Updated Sept 2019

Level 2, 139 Newcastle St Northbridge WA 6000

International Medical Trip

Earlier in 2019, Tactic Learning started talking to Plan My Gap Year about the possibility of working together to provide opportunities for our students to participate in an international medical program. There were so many projects that would provide our students with skills and knowledge that wouldn't be available here in Australia. These skills would directly impact our student's career choices in a positive way and provide avenues for development in various areas. 

So in July 2019, our director Natalie took a trip to the Plan My Gap Year project in India to see what it was all about. Below is an account of her short time in Faridabad, India and what she got up to. 

If you would like to join us on one of our trips - please get in touch. We aim to visit India each December and all Tactic Learning Students are welcome to join us. 2019 pricing was $3000pp and this included flights, accommodation, and food. 2020 pricing will be released in April 2020.

Day One

July 8th

2019

My journey started on July 8th, 2019 when I arrived at Perth Airport. Checking in online gave me the privilege of using the ‘drop bag’ queue and skipping the long line of people waiting, however when I passed over my passport and ticket, he asked to see my visa. My visa had been granted online and I had previously printed out the email saying that my e-visa was granted, however he showed me that I needed to click on a link down the bottom of the email that would allow me to print out the official copy. First international travel error! The customer service rep pointed to a shop close by that would be able to print it out for me and I needed to pay $3 for the privilege. Second attempt to check in and everything was fine. I took my backpack and continued through immigration and security to the departures lounge to wait for my flight which was a 7-hour flight to Bangkok.

Day Two

July 9th

2019

After a rocky sleep in the airport, I woke up at 5.15 am and repacked, dressed and headed back to immigration and security. As I had already checked in, it was easy to find the departures area.  Bangkok is full of shops and restaurants and I found coffee, toastie and WiFi and sat to people watch for an hour before my flight left. It was another 4hour flight to India.

I arrived in Delhi and easily made it through immigration. There were different corridors for foreigners and nationals, however, everything is also written in English - so easy enough to follow. I needed my passport, airline ticket and visa printout. I got another stamp in my passport and went to find my bag. This took a long time to come out, but eventually, I was able to leave through the green customs area and outside into the heat to find the PMGY team. I was told to find KFC but walked the entire arrivals area and couldn’t find it. It’s a good thing that English is the second most used language in India (after Hindi) and I was provided instructions that KFC was actually on the outside of the building. I also learnt that once you exit the airport - you can’t get back in. Security is tight and there are guys in uniforms walking around with machine guns. I sat on the steps of KFC and kept an eye out for Meena from PMGY. Eventually we found each other and we started the trip to Faridabad which took us a little over an hour.

 

The traffic here is insane. Road rules, seatbelts, helmets and speed limits seem to be optional - however, it all works. Everyone beeps their horn constantly. They seem to beep for overtaking, more beeping for going too slow, more beeping if you’re turning a corner - but none of these situations attracts any aggression. The scenery is like nothing I have ever seen before. Once out of the city, every area we drove through is full of rubbish, animals and mud. The animals are everywhere - Cows, goats, dogs, pigs/boars are also wandering the streets and they feed on the rubbish that is lining every roadside. The streets are an incredible mix of cars, motorbikes, mopeds, animals, and people.  


The volunteer director is called Vishy and as he is a doctor himself, he runs most of the medical programs and has a lot of connections - so it’s a great place to be to get experience in an area you’re interested in. The accommodation is 4 stories high consisting of multiple group bedrooms, multiple bathrooms, kitchen, meals area, hang out areas, and the roof holds a clothes washing area and another hangout area. At the moment it is summer in the UK, Europe and the US, so the house is at max capacity (52 volunteers in total this week). During the summer months there are two program coordinators, Meena and Dyfan, who are the go-to people to get stuff done.


At the house I got a grand tour, followed by listening in on a group lesson about English teaching. This group had just started their volunteer time here in India and they spent some time discussing their first day and how to create effective lesson plans. Meena then gave me an orientation where we went through the projects, the house, the rules, and I was able to ask a heap of questions. I learnt that when you go to the toilet, the sewage system cannot handle toilet paper, so you have to put all the toilet paper in the bins provided. You
need to bring yourself a water bottle. It’s currently mid-high 30s here at the moment with high humidity. You can’t drink tap water, but there are refillable water stations in the kitchen and most road-side stalls sell cold water bottles for about 20rupee (About 50c).

