Report of my Voluntary Internship at St.John’s Health Care Service in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India

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When I arrived at the International Airport of Thiruvananthapuram early in the morning of 23rd January 2015, Father Jose has cordially received me and picked me up at the Airport for transfer to my new home and workplace at St. John’s. Heading home, our drive took about 45 minutes by car. I felt very tired but also really excited because I had no idea of what would expect me in the foreign country. On arrival we had a tea and than Father Jose showed me my room for the next few weeks. After sleeping some hours they showed me the whole place and every person I met there, welcomed me like a member of the family.

The whole institution consists of several divisions: The main hospital with the appropriate Mental Health Care Unit, a home for leprosy patients, an institution called St. Vincents Diabetes Care Center and the children’s home. In addition to that, there are projects which support the education of young adults.

I was located in the building named “Sanni Bhavan” within the well-tended garden of St. Johns. This building was sponsored by the Sanni Foundation and contains classrooms, the guest rooms as well as the yoga- and IT rooms.

After a few days of settling in, I felt as if I had known these children for a long time, because we quickly interacted very amicable. I have an every-day-timetable. At seven o’clock in the morning the day starts with one hour of Yoga with all the children and their teacher. For me it’s a new and fantastic experience to participate daily. Especially for the children it is a good way to get fit and to be rightly balanced. It’s very nice to be a part of a big group of wonderful children and after the first days I already took them all to my heart.

After Yoga lesson we enjoyed our breakfast all together close to the kitchen: Father Jose, Father Mathew and Father Alexander, the sisters and some of the doctors participated. So I have never been alone during the meals. Each day they helped me planning my day and the sisters supported me every time I needed some advice or help. Minni und Dibah, the chiefs of the kitchen cooked us a fresh meal every day and they took care of my well-being with a great dedication. Here I had the possibility to learn about local dishes by helping them for some days, as well as in the children’s kitchen. One can hardly imagine how much work this implies to cook for the children every day. It is really notable how they struggle day by day to provide healthy and balanced nutrition.

Every day I spent the mornings at the hospital beside a doctor. It was very interesting to learn about the procedures and the different medical fields (Cardiology, diabetology, pediatrics, pneumology, dermatology, casualty, ENT and mental health.) St.John’s has also got a team of clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and nurses who take care of people who have mental problems. Twice a week I went with a doctor and a team of three nurses to different village camps, where the rural people come together once a month to get medical treatment. My highlight at St. John’s Hospital was the visit of a special surgeon who helps the poorest leprosy patients with free surgical interventions.

I’ve had the chance to see this surgery for two times and the doctor explained me every important thing. All the doctors tried to teach me as much as possible and I’m really thankful about that. In the afternoon (3-4pm) and in the evening 6-8pm) I tried my best to teach the children English. Mostly I made this in a playfully way. We’ve been speaking, writing and drawing together. I’ve had a timetable and every day classes changed. In the afternoon we’ve been playing all together. I’ve really enjoyed the time with the children, they are adorable and polite. At St. John’s they have the chance to live a normal life. I’ve often been surprised how well the children know about their illnesses and how remarkable they are dealing with them. We had so much fun together and our relationship got better day by day.

The children are already very autonomous: They do their own laundry and help the adults whenever and wherever they can. The teenagers for example support the farming, but also the work in the garden or in the kitchen. The best thing about that is, that they love to do this and they really do it voluntarily. I hope that the children who live in such a good and sheltered frame – free from any stigma – are able to continue their life as young adults. I’ve got an insight into some projects which support this kind of work, for example the cultivation of mushrooms to make a living. However, a protected frame in which the young adults can live quite normally will be needed in any case.

During the last weeks I’ve learned a lot about Indian culture, some words of their local language Malayalam and a lot about the interaction between children and the people who take care of them. I’ve had a great time here and there was really no place for homesickness. At the end of this beautiful time I realize how many experiences I’ve gained – for my own life and also for my medical career later. Therefore, I want to say ‚Thank you‘ to Father Jose, to the whole St.John’s team, the children and to all the people who support this warmhearted institution!

Giulietta Schwarz

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