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. 



Don’t Worry, Be Hampi :)

January 28th, 2014

The incredible city of Hampi is a sprawling site of ruins and structures that made up the elaborate Telugu empire existing over 600 years ago. Quoting the history from the Lonely Planet:

“By the 16th century, the greater metropolitan region of Vijayanagar, surrounded by seven lines of fortification, covered 650 sq km and had a population of about 500, 000. Vijayanagar’s busy bazaars were centres of international commerce, brimming with precious stones and merchants from faraway lands. This all came to a sudden end in 1565 when the city was ransacked by a confederacy of Deccan sultanates; it subsequently went into terminal decline.”

IMG_5362With flat rice paddies uniformly sprouting green grasses from the rice grains under the mud juxtaposed on puzzling boulder formations towering above, Hampi is surely one of the most beautiful places on earth.


The main travellers’ strip of Hampi Bazaar has changed tremendously since my last visit in 2011. As Hampi is aiming to gain World Heritage status, the government has ousted many of the shops and businesses that once lined the main pathway to the Virupaxshi temple. Piles of rubble now replace restaurants and shops however a small shopping and living district still exists closer to the river. This time, we (5 of us Canadians and 4 of the German volunteers) chose to stay across the river in a much more relaxed area called Virapapur Gaddi. Goan Corner Guesthouse really was in its own corner: we had to walk through a rice paddy to reach our multi-hut guesthouse (complete with a minihorse-sized canine) with a beautiful backdrop of popular bouldering sites.




Friday evening was spent relaxing and having a few casual beers, followed by an easygoing morning swinging on the hammocks outside our rooms and deciding how to spend our day. We ended up congregating on Rishimuk Plateau, a collection of 27 crags on freestanding boulders. Kailen and Marcia took the lead as the experienced climbers and everyone had a great time trying different problems and conquering each crux!


Photo credit: Leon (one of the German volunteers) – danke!


Photo Cred: Leon


Maegan and I explored a bit on our own and did some bouldering too:


We caught the picturesque sunset on our own private rock with no one around: IMG_5333 IMG_5337


Major photo credit for this perfectly staged shot! Thanks Leon!


Buuuuuttttt what goes down must come up (?) and unfortunately we all ended up getting some form of food poisoning, ranging from immediate violent gastrointestinal distress in the wee hours of the morning with intense malaise and limited will to live (yikes Marcia and Ben!), to moderate lingering nausea, loss of appetite, and hot flashes over 36 hours later. For the better of two days most of us were out of commission: Sunday was the peak for several crew members – the then-healthy ones (only to fall ill a day later!) were able to do the beautiful walk along the river to the Vittala Temple containing the stone chariot. 

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We just made it to another site before its closing time and saw the Lotus Mahal and the former Elephant Stables – two beautiful works of architecture. IMG_5366DSC_0920We’ve wrapped up another Tuesday here at Samuha and are back in business. After taking a vacation from our vacation, most of us feel 90% healthy and we were all able to spend another day working with families. Only 1.5 weeks left!

Chapatti… Chaparti… Cha-parrrrtay!

Where can you find honking horns, flying dates and bananas, tinny Indian music blaring through low-quality speakers, and 300,000 people? At the Koppal Jathra, of course!

On Saturday January 18th, after a long day of teaching the local workers about autonomic dysreflexia (taught by Hilary) and blood pressure (taught by Kailen), we gathered our energy to head to the annual local festival. The five German volunteers and the six of us Canadians planned to meet the many local workers and some of their family members. On the way there, we waited on the side of the road for our ride and witnessed some of the most cramped transport… ever.

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We walked down the main road weaving in and out of groups of young men holding hands or arms draped around each other (men are extremely touchy with their friends), gaggles of girls with flowers pinned in their braids, and full families wearing their Sunday best, many of them travelling hours from the surrounding villages to be a part of the excitement. Very quickly we became a spectacle and had people (usually men) taking many photos of us as they walked alongside us.

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We waited for the main event – a massive stone cart lit up with flashing Christmas lights would be pulled about 250m to the fairgrounds by hundreds of men tugging two long ropes. Once the chariot started moving, we were given dried dates to throw as offerings (which was about 200m away… we barely could throw it across the road on which we stood; I’m quite sure we ended up just nailing a few people in the head). The chariot reached its destination at a large boulder in the centre of the field, and that concluded the main event. And that was that – we headed away from the centre along with about 100,000 others leaving early and made our way back to campus.