 

At 4 pm I was able to join a group of volunteers on a trip out to the Monkey Temple. We all crammed into a Tuk-tuk and zoomed throughout the streets. On the way we stopped at a roadside stall to buy bananas for the monkeys. Roadside stalls are usually manned by families, or sometimes just the kids, but this one had a whole family taking care of the bananas. The trip out to Monkey Temple is a short drive away and you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere as you drive down this run-down old track until you get to a cliff area. Walking down the steps into the valley was beautiful as this area was quite green, but sadly the place is still littered with rubbish. We walked past cows and dogs and down a path that led towards an old temple area where the monkeys were. So many monkeys! We took photos and fed them bananas. There were little monkeys doing gymnastics and big monkeys who knew which pockets we were stashing our bananas in. I made the mistake of having one banana in each hand and when a monkey came up to me - I offered him the one in my left hand, but he decided that he wanted both so also reached up for the one in my right hand. When I didn’t release the second banana, he grunted and showed me his teeth. Needless to say, he got both of them.

 

Returning to the volunteer house we had dinner which was pasta, pancakes, spring rolls and eggs. It’s a bit of a random collection of food. You enter into the kitchen, pick up a plate and help yourself and then find somewhere to sit. The staff there were bringing around the eggs and spring rolls and offering you more food. You are able to have cold coke (which is lovely after a hot day), and there were Oreos on the table for when you’ve finished. When you’re all done, you take your plate and cutlery to the sink to wash up. I was careful to watch what everyone else does as I felt it’s important to follow the process. There are still people cooking in the kitchen, so you need to dodge the cooks, but it was easy enough to use the little scourer next to the sink, wash your plate and then put the scourer back for the next person. 

 

I’ve been trying to chat to as many of the volunteers as I can. Most of them are 17-25 age group so it’s young and vibrant. So many different accents floating around the place. So far I’ve met a few from the US, a lot from the UK, and one from Adelaide. There are people here just for an experience, there is one here who is just about to start medicine in the UK. Everyone is very friendly and happy to chat. People are here for 2 weeks up to 6 weeks. There are those who only got here on Sunday and have just started their journey and those that are just about to finish up and head off to the next adventure. Some of them are heading to a new destination and some are just heading home. I took extra time to talk to the medical volunteers about their first day out on the job. A few students got to watch a c-section birth yesterday afternoon. They said they were about 2m away from the procedure and found it incredible. 

 

After dinner, 8 of us took a tuk-tuk to the markets and had a wander around. I withdrew some cash from the ATM. About 3000 rupee is approx $63. It’s important to know what things are worth so you know if you are being ripped off. I didn’t buy anything this time but would like to get some things to take back for the family. We stopped at a cafe for a drink and then returned to the volunteer house.
I’m quite tired by this time and I’m looking forward to a shower and bed. 

Day Three

July 10th

2019

I woke up at about 6 am. Currently, it’s only 29degrees and will reach 36 today. Breakfast consisted of 4 pieces of toast with jam, a juice, and hot potato chips.  Traffic was insane. There seems to be a general consensus of ‘if you can make your vehicle fit - then go for it!’ 2 lane road turns into 5 lanes. If there isn’t enough space on the road - then you can use the footpath/nature strip/shop front etc. However, there hasn’t been any time where I have felt scared. The Indian drivers are very skilled in their crazy driving and we arrive at our destination safely each time.


Today was my first day out on the projects. I’m wearing scrubs and the material is hot and uncomfortable. We travel out to the slum school and we are greeted by a large group of smiling faces of kids aged 4+ who are participating in their morning assembly which consists of singing and dancing. The simple songs are good to get the kids active, and most of them use words and actions that help them with their English, for example, ‘hop on left, hop on right, turn around’ etc. They started with Baby Shark, and travelled through renditions of The Roof Is On Fire, Macarena, and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

 

It was then time to meet the obstetrician called Dr Khushbu who is one of two doctors offering free medical care to the slum community. It started off very quiet in the clinic and it allowed us a short time for the Dr to meet myself, and two other volunteers to establish our skills and training. Then all of a sudden we had our first patient, and then the next, and then 5 more. There is no ‘waiting room’ in this clinic, you’re pretty much all sitting in the Dr's office and taking your turn to talk to the Dr. As soon as you finish with one patient, the next one is sitting next to you ready to go. Our first case of the day was popping a boil on a young boy’s hand. From there we had multiple pregnant ladies having their checkups. Dr Khushbu showed us how to check where the baby’s head is, and also where the limbs will be. We used a fetal monitor to check the heartbeat and she explained to us how to read ultrasound reports. There were UTIs, Ear infections, wound management and various other bits and scrapes. Each patient didn’t take too long and before I knew it, it was time to return to the volunteer house for lunch.
Lunch was chickpea curry and rice with chapatti. Again, you served yourself, ate and then washed your dishes. Just as I had finished lunch, I was told that I was in luck and was leaving in 5 minutes to go and see an actual cesarean surgery!

