My Experience Volunteering in India for Rabies prevention
100 children die every day due to Rabies.
25,000 people die in India every year due to Rabies.
I never knew about any of these stats until my friend told me that she was going volunteering in India. The fact that my friend from a foreign country was going to my country to volunteer inspired me to do it myself. This was particularly interesting because I was scared of dogs. By the end of my Volunteering period in Goa, our team had vaccinated over 20, 000 dogs and educated about 100,000 children about rabies prevention through education campaigns, street announcements and rallies. This organisation aims to make Goa rabies free by 2018, which would be a great feat and It was really cool to be part of it.
Here is what happened during these two weeks:
I was part of the Education volunteering team which was tasked to spread awareness in the city, especially educating children on Canine safety and Rabies prevention.
I highly recommend this volunteering programme to anyone who wants to do something fun but also wants to give something back. You get to see and understand many sides of India while enjoying its culture from a different perspective. You meet amazing people.
You work everyday but also see the results almost immediately. Interacting with the locals is an amazing experience. Goa’s beautiful beaches and yummy cuisine definitely made this one of my best experiences.
It was our free day before our work started, we gathered below our hotel to get some Indian breakfast before heading off to Madgaon to be briefed on what we were supposed to do. We met Murugan and Ashok, both of them have been instrumental in bringing awareness to schools over the past few years. As It was our day off, we headed off to Benaulim beach right after the briefing. On our way, we met Harry. Harry (He has a scar on his forehead) is a street dog who is neutered, he kept following us until the whole group started becoming friends with him. We reached Benaulim by bus, Bus rides have always been fun for me in India. I think they really put me sleep with all the bumpy roads in India. We had some yummy seafood along with some Feni (Goan drink made of cashew nuts). The beach looked absolutely gorgeous with beautiful skies and so much coastal lifes crawling along the beach. It was fascinating to see so many cows and stray dogs on the beach. We spotted quite a few dogs which were already neutered and vaccinated from the year before. We chilled our way into the evening and left to our hotel before gearing up for our first day at work.
It was our first day at work. We got our yellow shirts and left to a school along with Murugan and Ashok where we assisted them in giving rabies prevention presentations till noon. It was very interesting, I wanted to just get on the stage as soon as possible and interact with the students. I was told that I would have my first session the day after, which was exciting. After our day at the school, we went to a restaurant to have some yummy Goan food before we headed off to our hotel. Later at the hotel something funny happened when I decided to prove to my friends that my Sony phone is waterproof. Yeah! I dipped it in the swimming pool and it died, Ha ha.
Another early day to the schools to teach children about canine safety and rabies prevention. This time I got to talk with the children myself, there were about 1000 children. I was quite nervous at first, but the children were nice enough to listen to me. This was a big moment for me to be able to connect with so many children at one place. I thought to myself that I could be a teacher someday. After our classes there, we moved on to another class with older children (in their 9th grade). Towards the end of the presentation we asked for some volunteers to come forward to do a few demonstrations, it was surprising that the older students were more shy than the younger ones. Later we got to walk around the school, it was nice to visit a school after some time. It got to play some football with the boys :D.
We finished our day at around 2 pm, after that we headed to a restaurant to try the infamous Goan king kish thali. The Goan thali that we had included semolina fried king fish, mussels and some fish curry. In the evening, we visited a vegetarian restaurant that made some delicious food for us, they were going to cater us for the whole week. We were usually very tired during the dinners, we talked about the whole day and shared jokes before going to bed.
It was raining heavily in Goa. It was a day when we were going to the streets to survey dogs to find how many dogs were neutered from the year before. This information was going to be used for future research and optimizing methods to vaccinate dogs in the state. We started finding dogs in the areas designated to us, I used my camera to click pictures and find more about the dog’s gender and neutered state. One of the times I was truly scared was when we were on a road and we found almost 8 dogs barking at us. It was quite scary, but we were briefed before about how to avoid these situations and how to not make the dogs feel threatened, which definitely helped. After completing our task in the whole area, we ate some quick snacks and continued with the work. Now, we went from door to door to inquire about the dogs in their surroundings. We asked questions about stray dogs in the area, how they disposed waste and if they knew about the vaccinations which were available from the government hospitals. I got to talk a lot, because of my manageable Hindi.
This day was just like the day before, but this time we were prepared for the rain. We surveyed dogs in other parts of Goa and went door to door taking surveys. I was doing most of the talking this time as it was in rural area and many of them were could not understand English. There was an interesting place, where most of the adults did not go to school. In one of those houses, an old man was trying to argue about killing dogs instead of vaccinating them. I tried explaining him that killing dogs will not stop the problem but better waste disposal methods will. When the argument was getting no where, a young girl who goes to primary school came out of the house. I started explaining to her and she explained everything to her grandfather. He seemed to agree after listening to his grand daughter. It was amazing to be part of this transition happening in my own country.
