January 22, 2010

Calcutta Rescue

I will admit that my volunteer work has gotten off to a slow start, and I have stalled about writing to tell about it for not knowing really what I was doing, but I suppose it is about time that I post an update about the actual work I am doing here. Abundant holidays and my own sickness, not to mention huge cultural adjustments set me back the first week or so. But after an absolutely incredible clinic tour of CR's programs, and slowly getting my head around all of the possibilities of work here, I am so excited and honored that I am dedicating my time here. I won't go into depth about the extensiveness of the organization since their website details this: www.calcuttarescue.org
I am still trying to figure out where I will be most useful, since I have no "medical training." However, it seems there is still plenty to do, whether it is using my artistic and health education skills or simply observing medical care. Here's a sort of delineation of what I see myself doing:
1. Health education posters--redesigning and creating posters teaching about diseases and their transmission, preventive medicine, and cultural implications of disease for both staff and patients to use as educational materials. I've already started this, and it has been a good first project, since I can do it without necessarily going anywhere. It seems it is quite useful for them to have these materials, and today I dropped off the first set (HIV/AIDS and heart health, with copies for three clinics plus the street medicine teams) to a carpenter to have them mounted on plywood and laminated for permanence as they wanted.
2. Street medicine--this is going to be my favorite part I think, though I don't know what to expect. I haven't been able to go yet due to being told I couldn't (mistakenly), sickness and holidays, and now the next opportunity is not until next Saturday. But when I finally start I'll be able to go along with the street teams on the mobile clinic and observe care as they provide it. I'm sure I'll learn a lot, and hopefully I'll be able to be of some use to them as well with my street outreach and social work experience. It will certainly be interesting to compare what I've learned through my time in Pittsburgh with a totally new environment.
3. Art/handicrafts/kids--doing art projects with street kids in the schools. I met with the Tala Park school teachers today, who were really welcoming and excited to have me doing some projects with the kids. They hope to do a collage project or competition soon, which is just what I was thinking of starting. CR has an entire handicrafts program that provides revenue as well, and perhaps the kids' artwork could even be used to bring profit back to them. This has been done before, where they had a painting contest and the winners were put on postcards with each child's story on the back. I bought a set last night. Tala Park school is a school for "non-formal" students, kids who aren't quite ready for "formal" school. They still have to master basic language (they learn Bengali, Hindi, and English), as well as social skills, hygiene, math, and art. As soon as they are prepared, they are sent to the government ("formal") schools.
Today I finally got to catch up with Dr. Jack Preger, the founder of Calcutta Rescue. He is one impressive character for sure, his age of 80 years a deceptive misrepresentation of his energy level. Having lived his life as a farmer in Britain, he decided at age 37 that he was called to become a doctor to serve the poor. He began practicing medicine on the streets of Calcutta, to the strange disliking of the government, and has served prison time fighting for what is right. He exudes leadership, passion, and the guts to overcome any obstacle, seeming to have ripened rather than weakened in his old age. You can read more about him at: http://basilicum122.googlepages.com/fromtheauthor

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