Top 10 Things I Learned in India

We’ve been back just over three weeks now, and have had multiple in-depth conversations about our trip with various people which has enabled me to really reflect on the good, the bad, and the stinky.

Going away to an environment that is 180 degrees from our own really facilitated my own personal grown. It was challenging to narrow it down, but here are the top 10 lessons I learned from this trip!

1. Happiness is a choice. Like I mentioned before, we met countless families that have been presented with challenges that many of us can’t even imagine, and many of them are happy. They choose to push forward, and persevere. Depression and anxiety definitely exists, but people seemed to smile and laugh often.

2. Resiliency is a learned characteristic that I realize is not so common in our society anymore. So many of the children and parents in Koppal pushed through and just dealt with things, as tough as they were. Families waited six hours without complaint to have therapy. It was rare to see children whine for candy or toys.

I could certainly take a page out of their books when I’m complaining that I had a bad day and need a glass of wine to remedy my sorrows. Maybe I should be using my energy to reflect on what I could do to bounce back and make the next day better. Here’s a great post I read recently:

3. I can do a complete shampoo, conditioner, face wash and body wash with ONE bucket of water. In 10 minutes. For real.

4. Even though I thoroughly believe that businesses, organizations, and people would highly benefit from being as efficient as possible, I’ve accepted that people and whole countries can survive on long-winded, roundabout, multiple-unecessary-step ways. Sigh.

5. Eating with your hands is freeing, and your thumb makes a great shovel to push rice into your mouth. Filipinos would agree. Bonus: No cutlery to wash.

6. Despite #5, I DON’T like using my hands for spicy rice for breakfast, it hurts my eczema. Actually, I don’t like using a spoon for spicy rice for breakfast. In fact, I don’t like spicy rice for breakfast at all.

7. Waste not, want not. We struggled to find wastebaskets around the campus and in people’s homes; they just don’t exist, because there isn’t a big need for them. Food and other items don’t come individually wrapped in plastic trays in cardboard boxes in plastic wrap. Has anyone analyzed a box of Lindt chocolates lately?? (Thanks Rochelle for pointing that out!). Because there isn’t as much of an emphasis on consumerism due to poverty, people live the simple life and aren’t drawn into buying the next bigger and better item.

8. Our society is killing our squat form! As many physios out there know, sitting in desks and chairs since Kindergarten is ruining our flexibility and is leading to many biomechanics issues later in life (low back pain, knee and hip issues, movement pattern irregularities, etc). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy comfort (I’m lying on my pillowtop mattress under my duvet as I write this), and yes sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the floor isn’t the most relaxing but moving through the full range of squatting and sitting is just so beneficial.

My good physio friend Sarah S challenges some of her clients: try going a whole day without using a chair, and squat when you can. You might be rudely awakened with how limited your body is.

9. I learned a realistic concept of ‘need’. I saw that babies really don’t ‘need’ much more than food, a roof over their heads, and love. This is how a large proportion of our world lives, on minimal resources. No Sophie Giraffe chew toys, Baby Magic Bullets, top end strollers (or any strollers), or even diapers.

I can absolutely appreciate all of the amazing things our society has available to offer the little loved ones in our lives, but my perspective was shifted to understand the true meaning of ‘need’. I walked into my Vancouver apartment and immediately had a heightened sense of appreciation for everything, from my laundry washer and dryer to the shoe rack at the entrance. Most of the things I own are above and beyond any ‘need’ that I have.

10. Lastly, I learned that regardless how frustrating working internationally can be sometimes, it is always a rewarding and worthwhile experience in the end. Maegan, Danielle, Marcia, Kailen, and I thank Hilary and the SODA and Samuha staff for allowing us to have this experience.

I’m really hoping to go back again in the next few years, and take some other students or colleagues (Physio, OT, prosthetists) with me.

Thank you to everyone who has read this blog and given me feedback, to Maegan for her maaaany contributions of clever thoughts and sharp photos and proofreading, and of course to the families who allowed me to tell their important stories. Thanks Samuha Samarthya – it’s been a blast… we’ll see you soon 🙂


If you’d like to support Samuha’s efforts to change the lives of people with disabilities in South India like the ones you’ve read about in my blog, please visit SODA’s website,, as they are accepting donations year-round.

100% of donations go to Samuha in India.