In December 2011 I had the privilege for the third year in a row of travelling to north-eastern India volunteering my skills as a chiropractor. The first two years I was involved in the ‘Hands on India’ involved being part of a team that led a large group of 5th year Murdoch University chiropractic students. Last year my wife (a Nurse/Midwife) and I were able to volunteer together focusing on health and education.
The project is focused on providing free chiropractic treatment to the poorest of the poor in a remote part of northern India. Most people in this region earn around $1 a day, so living conditions are extremely harsh. Although materially poor, they make up for this in their richness of spirit and the smiles on the children’s faces that will leave an everlasting impression on our hearts.
Most of these people are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh that have come across the border over the last 30 years. Unfortunately they are still classed as illegal immigrants despite many of the families having lived there for more than a generation and no efforts have been made to relocate them. Importantly this means that these people don’t have access to government education or health care. Their “back breaking” work of stone breaking and tea picking, coupled with appalling living conditions and inadequate health care constitute a bleak reality.
The project involved setting up mobile clinics to provide free chiropractic care, first aid and basic medical supplies for the children and other community members. Clinics were based around slums on the riverbeds (where families break rocks for a living), orphanages, convents (where Mother Teresa started her work) and schools. Some clinics were within an hour of the Bangladesh and Nepalese borders, forget about the fact we were dealing with TB, cholera and leprosy the most dangerous part of the journey was the horrendous Indian roads, which are constantly in disrepair from monsoonal rains.
The Hands on India program as provided a staggering total of 5000 treatments and has raised now over $50,000 which is being used to build a small school in the slums to enable the children to receive some form of education and keep them off the streets. Money is also been spent on continuing to provide education, health care and clothing for the slum children. The selfless work that Fr James and his colleagues continue to do on the ground is nothing short of inspiring. The passion, energy and commitment he shows to those most in need is something that strikes us every time we travel to India.
A big thank-you to those at South Yarra Sports Medicine who have supported and continue to support these projects.