The experience of an empathy immersion in India
I’m struggling to find the words to adequately describe the time I spent in India – but can say with certainty it was nothing short of incredible. From learning about and exploring various systems present throughout rural India, such as the education and healthcare system, to spending time within the homes of families living in the village, each day on immersion presented us with a multitude of new and unique experiences.
Throughout the program, we continually learnt about and were exposed to the powerful and transformative notion of empathy, and furthermore the role it plays in building and fostering relationships based upon a shared understanding. Over the course of three weeks living within the rural Maharashtran village of Sonoshi, with the concept of empathy to guide us, we spent a significant amount of time out amongst the village, spending time with individuals and families. I was, and still am, completely bewildered by the strength and intensity of the connections that could be made in such a short amount of time.
Reflecting back, I acknowledge that even the brief interactions I shared with certain individuals whilst on immersion have had a lasting impact on me, most notably the attitudes and values imparted upon us by a select few healthcare workers we had the privilege to meet. Embarking on the program as a part of a group of nursing students, the morals and beliefs of these healthcare professionals heavily resonated with me.
An experience throughout my immersion that I found to be particularly impactful occurred whilst on a day trip touring local healthcare facilities. We had the opportunity to meet and speak with Pamela, the sole nurse working at a local village hospital. The unwavering dedication she displayed towards her role and her passion for health education shone through in all that she spoke about – only made stronger by the fact that she lives permanently at the centre, so that she can provide care to anyone presenting to the facility at any hour of the day or night. If sacrificing sleep wasn’t enough, Pamela also revealed that in residing permanently at the centre, she faces the difficult situation of living away from her family – sacrificing being with her loved ones in the name of caring for others.
This intense drive and devotion for providing care was echoed within the morals of a doctor we met whilst visiting a larger facility in nearby Ghoti. A man whom, despite working incredibly long hours, and being limited by time, staffing, and resources, stressed to us the importance of always showing kindness to your patients, and placing them at the centre of everything you do. It was so humbling and inspiring to be reminded of these values within an environment that presented a multitude of workplace stressors, and is something I will strive to continually reflect upon during my future career as a nurse.
A reflection of my time in India wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the intense and meaningful impact the people of Sonoshi had on me throughout my time in the village. We discovered very quickly that the people that inhabit this temporary home of ours radiate warmth and kindness in every aspect of their lives. Whilst walking around the village, we were met with warm smiles and invitations for chai, instantly erasing any apprehensions I held about our presence in the village. The hospitality and openness exuded by the villagers of Sonoshi was simply unfaltering, a fact that became even more evident after being given the opportunity to split up into pairs and spend more quality time with certain families.
Through spending significant time with certain people throughout the village, we were granted a raw insight into their daily lives. It became clear that, despite obvious cultural differences and an ever-present language barrier, empathy plays such a central role in creating strong connections, particularly ones that aren’t built solely upon verbal communication.
Through learning about and exploring other methods of communication for empathy, and furthermore employing these within our interactions throughout the village, I was able to overcome the preoccupation I previously held about relying purely on verbal communication to build a connection. I found that the moments of shared silence, where I could feel comfortable to just sit and be in someone’s presence, or whilst helping them to sort rice or pick methi leaves, to be of equal importance to the moments where in which a translator was present to assist us in sharing aspects of our life to each other.
Stemming from these interactions and connections, it was incredible to think that people felt comfortable enough around us to share deep, personal aspects of their lives. It was in these moments that the inherent strength and resilience that was present all around us in Sonoshi truly shone bright. Despite the difficult situations many were faced with, there was a unanimous attitude to maintain a positive outlook on life, and do all in your power to love and support those around you.
Living within a tribal community allowed us to witness first-hand the plethora of cultural and religious beliefs surrounding tribal identity, and most notably, the immense connection the villagers of Sonoshi have with nature and the land around them. Through spending time with families in the village, we were provided with the opportunity to further understand and delve into the relationship between tribal values and people’s perceptions of not only their own health, but also healthcare in general.
I was particularly fascinated by the practice of ayurvedic medicine within the village, and was grateful for the opportunity to visit Ramdas Kaka, a villager living in Sonoshi who practices in ayurvedic remedies. We learnt about the sacred beliefs surrounding ayurvedic medicine, and the immense importance knowledge of the remedies holds. Kaka explained to us that he provides these remedies free of charge to anyone seeking it, once again enforcing the rich sense of community and support ingrained within tribal villages.
I learnt and experienced so much throughout my time in India – and it is an experience I will cherish for years to come. The people I met, and the insights into their lives that they shared with us is something I will always be grateful for. To the Drishtee Immersion team who guided us through this experience – I thank you endlessly. Your unwavering support and dedication to uncovering perspectives and fostering real understanding within the village inspired me greatly, and made this experience one I am privileged to have been a part of.
Alice Perkes is an undergraduate student of Nursing at UTS.
This article was originally published by UTS, read here.