We were going to visit a local community to talk with the women there. The idea was to spread awareness among the women in the communities, so that they could easily convey this to their children. I was assisting in translating what was said in English, it was personally very rewarding to think that I was part of something that was affecting a lot of lives. I did not know a few words in Hindi and I kind of provided comic relief to the audience there, haha. As long as they laughed and I got my points across, I was happy :). After lunch I requested if I could be part of the vaccination team, and they let me join them. We went around the city using a GPS locater to vaccinate dogs, it was fun interacting with the dog catchers and the rest of the vaccination team. Over a thousand dogs were vaccinated that day alone by the teams put together. At one of the houses when we entered the gate, we heard a dog barking at us, but it could not stand and it was in pain. We asked the lady who seemed to be the owner about what happened. She explained that the dog met with an accident and it has been the hurting since, we asked if we could euthanize the dog as it looked in a lot of pain and could not stand. The lady agreed, but the team did not have the necessary items then and they were going to come back later. It was an odd moment for me in that otherwise happy day, I did not know what was the right thing to do. Anyways, we moved on and the day ended with us vaccinating dogs on the beach. It happened to be Ganesh chaturthi on that day, after dinner we heard lot of sounds on the streets. It looked very festive, so we joined the large groups on the roads and danced with them for a bit before coming back to our rooms.
This was a Saturday, but we had to accompany the officials for a press meet with the Member of the legislative assembly of South Goa. Basically, he was supporting our campaign and the officials were giving numbers on the number of vaccinations among other details. It was fun to be part of the new coverage, we also vaccinated a few dogs around there. We played some football meanwhile with some kids who were playing there. Later we headed to our new hotel in Panjim before checking out the beach. By the time we reached the beach, we realised that it was too warm and we wanted to get some food. One our way back we stopped at this restaurant called “Mum’s kitchen”. I got to try the infamous King fish curry there, it was yummy! That night, we went to ‘Curlies’ on the beaches of Anjuna, this was a really cool place. They had techno music, really cozy lounges and the beach just meters away. They also had great chocolate martinis, awesome place.
Sunday was more of a chilled out day. We visited the Panjim market in the morning, The place was buzzing with locals buying groceries for the week. The girls from our group were excited to look at some Sarees and Indian Jewellery. Later in the afternoon, we went to the Baga beach. We had some tasty seafood and headed back to our hotels. We had our dinner at Fisherman’s wharf, which is definitely one of the best restaurants I have ever visited. It has some really good paneer masala and seafood.
We went to a village and another community in the city to explain about rabies prevention and waste disposal. We were supposed to visit another school later, but there was some miscommunication and we had a short day at work. But, we went around the city to get some nice pictures of the old portuguese houses there. We also went to the markets to handover some leaflets about Rabies prevention and vaccinations.
We had a press conference to attend in the morning. The main guys from Mission rabies addressed the media, they gave them the numbers and their plan to go about removing rabies from Goa. Later I joined the vaccination team in the afternoon. We vaccinated a lot more dogs that day. We came across an injured Dog, who got into an accident on the road and hurted her legs. She could not stand, we helped her get back on feet and found her a safe place with the people nearby. We heard that the dog could stand on it’s legs in another week, she was being taken care by the family nearby.
We went to visit couple of schools in the morning to give them a few presentations on Rabies prevention. In the evening we visited another school, before visiting the streets to make some announcements to spread awareness.
Day Twelve and Thirteen
It was our final couple of days at work. We had organised a massive parade for the school students of Goa. They participated in large numbers, they were holding slogans which spread awareness. They walked about the city and it was amazing to see so many students taking part in the rally. The next day, we got on a small truck to make announcements around the city. On our way, we had to stop to get the speaker fixed to make announcements and during our stop, we met Nisha. She is quite a little genius, She speaks 5 languages (English, Hindi, Konkani, Kannada and Marathi) after changing 7 schools(reminds me a bit of me), she dreams to become a teacher and is already quite a good one. You could see her explaining difficult concepts that she has just heard from us. She talked about things which are difficult to comprehend, she understands the world, she wants the world to be beautiful. She said this ” Everyone is so pretty today, I love festivals”. She has promised to take our awareness campaign to her family, relatives, schools and friends. She was very Inspiring. Later we joined the whole team for dinner to say goodbye, we got a coffee mug with our photos printed on it from our teams.
Personally, these two weeks were very meaningful to me. I came back to my own country as a volunteer for two weeks with a fear of dogs, this definitely added so much perspective to things I see in life. I realised how the youth of India is changing it, I saw that people are very passionate here, how colourful this country is with it’s diversity. I loved talking with children, I did not mind waking up at 4am to get ready to work, it was a pleasure working with awesome people, who just wanted to do something good. Goa was also very beautiful with it’s amazing beaches, delicious cuisine and chilled out lifestyle.
At the end of the month the group on the whole vaccinated over 30,000 dogs and reached over a 100 thousand children in the city. More than anything, I think volunteering anywhere, at any level adds meaning to your life and the life around you. I have promised myself to volunteer every year, I hope this inspires you to do the same. Again, I would like to thank all my friends who donated money to my fundraiser, giving me this opportunity to be a part of this programme.
Love and Peace