being a medical doctor, I conducted physical examinations on all the children at the orphanage, compiled medical reports to build the children’ medical history which was missing, and proposed a sustainable management plan to address their conditions. As for my husband Hector, being an engineer, he evaluated all the buildings of the orphanage and gave his technical input on how to improve the structure, water and electricity plants, and also explored the possibility of investing in solar energy since the weather over there is very warm.

 

In our experience, we were also accompanied by Simon, Thomas and Christopher, whose role was to do maintenance works such as cleaning and painting. . The building they worked on consisted of six bedrooms spread over two floors. In total, we have spent around twenty days in India, and in this article, I will be sharing some experiences, with the aim of encouraging other people to purse similar experiences.

 

Some of you might be asking why we seek to go so far to do voluntary work, especially when there are so many good causes in Malta to support. Moreover, international readers might also be questioning what the purpose is to go to India, which is the third largest world’s economy by purchasing power parity. Both considerations are good and correct. In doing this experience, we embraced the principles of the non-governmental organization we worked for, which is to support causes that are not common in Malta and to help those in need; unconditional of religion or political orientation. We have also had the opportunity to experience the great work done by missionary people. We all know Madre Theresa, and all she did was in fact, for the poorest of the poor. There is great benefit and satisfaction in seeing those in need develop and become independent in their own land.

Our journey to arrive in India, was quite long and tiring. I still remember the very first day I stepped in India. In short time, we were exposed to poverty and basic living conditions. In spite of this, I cannot forget the welcoming smiles on the faces of the locals who had a great attitude for life, even when their living conditions were poor. Also, once in India, sights of cows in streets are very common; an animal which is in fact, sacred for all those that practice Hindu. The ‘Tuk Tuk’ is the main means of transport, and it is also very cheap.  Drivers are all very careful not to run over cows. May I also take the opportunity to comment on the continuous beeping on the streets that can be heard throughout all day, including at night, as well as the typical Indian head-shake, that literally means approval for what one is doing or saying.

 

Following a six hour train journey, I cannot forget the genuine hospitality that was given to us by the sisters and the children of the orphanage that we were going to work with. When we knocked on their door, around fifty children and ten sisters, welcomed us in a happy and peaceful atmosphere, along with a nice welcome song, cheerful clapping and typical Indian dancing, until they offered us a beautiful scented necklace, made out of fresh flowers. After some time, we were also offered lunch, that consisted of typical Indian food, such as rice, chicken curry, and chapatti; which is a type of flat, local bread. Then, we all met again in order to distribute all the donations of books, toys, clothes and other items that the Maltese citizens have given us to present to the orphans. It was at this precise moment, that we began to realize how much these children appreciate our acts of kindness, for they rely heavily on providence for their most fundamental needs. The amount of sincere happiness and warm smiles amongst all of them, during the donations ceremony, was indescribable.

 

The sun rose beautifully on the second day at the orphanage, and this meant that our work experience was about to begin. Prior to coming to India, I had to process the fact that
I will be living in a remote and poor environment, where a doctor is expected to work only with a set of hands, a warm heart, a diligent mind, but most of all, rely heavily on clinical signs elicited on physical examination, because traditional bed-side investigations are not available. As I had anticipated, both the adaptation to this new way of practicing medicine, along with the exposure to a poorer way of living, was very challenging for me, but it has improved my diagnostic skills, and shaped me into a better version of myself, and at the same time helping many children in need.

 

Having said this, nothing could have prepared me for the most heart-touching moment in my entire life. At one point, a sister brought to the clinic an unfortunate baby boy, who was abandoned in a dustbin. I was so shocked to hear this news. His umbilical cord was clamped but the stump had not completely worn off, so he was only a few days old.
At that specific moment, I froze because I thought human life was too precious to be treated as a waste. I had heard about these common encounters, but I did not really think I would experience them on my very first working day. I examined the baby, who I later referred to the nearest hospital, for more observation and advanced medical care. Fortunately, a few days later he was discharged from hospital, and he returned safely to the orphanage, where he was named Louis Akhil.
Through the help of God, as well as the pristine work of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, we saved this child from imminent death, and led him to a much better future.