There were 3 of us that jumped in the car and headed off to the clinic. When we got there we were given face masks, told to take off our shoes and replace these with thongs that they provided. The surgery started and it was amazing. The surgeon cut into the abdomen and a few minutes later a little baby boy was in the world. The dr checked him all over for any issues and It was at this point that I was feeling excessively hot. There were 9 of us in this tiny operating theatre, and with the face mask on - I was heating up fast. I had to step outside and find some air. Such an amazing opportunity that I’m so thankful for. Truly amazing.

 

Arriving back at the volunteer house, I was told that there would be a snake charmer coming in that afternoon. Sure enough, before long I could hear the melodic tunes coming from downstairs. The music is hypnotic and worked well on charming the crowd of watching volunteers. They then passed the snakes around (in their basket) to the volunteers to hold and take photos with.

 

At 4.30 pm, Meena and I travelled out to Sant Bhagwan Singh Ji Maharaj Charitable Hospital where we met with Dr Prabhat. This hospital has its own pathology and blood bank where they test all the blood themselves, X-ray, CT scans, Physiotherapist, eye surgery clinic, pharmacy, dental clinic, ultrasound and general doctors. We sat in with Dr Prabhat for a few patients. One had back pain, one was a 14-year-old cerebral palsy boy in a wheelchair who needed to follow up on some Xrays, and one was struggling with a shoulder injury. For each patient, Dr Prabhat spoke to the patient in their language, and then explained the situation to us and answered our questions.

Day Four

July 11th

2019

The days are whipping past and I’m already halfway through my time here.  It was already 31 degrees at 7 am and the heat is a little uncomfortable. It will hit 38 degrees today. This morning Meena and I are on our way to the Dispensary. This is another free clinic with another female Dr Ssymia (whose English is fantastic!) There are 3 other medical volunteers there already and they are gathering the patient's name, age, symptoms, and vitals. There is a sheet of paper next to them with the Hindi words that they can use to gather the information. ‘Aapka Waati Kaya Hai’ is asking them for their name. They are also provided Hindi words for various parts of the body. This will be a great learning tool for the students before our December trip. Dr Ssyima was providing explanations on all cases and we were able to see and be involved in injections, medications, and there was even a patient that had just been released from the hospital that still had her cannula in her wrist. Dr Ssyima used this port to provide antibiotics. I was able to provide some wound care to a toddler who had a boil on his left arm.

 

Next stop was the medical camp. This is another free clinic in the slums, however, this one isn’t done in a clinic - this one is actually on the side of a road in a community. We took all of our medical supplies in a suitcase which included medications (mainly antihistamines, ibuprofen and a few others) and the community knows that we are there during certain times of the day. There was a higher rate of glucose tests and vitals were taken and this camp was a lot more hands-on and constant and the Dr was able to explain to us what the patient’s complaint was. Kids were everywhere for this one. As we were just on the side of the road, they took an interest in what we were doing and we started making them balloons out of the medical gloves and drawing faces on them. As soon as we gave out a few of these, then more and more kids came for theirs, and before long you saw blue medical glove balloons all up and down the street. The house that we were in front of made pottery and we were all enticed to have a go at making something. It was fascinating to watch him make all of these amazing little pots, vases and bowls so quickly and he was able to teach us some skills in between patients.

 

Lunch back at the house was curry and rice with pineapple. It’s super hot by this stage and a good time to just sit in front of the fans and do nothing. Meena has her ear out for another surgery for me, and when another cesarean comes up she informs me that there may be something different later on that I can watch. Sure enough, a gall bladder removal is on the cards and we will leave at 4.30 pm. Time to catch up on emails, facebook, and relax. At 4 pm I head downstairs and meet up with the house director - Vishy. It’s a great opportunity to ask him some questions and find out more about the program. Faridabad is one of the lowest socio-economic areas within all of India, and any help is welcome. This has certainly been a program where I feel you can truly give back and we discuss the opportunity for when we return in December that we bring back some medical equipment or medications to donate. 

 

I meet up with 2 of the other volunteers that will be watching the surgery with me and we head off to the hospital where we are given a hair net, face mask, and again, told to take off our shoes. We wait... and wait.... and about half an hour later the surgeon comes in and advises us that we will be watching a hysterectomy instead and for us to follow her. The operating room is double the size of the last one and the patient is already unconscious on the table. They work to prepare her for surgery and we move to the other side of the room to watch the surgery on the TV screen. The uterus removal is being done by laparoscopy, so it’s not ‘open’ surgery. The cameras and tools that they use to do this surgery are incredible and the Drs are very skilled. This surgery took about an hour and although that was a long time to stand in one spot - it was fascinating to watch.

