Olivia M.


As Interviewed by Vijay Veeraraghavan, March 5, 2012

Olivia M.: In Her Own Words

Iím from Mississauga, Canada; my parents are Adrienne and Peter M. I have one sibling, Nick. I now go to Queens University, and am taking life sciences in my second year.

I do some local volunteering with Big Sisters of Kingston, and Iíve been overseas to India once and Ghana twice... The organization I went with was called Projects Abroad. There were probably about 12 kids with me around the ages 16 to 22.

[In India] I volunteered in hospitals, we went to different Indian facilities there like leprosy clinics and naturopathy clinics.

People might think there is a legal limit, but there isnít. I know in Canada you need parental consent to cross the border if you are a minor, as long as you have a letter (permitting from your parents). Everyone is able to go.

There are big cultural differences between the two countries ... I was in south Sivakasi (Tamil Nadu). There is a lot of variety in India. The north is very different, so I can only talk about my experience where I was. One big difference when I went there... It was really hot, it was summertime, but we still had to wear long-sleeved t-shirts and long pants and you had to wear everything tight fitted, so that was a change. Also in comfort settings, thereís not much privacy there, you can go into anyoneís hospital room and you can look at the chart and see how the procedure is done. In autopsies, the whole community is outside, waiting. Everything is more community led, your space and my space. I also found that they have very different views about human bodies.

You really got to see a lot of diversity... You got to see how the poor and richer people got treated and everything in between... We rotated around to different hospitals... Doctors sometimes want to come to North America but they donít because they feel tied to their community. They put the other people around them in front of themselves. They are also aware of the fact that if they came here, they might not get the same respect that they get in the communities that they work in currently... When we were in the clinics, that was where the richer people would go to get treated. It was funny because people would even prescribe something even if they didnít need medication. Everyone just wanted some for themselves.

At the hospital, they had signs that they no longer did gender determination during pregnancy.

It showed how they dispose people, crude death, human rights, and respect for the human body. The bodies were on the floor, it wasnít really how I was expecting things to be done, but again, that could just be the individuals doing it.

Obviously some of it like sterilization and some of the surgeries, some of that is funding related. Definitely that could play a factor if you donít have the most high-tech equipment then you canít use fancy things to cut their heads open. It could also be there are nice ways of doing things if you donít have the financial means to get the fanciest blade to open someone. It for sure could be the financial consequence.

It would be poor farmers that would get leprosy... They will get cuts on their feet because theyíre working in the farm and they donít have any shoes on. Because these are cuts they donít know about, they get untreated, they go back out in the farm again with their cuts on the bottom of their feet, and then maggots start to grow in their foot ... The financial situation makes them unable to live in a place where thereís no dirt and bacteria everywhere... They donít have the money to buy themselves shoes, or the problem wouldnít happen in the first place.

The first year I went [to Ghana], I taught at an orphanage, grade 3, and the second year, I worked at a leprosy camp, I volunteered in the public hospital, and I also worked with a girlís sports camp.

An orphanage is an interesting place to volunteer at because those kids are the future of the society. They can contribute to the future of the country.

Education is the most cost-effective way to do things...Education is the best long-term way to prevent problems.

You assume that people would be better to each other, how one man came in when I was in Ghana to the emergency room. He was bleeding profusely and they didnít have the doctors and equipment to take care of him at that hospital, so they wanted him to be moved to the hospital in the city...He didnít have the money on him to take him to the hospital...He couldn't pay for an ambulance. No one wanted to step up and give him the money so they just left him there, and he just died.

The first time, I was more curious about how people were living overseas. I had some awareness that they were living in poverty. I wanted to see what the actual situation was and see if I could do anything to help.

Iíd like to definitely go again. It would be better because now Iím in a university learning things, so it would be good since I have more skills, so I can go over there and be more helpful than just volunteering in the hospital. One day Iíd like to be in Doctors Without Borders... It completely changes how you look at something. You canít live the same way once youíve seen the things that people have to live through.

Personally, I think the best thing to do is to actually go there and try to help yourself because a lot of times if you give your money, youíre not sure where itís going. Itís also good so people can actually see what things are like. I think itís better if it means something to you, instead of just writing the check to whatever organization. Again, thatís not everyoneís thing. ďAnyone can raise awareness.Ē Getting educated is probably a good thing, finding out what their political situation is, and if you see an opportunity where you can do something that interests you, you can help by just starting a club at your school.

Here our definition of poverty is not the same as over there. The house I was staying at in Ghana had no running water and I was staying with one of the richer families there, and here if people here had no running water, they would just be probably not bathing.

I think itís important that everyone be treated like a human being, regardless of where you were born or what your financial situation is. Thatís just basic, everyone needs that.