Another big reason to cha-parti and eat chapatti is a birthday. As in many cultures, another year completed is cause for a celebration. We’ve been fortunate to enjoy two birthdays thus far: Bhagya (the daughter of the two orthotic technicians) turned seven on January 12th, and our very own MPT student Danielle Boyd turned a whopping 26 on January 15th. Bhagya wore a crown of dainty bright orange flowers while a fancy candle burned while singing ‘Happy Birthday’. Bhagya cut the cake and as per Indian tradition, she fed each person present a bite of cake and they returned the favour – she must have eaten equivalent to 1/4 of her cake!

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Through quiet planning and recruitment of the German boys Leander and Ben, we ordered Dani a double-hearted chocolate cake, complete with the singing candle. The local worker Tahera gifted Dani with a gorgeous vibrant blue, purple and orange sari that Tahera (luckily) helped her put on. It didn’t look easy to manoeuvre ten metres worth of fabric! Dani looked so elegant and was overwhelmed when about 25 of the campus staff were there to sing her ‘Happy Birthday’ on  the evening of the 15th.


This coming Friday the five of us girls and four Germans are headed to one of my favourite places in the world – Hampi. On Sunday, Hilary and perhaps a couple other staff members will meet us our there for the day.  I’m sure we’ll have a few opportunities to cha-party!

Planes, Trains… and Auto-Rickshaws

January 16, 2014

There have been several opportunities for us to head into Koppal town, whether it’s to visit a client in their home or to buy some treasured fruit. We wanted to share some of the methods used to transport people, food, goats, wheat, and anything else you can possibly  think of.

On the way to Koppal, we took the overnight train with convertible sleeping bunks:


Another day, we were given the luxury of taking the Samuha jeep to go into town, cramming 11 people into a 7-seater. This was actually less than capacity as nobody was hanging out open doors nor sitting on the roof.

IMG_4727Here’s a bullock cart, one of the most common forms of transport. The two bullocks below are decorated with ribbons and paint in preparation for the upcoming Jathra (festival) tomorrow.

_DSC0419Taking up the majority of a narrow and crowded street barrels a modern city bus, complete with a scrolling route display:


Bikes are also common, seems like they like to teach the young’ns early here:


It’s encouraging to see that adapted forms of mobility are becoming more readily available in rural India. Maegan snapped this photo of the clients at the Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Centre:


What better way to travel home from school than a tractor-towed trailer bed?


How many bodies can you squeeze onto a motorbike?


…or in the most popular form of Indian transportation, the auto-rickshaw!


As you’ve seen, Indian people are resourceful and creative with transportation methods, and have little to no personal bubble. And safety? Pfff.

Our Home Away From Home

January 14, 2014

Since my last visit in 2011, the Samuha campus has undergone multiple changes to further improve the efficiency of the services it provides. Here’s a tour of our crib for the next 3.5 weeks…

The Samuha Samarthya campus is a fabulous space with multiple working and living areas. Several of the staff live in distant villages and therefore bunk here during the majority of the year, travelling home on holidays or long weekends.

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We spend at least three times of the day in the mess hall for meals. Usually our meals consist of chapati or roti with spiced cooked vegetables, followed by white rice and sambar (the South India version of dhal, lentil soup). Breakfast is usually a spicy rice dish as well.



Here’s the kitchen where all the magic happens:

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The night watchman often lends a hand with preparing some of our food:


The workshop is where orthotists Muttanna and Kahmalla work to create seating systems and all sorts of orthoses.

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The Early Intervention Centre is the newest addition to this campus, and that space was only created about 2.5 years ago. It was formerly an office, but special fundraising efforts were made to transform this room into a kid-friendly area where families can meet and children under 6 can receive regular therapy.

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Here’s the rooftop (aka our workout area) for our time here. The bench and cement blocks facilitate circuit training and bodyweight exercises to keep us healthy and happy! Some of the staff often join in with us for morning exercise.


This is our the humble abode with our mosquito protection, our laundry line and necessary bathing station and porcelain throne.


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And this, ladies and gentlemen, is our precious water heater:


Lastly, here’s Maegan working hard in the laundry area:


The Spinal Cord Rehab Centre is off-campus at another location, stay tuned for a guest post from one of the other students for more information about this amazing new facility – apparently the only one of it’s kind in Southern India!!

So far we’ve felt really comfortable and at-home here, with so many of the regular staff members present to create the family feel… but I think we’d be lying if we said we didn’t miss our fluffy down duvets and hot showers!