Sharing the experiences of Mr. Ross Mckeachie, a volunteer at LAICO, during March – April 2015
My name is Ross McKeachie and I am from Vancouver, Canada. It would be impossible to do justice in describing my experience in Madurai with Aravind. Everyday was a blessing and an adventure. I faced challenges, explored, made many friends and did my best to make a small contribution. Most of all, I was consistently overwhelmed by the kindness of the people and the way they honour life in its most simple beauty. The flower arrangements below the sculpture of Sri Aurobindo, in the front entry to LAICO come to mind. Here is a very brief overview of my experience.
I came to volunteer at Aravind after my father invited me on a trip to India with him. When he also suggested that we do some form of volunteer service while we were there, I emailed his friend Dr. Marty Spencer - an ophthalmologist who has worked extensively with Seva Canada and Aravind. Dr. Spencer put me in contact with Ms. Dhivya Ramasamy. I sent my resume to Ms. Dhivya and she suggested a few projects that might align with my skillset. Since I have an education in marketing and am passionate about writing, the best project for me was to help with packaging LAICO’s consulting services. This meant that we would clearly define the service offerings and then create written descriptions and a foundational document which would be used for updating LAICO’s website and creating marketing materials, such as a new brochure, for LAICO’s consulting services. I committed to spending two months living in Harmony guesthouse and working in the LAICO office, reporting to Ms. K.M. Sasipriya. I also had the privilege of working with Mr. R. Suresh Kumar, Mr. Syed Ali and Mr. Yesunesan on this project.
While the consulting services package was the primary project, there were also some other assignments. Ms. Dhivya set me up with the Mahatma Montessori School and, for my first two weeks in Madurai, I went to the school in the mornings to engage with the young children. We spoke English together and I told them some stories about Canada and the West Coast region of Vancouver Island where I grew up. We sang songs together and I had to remember some of my favourites from childhood so that I could share them with the young audience. The highlight was when they performed their songs, stories, dances and plays for me. What a fantastic experience it was for me to play with these amazing little ones! They reminded me of the simple innocence and beauty that is essential to all of us.
Seva Canada had also asked me to complete an assignment during my time with Aravind/LAICO. They are interested in using patient stories, from their partner organizations, with accompanying photos for their newsletters and blog. This is useful to them in their marketing and fundraising efforts. Ms. Penny Lyons requested that I interview one or two patients from the outreach camps about their experience with Aravind.
With the gracious help of Mr. Yesunesan I was able to conduct three visits with two different patients and capture their full experience: From first contact with Aravind at the outreach screening camp to the day of surgery at the camp hospital to their home life eight days after the cataract operation. Yesunesan and I visited them at each of these locations and had the honour of being let into their lives as they shared personal challenges and hopes for the future. Mr. Perumal and Ms. Kamaliya were the two patients, both grandparents, and they openly shared their stories and their homes with us. To show our thanks, I and Yesunesan had Ms. Anuja print each of them a family photo that was taken when we visited their homes. We each wrote a message of thanks beneath the photo and it was delivered to them when they attended their one-month follow-up visit to the outreach camp location.
Because of my interest in writing, Mr. Thulasiraj invited me to collaborate with him in completing an article for the in-house publication of the engineering firm Larsen & Toubro (L&T). The LDA Journal of Management invited Mr. Thulasiraj to contribute this article for their issue titled “Creativity and Innovation” and asked that he provide the story of innovation at Aravind from inception to present day. Mr. Thulsi outlined the story and then dictated the content to Ms. Sreeja who transcribed it and sent it to me. I then went through the process of piecing together each dictation session into a fully congruent, edited and flowing story. It was an honour to be included in this process and my writing and editing abilities were challenged and enriched. I also got an inside look at the incredible process through which the Aravind Eye Care System emerged and developed. I look forward to seeing the final version of the story when it is published.
Mr. Devendra Tayade is in charge of Aravind’s Physician Engagement Program and he asked for me to make a small contribution by assisting him in facilitating group discussions with some of the junior residents. We designed a basic outline of questions and invited the physicians to meet with us in small groups of one to three individuals. We asked them to let us in on the quality of their experience with Aravind, in particular around the culture, values and their own learning and growth experiences within the organization. These young physicians shared plenty of insights into what Aravind was doing well in supporting doctors as well as suggestions on how Aravind might improve in this area. I enjoyed the informal and open conversations we shared together and Mr. Devendra was a pleasure to work with. He truly is doing a fantastic job!
One of the initiatives organized by Mr. Devendra is The Wanderers. This is a group, open to anybody within the Aravind Eye Care System, dedicated to getting out and exploring nature through trekking and photography. As I am passionate about getting out and exploring the beauty of the natural world, I was excited to be invited to join in on a number of outings with this group. We visited hilltop temples such as Alagar Kovil and did an incredible overnight trip into Kerala to visit the Periyar Tiger Reserve. These Sunday outings allowed me to deepen the friendships with the people I was working with at Aravind/LAICO and to explore the landscapes and culture surrounding Madurai. They also kept me active and healthy while working at a desk during the week.
From the moment my father and I arrived at Harmony guesthouse, we were welcomed and honoured. The sister running Harmony at the time, Amalah, took such good care of us - especially when I struggled with some illness for a few days. And the food! I love South Indian food and eating with my hands made meals even more of a sensory experience. The hospitality and kindness shown to us by the people of Aravind leaves me speechless. All I can say is that I am grateful to everyone within the organization for their warmth, their smiles and their desire to make us comfortable in a new environment. I made many good friends during my two months in Madurai. The spirit of each one of these individuals will stay with me always. To everyone at Aravind, thank you and may you encounter success and fulfilment in the wonderful work you are doing.