Withington Onwards Travel Award Winner (2010) – Natasha Jacob

Natasha Jacob won one of our 2010 Withington Onwards (formerly Senior Club) Travel Awards and has sent us the following report of her voluntary work in Kerala in Summer 2010.

Natasha Jacob in KeralaI decided to volunteer as a health care worker and teaching assistant for one month in South India, Kerala at ‘Mercy Home' an institution for underprivileged physically and mentally disabled girls. I first heard about this home through my parish priest who lived nearby it when he worked in India. I am applying for Medicine this year and I have had previous work experience in British hospitals. However, it was important for me to gain a perspective of a healthcare system in a third world country; where they have less finances, resources and have different ways of treating their patients. Furthermore, I am originally from Kerala and it provided an opportunity to return to visit while simultaneously giving back to a less fortunate community.

Children playing in the homeIn the mornings I taught the girls too disabled to go to school spoken and written English. Teaching was quite difficult, as the girls had different degrees of cerebral palsy (CP) which required various learning techniques, depending on their disability. Whilst the care home was extremely well run despite their low funds, the girls were grateful for the additional attention I could give them during my stay. Some girls had an operation called ‘single event multilevel lever arm restoration and anti spasticity surgery' (SEMLARASS). This operation can only be carried out by one doctor in India at the moment. It is not a cure for CP however it greatly corrects the consequences of it and can be life changing for the girls who receive it. I witnessed the intense physiotherapy needed after the operation and it strengthened my character to see young girls determinedly cooperating with the painful treatment, to walk again.

In the afternoons I helped in a centre attached to the care home, particularly the autism clinic. I taught autistic children along with autism specialists. I realised the importance of repetition of words, games and numbers to help the children learn and be able to integrate into normal schools. The whole experience was challenging but definitely the most rewarding work I have done so far and I look forward to returning in the imminent future.

I would like to thank Withington Onwards for the grant which provided such a unique and wonderful opportunity.