 

Throughout my medical mission, I have also met several children with an interesting background. To start with, Prince is a ten year old boy, who was keen on coming to visit me at the clinic. He was interested in science and he has a wish to become a doctor. I have also met with Kalpana, who has a bubbly character, and did not stop smiling throughout the medical examination, possibly because she was getting ticklish. She did not really have any previous experience with doctors. Ananiya, is another child, whom unfortunately had suffered a major leg trauma, because she was bitten by animals, before being found abandoned in the streets. Another vulnerable child was Akansha, who managed to survive till age two, despite having parts of her brain missing. Rohit, suffers from a congenital condition; that is bilateral claw hands, with the absence of both thumbs; that limits his hands mobility. However he is still very active and at the heart of all activities. Another beautiful child, is Karishma, a four year old, who was found abandoned at a train station, along with her two siblings, Rohit and Anju. However, thanks to the sisters, at present they are all healthy and living happily in the orphanage. Last but not least is Jyothi Michell, a promising teenager; that has learnt the craft of candle-making, which she now sells to earn something for her fellows.

 

All in all, my husband and I were very grateful to Mission4Changes, because we have spent both our birthdays in India, in the company of adorable kids who are so much in need of love. I still remember the ‘Happy Birthday!’ melody sung by them, at breakfast. We were offered birthday presents, and certainly, as a group, we really felt that we were being appreciated for the voluntary services that we were giving. Apart from us, in the month of December, there were also two orphans who had their birthday – Karishma and Nandini. We therefore decided to organize a small birthday party for this special occasion. That afternoon, we spent a lot of time in the kitchen, making crepes and decorating cakes. It was all worth the time. Just seeing the satisfaction and gratitude on the children’s faces upon grabbing a bite of our home-made sweets made our day! We created a lot of good vibes and a great atmosphere, through the help of good food, music, balloons and various toys. Indeed, simplicity prevails.

 

Time was passing by quickly and to our dismay, the last day at the orphanage has also arrived. As expected, this was a difficult moment for all of us. However, every beginning comes to an end, and once again, the sisters have ensured that we leave the orphanage in a serene atmosphere. For this reason, they presented us with a hand-made ‘Thank You!’ card; that was done by the orphans.  I will cherish this message for the rest of my life, and so will my husband.

 

After sharing these experiences, I would also like to dedicate a section of this article to all the benefits, and changes that such experience brings. As a group, we were all prepared to fill time-limited practical needs in defined communities. Our group’s tasks were primarily medical, engineering and maintenance based. These projects kept us all motivated, and upon accomplishment, our unity became even more meaningful.

 

The first advantage, is that it has provided me with an intensive opportunity to use my professional skills, to serve and teach people in another culture. First and foremost, the experience is about connecting with people, serving them, and pushing them closer to a better future. In realizing so, together, we have impacted the lives of countless people, and personally, I have also realized some changes in myself, too.
Primarily, materialism starts to fade away. After seeing how little others may have, it really puts things in perspective. It made me re-evaluate priorities in my life. Moreover, seeing how happy others can be with whatever they have, blossoms a heart of gratitude for the many blessings we already have.
Secondly, I have extended my horizons and widened my view of the world. My venture of this first voluntary work experience has opened my eyes to another way of living. I have learnt first-hand, that many issues are not black and white, but rather monochromous shades of grey.
Thirdly, I have learnt to appreciate different cultures. I have learnt so much about how others live, but above all, I have also learnt to slow down. As Europeans, we thrive on keeping busy. Smartphones beg for our attention and social media drives our interactions with the world. During a mission, you get to disconnect from this hectic way of living. Although in the first few days one might suffer from withdrawal, I had probably found such disconnection refreshing in the long run. Another vital aspect is that we all made friends and long-lasting memories, along the way. I have grown closer to the children and all the kind-hearted people I had served along-side, and now I will have plenty of memories to re-live: the funny, the misfortunate, the heartfelt and the miraculous.
I have also noticed that my faith has grown. After serving in a community, where commodities like modern medicine were not readily available, I had to rely on my professional instincts. I had witnessed some heart-touching and challenging cases, but through the help of God, we have all united to find solutions, even when it seemed like it was going to be impossible.

If you have ever felt a calling into trying this life-changing experience, I encourage you to give it a go! For when you go to the missions, and see the various humanitarian needs around the world, it gets into your heart. When it moves from your mind to your heart, everything changes, including how you spend your time, energy and even your resources. This challenging, yet beautiful experience will certainly open your eyes to another way of living, and lets you experience God in a whole new way.