 

Heading back to the house, it’s now 6.30 pm and I’m looking forward to a shower and having some dinner with a friend’s daughter who is also volunteering in India at the moment. While I’m waiting for the Uber to arrive, I chat with another volunteer about her experiences of the afternoon. She had visited the orphanage and was heavily processing the experience in her head. She was very touched by the children at the orphanage and it had made her reconsider a lot about her life including her ‘stuff and things’ that she has back home, as these kids have very little - including no parents. My Uber arrives and I get to spend the evening hearing all about Arienne’s adventures and future backpacking plans.

Day Five

July 12th

2019

Today I am off to ultrasound and pediatrics. I’m astounded that I’m leaving to return to Perth tomorrow and reflect on how much I have been able to pack into the trip in such a short amount of time.


Ultrasound was at the Sant Bhagwan Singh Ji Maharaj Charitable Hospital where we met Dr Prabhat on day one. We spent an hour with Dr Chugh as he conducted quite a few ultrasounds. Each time he was looking for kidney stones, gall stones, or bladder stones. Our first patient had kidney and gall stones that were quite large. Dr Chugh showed us how to identify them and measure them and even asked me to locate them on the screen before he had pointed them out. The hospital was extremely busy and the next patient was called before the current one was finished.

 

Next we travelled to a pediatric hospital across town. Two doctors shared the same room and patients and their parents were in and out quickly. The common complaint was fever, gastrointestinal issues and cough. One patient had a rough cough and was sent for a chest X-ray. He returned in a half-hour with the completed X-ray - which was clear. There were a few follow-ups, a child that had been bitten by a dog (and was not happy about needing an injection), and babies that needed vaccinations. We took a trip up to level one where we saw the children’s ward filled with worried parents and also checked in at the newborn ICU where the smallest babies were cared for.

 

Lunch at the house was rice and a spicy tomato sauce, and then we were treated to an Indian culture lesson where we learnt all about the history, food, dress, geography, religion, dance, and marriage traditions. This was followed by a bit of a rest before heading out with the other
volunteers for dinner at a restaurant. There are quite a few volunteers leaving tomorrow (including myself) so it was a nice chance to have a bit of fun on the last night.

Day Five

July 12th

2019

Sadly I was awake early as the heat was intense, but it gave me an opportunity to pack my suitcase, shower and have breakfast before we left the house at 9 am on a day of sightseeing.

 

First stop of the day was the Gandhi Smriti. A museum dedicated to the life of Mahatma Gandhi - a great man who achieved many great things. The museum displayed the history, conversations, photos and stories of his life. A fascinating display of memorabilia.

 

Next, we were off to Lodhi Gardens. A beautiful green area that is known for lovers. We explored two temples here. The architecture is stunning and the old temples are surrounded in quiet and wonder. There are many people wandering the gardens as well as sitting to read a book, or laying in each other’s arms and watching the sky. There is an abundance of squirrels running around the grounds too.

 

We then stopped for lunch at a restaurant and then headed off to Quran Minar which stands over 73m in the air. Some areas of the temples are damaged, but that makes this tourist attraction a stunning backdrop to any photo.

 

Lotus Temple was next. It had a striking resemblance to the Sydney Opera House but looks like a lotus flower. Again, it’s another place of worship, however, this one is not Muslim, or Hindi, it’s an inclusive place of prayer that focuses on unity. We didn’t get too close to the temple as there was a very long line of people to get in there and we were running out of time.

 

A clothing factory and Dilli Haat Market was last on the list. Shopping, shopping and more shopping. The shop owners dressed us in Sari’s and we had the opportunity to see the most amazing fabrics. Dilli Haat market was amazing. Although there are a lot of shops that duplicate the same range of stock, it’s a bit of fun to bargain with the shop owners to get a good price. Clothes, jewellery, bags, paintings, and toys are everywhere and it was the perfect time to get some last-minute shopping done before heading to the airport this evening. I was also able to find someone to do a quick henna tattoo on my arm. It's a temporary artwork that will last about a week and is a nice reminder of my time in India.

 

After our day out, I was transferred to the airport to start my trek home. Indira Gandhi International airport is heavily under security and you’re unable to enter the airport unless you’re travelling, therefore there are a lot of goodbyes just outside the door. You need to have your passport and ticket information ready to show security to gain entrance. 


Getting through Immigration and security is time-consuming. When you go through security, there is a separate line for males and females. Males go through the body scanner and get pat-down, but women go through the body scanner and enter a little curtained off area where they are checked over with a hand scanner. Once you’re given the ok - then
you’re finally into the departures lounge. Indira Gandhi airport has a decent amount of shops and restaurants - enough to keep you occupied for an hour or so. 

One flight to Bangkok, and then a second flight back to Perth. The long flights allow me to process the activities that I have been able to do in the last few days. It has been an amazing adventure and I'm excited to bring students here in December. They will be able to have an amazing time contributing to the health of those who need it and also seeing this amazing country full of colour.