Most of us have an altruistic streak. It’s one of the reasons why many choose to work in healthcare. However, it’s easy to lose sight of that in the vicissitudes of work and life. Volunteering for an organisation such as The Water Well Project gives you the opportunity to devote your time to helping others in a way that we are uniquely prepared for. Even if you feel that you don’t feel you have the in-depth knowledge required to discuss the intricacies of diverse topics such as the ins and outs of the Australian Healthcare System, nutrition and lifestyle, and mental health, among others, with recent migrants and asylum seekers, you’ll quickly find you have a surprising amount to share.
As a postgraduate research student interested in surgery, it is nice for me to be able to put my rusting medical education to good (or any) use. Though I have forgotten much of what I once knew, and if I’m honest I knew much less than I should have done, it is still more than enough to help a group of people who in many cases have received only a rudimentary education. At the very least they may be better prepared or more comfortable when they next have contact with our healthcare system. I recall one session I was involved in with a group of Sri Lankan teenage boys in a community house associated with Wesley Mission. The headline topic was healthy eating and lifestyle, and the Wesley Mission workers had some ideas of things to cover. As has been the usual routine, it took a little while for a few members of the group to be involved, but eventually we got everyone talking and had a wide-ranging discussion on all sorts of topics, from the causes of the development of pimples, to the likely winner of the upcoming cricket World Cup. I know I enjoyed myself, and I hope they did too, but at the very least I hope they will feel a bit more comfortable the next time they encounter a doctor.
Other benefits of taking these sessions include the insight they offer into the situation of some of most marginalised members of our society, the thanks and appreciation you’ll receive from the community members and welfare workers, and the nourishment of that human part of your soul that has yet to be corrupted by the cynicism engendered by working in the public hospital system. If you’re considering signing up for The Water Well Project, I strongly encourage you to do so. If you’ve signed up and attended an induction session already, have a look at the sessions available and put yourself down for one. It’s not a decision you’ll regret.
Some advice for new volunteers: don’t skip over the introduction, have a few points in mind that you would like to cover, and let the discussion guide itself. Use cues like keywords on a whiteboard or paper so you can recall what you’ve covered and summarise at the end. If it’s relevant, it can be helpful to include some activities, such as the notorious sugar guessing game. You’ll be surprised how well these are received. Most importantly of all, take it easy and enjoy yourself!
Written by Dr Adam Gascoigne (Volunteer)