I recently went to India on invitation from the Indian Development Foundation (IDF) which offers social responsibility internship and volunteering opportunities for interested members who want to do good in their societies.
The Sunday Standard provided the financial aid in terms of travel fare to India and internal travel.
As is with most people my age in Botswana, it was my first time out of the continent, which also meant it would be my first time travelling for hours on end in a plane.
With the current misfortunes that had befallen Air France, the plane jitters were worse than you could imagine.
This was a period when people were doing their best to avoid flying even though it was inevitable.
All in all, the journey was not as bad as I imagined it would be. People were quite helpful, especially at the airports which make our own seem like a matchbox in comparison.
I got to appreciate our climate when I got to Dubai where it was so hot I could literally breathe in the hot fumes, and this was at night.
I wondered how bad it got during the day. The heat nearly made me pass out because at first, when we landed, I thought the hot fumes were from the plane’s engine. Thank God for air conditioners!
The IDF started off as a leprosy foundation which was started by founder, DR Anathan Pillai, a great man who left his high paying jobs to do social work.
He had given up all his riches because he did not enjoy having a lot when most of his people had nothing. In the beginning he struggled to get support to get the project off the ground.
He has now met the Pope, met the different prime ministers of India and important people to help his cause and yet he still remains a very humble man.
The IDF is spread all over India. It has been involved in more than 120 community projects in India.
I had the honour of working for the two that were based in Chennai and Mumbai.
My two-week stay in Chennai was at a hospital guesthouse with other interns from different parts of the US, Rachel Clark and Raja Sundar, Catherine Hawks, UK-Rebecca Gaston, a likeable girl from Canada, Julie Najjaj and a handsome boy from Ukraine, Dimitri Steblosky.
Being the only black person for miles, I first felt out of place but I soon warmed up to my surroundings because they were all glad to see me. Some of the Indian people had never seen a black person before.
They said I was of Obama’s race.
The guesthouse was based at Gremaltes Leprosy Hospital, a German-funded hospital, which is a well-known project supported by the IDF in Chennai.
We paid for our own air tickets to and from India, and for internal travel, accommodation and food were provided for by the hospital. On weekends we visited the different tourist destinations out of the city.
I fell in love with touring, which was an amazing experience interacting in different cultures and meeting humble and loving people where very cheap commodities were available. There were clothes galore.
The hospital was based in a community where the majority of the people lived in the slums, and the poor roamed the streets continuously, the leprosy patients were beggars on the streets.
The society was also rife with people suffering from diabetes, TB, HIV and STIs. Because of that, the hospital had a big department dealing only with health education, which was where they placed the interns for observation, presentations, discussions and lectures on how best to deliver health education to poor people or school children within a society that still placed a stigma on a number of diseases.
India currently has more than 5.7 million people infected with HIV, according to WHO reports.
Our country remains amongst the top countries where most of the people are affected by the HIV pandemic.
During our stay in Chennai, we visited people at the slums where we gave presentation on STIs, nutrition, cleanliness to prevent pollution, HIV/AIDS, diabetes prevention and leprosy eradication.
We also visited children at primary schools to promote the ‘stop TB’ campaign.
We gave presentations to social work students who wanted to learn about the effects of stigma on the leprosy and the progress of TB patients.
We were also given lectures on how to overcome the language barrier, should we have to present our health awareness programmes to people who didn’t speak the same language as ourselves.
The interns or volunteers also gave a class of spoken English each afternoon to children at a primary school next to the hospital.
(To be continued).