The one question I have been asked the most upon my return has been “Did you have fun?” The India trip was an experience of a lifetime, don’t get me wrong. However, fun isn’t quite the word I would use. To be honest, I haven’t been able to find the most all-encompassing word to describe what exactly I experienced while I was there; humbling is all I have been able to manage.
Upon our arrival we were greeted by what seemed to be the entire city of Chennai waiting outside of the airport. This would come to be a normal existence in India as you walk along any sidewalk or enter into any of the site visits, there are a lot of people anywhere you go. I spent most of our very long bus rides staring out the window taking in what seemed to be a subject that isn’t talked about much there; the overwhelming poverty. Everywhere we went there were beggars, or armed guards, or people sleeping on the sidewalk. It was everywhere you looked but somehow not in any conversations we had with the business leaders we talked to. Sure they discussed their “CSR” and how they are giving back to their communities, but I’m not sure any business in India could on their own even reach half of those in need. I spent a lot of time reflecting on what we have in America and how truly thankful we should be.
The most resonating moment during the trip to India was the visit to Sankara Nethralya, a non-profit eye hospital committed to giving back to those who can’t afford the care they so desperately need. Working in healthcare, there has been a large push in America to squeeze every penny out of they system that you can. Physicians, hospitals and insurance companies feel they are entitled to their “fair share” of the pie, leaving a skewed non-patient centered care model to develop. Both the founder of the hospital and the physician who worked at the free clinic displayed a passion that was the exact opposite of this. You didn’t hear them say “what’s in it for me?” rather they both expressed sentiments that they are giving back to their community because they have the talent and the ability. If only our healthcare system could step back and recognize it’s not about the money; it’s about compassion, quality care and ultimately healing people.
There were a lot of cultural experiences that I hope to never forget. Eating lunch off of a banana leaf, watching Joe attempt cricket at the top of a mall, rickshaw (auto) rides around town for $2, the engagement party I attended with my friend who was visiting family in Chennai, and of course the Taj Mahal (which smelled oddly of urine on the inside). I am truly thankful for the experience, but I think I’ll keep it to ONCE in a lifetime!