My Experiences as a Global Impact Fellow in Dhenkanal, Orissa, India

By Stephanie Reinhold
Villanova University Student
Global Impact Fellow

Volunteering at the Kalinga Eye Hospital and Research Centre (KEHRC) in Orissa, India was a powerful experience for me.  It was fascinating to be immersed into the rich Indian culture and to experience healthcare in India, both of which differ from that in the United States.  I learned a great deal from my time in India.  Whether I went to an outreach camp or remained in the hospital, every day was a learning experience.  I enjoyed building relationships with the hospital staff and learning about their families, their interests, and the work they perform for the hospital.  I have been interested in pursuing a career in medicine since I was in high school, yet the new experiences I encountered through my participation in the Unite For Sight program have significantly influenced the career path I would like to take.

My favorite part of working at the hospital was getting the chance to interact with patients.  One of my jobs at the hospital was to interview post-operative patients about how cataract surgery impacted their lives.  Few people in Orissa speak English, and those who do have a limited vocabulary.  Consequently, my interviews had to be conducted through a translator.  Despite the complicated dialogue, I enjoyed getting the chance to listen to the stories the patients told me of their home lives.  Due to blindness caused by cataracts, many of the patients had never seen the beautiful faces of their grandchildren, and many of the patients were unable to provide for their families any longer.  The surgeries that KEHRC provided to them gave the patients the ability to return to their former lives and to experience the gift of sight once again.  It was wonderful to see patients leave the hospital, knowing that their lives would be positively impacted when they returned home.   

I also enjoyed interviewing the patients because our conversations revealed their perceptions of healthcare.  As one elderly woman informed me, rumors have circulated throughout the villages that doctors kidnap patients, cut out their eyes, and sell them for profit.  I witnessed how perceptions such as this one cause villagers to be fearful and avoid healthcare.  Despite the shocking rumors that spread throughout the villages, KEHRC has an excellent reputation among the surrounding districts of the hospital.  I heard one story of a cataract patient who was on a bus, traveling to a hospital other than KEHRC to receive cataract surgery.  While on the bus, the patient learned that KEHRC would be visiting his village later in the week.  Knowing of the superior care that KEHRC provides its patients, the man got off the bus and waited until the KEHRC staff came to his village.  Through its partnership with Unite For Sight and the dedicated work of its managers and staff, KEHRC is able to provide patients with eye care that is tangibly superior to what other hospitals are able to provide.

KEHRC did not earn its highly regarded reputation over night; rather, its standing amongst local villagers has been developed for years by the hospital staff.  I was impressed by the way in which KEHRC operates.  The hospital managers were constantly busy, ensuring that the hospital was operating efficiently.  The paramedics were diligent in taking care of patients during the day and studying common diseases of the eye at night.  The ophthalmologists were dedicated to seeing a large volume of patients and performing cataract surgeries each day.  The workers at KEHRC worked to their highest capacity to ensure that the maximum number of patients from the neighboring villages could receive high quality eye care.

After returning home from India, I was able to reflect upon the lessons that I learned while I was at KEHRC.  I learned what is required to sustain an eye hospital that provides over ninety % of its surgeries for free.  In addition to the proper organization and planning, dedicated workers, such as the staff members KEHRC employs, are necessary.  I learned the differences between the Indian and American healthcare systems, yet I was also able to recognize the similarities.  Finally, volunteering in India opened my eyes to the challenges – and the benefits – that foreigners experience when trying to adapt to a new culture.  As I begin to embark upon a future career in healthcare, I am confident that I will be able to utilize the knowledge that I gained as a Unite For Sight Global Impact Fellow.