Volunteer

The continuing success of the the Sambhavna Clinic depends on your involvement. Our clinic is the only place where the people of Bhopal can get free care. Volunteers contribute significantly to the work of Sambhavna. We encourage individuals to think of projects that would be meaningful and enjoyable for them as well as helpful for Sambhavna and the people who come for care.

Since the clinic opened in September 1996, a number of volunteers have contributed their skills and experience in allopathy, advertising, publishing, medical research, interpreting, website building, produced materials for health education, interviewed doctors in the city, watched and made paintings of birds visiting the herbal garden, hauled manure and much more. We welcome serious and committed volunteers, with an awareness of and sensitivity towards the complex issues of the Bhopal disaster. A working knowledge of Hindi will make your stay more enjoyable but is not essential.

Photo taken by Will Nicholls

Photo taken by Will Nicholls

As valuable as professional experience in a certain field can be, the ability to respect the collective spirit of working at Sambhavna and to enjoy making a contribution is of equal importance. Also important is a willingness to pass on your skills as far as possible so that the clinic benefits in the longer term. It’s not all hard work. Past volunteers will tell you that they have really enjoyed working on socially relevant issues and learning things that school didn’t teach. However, we do urge you to think carefully before coming here. We can offer you food, accommodation and a unique working atmosphere but we are unable to cover any other costs.

The essentials

Below is a summary of useful and important information you should know about volunteering. More details about the Clinic and the city are available in the Sambhavna Volunteer Handbook when you arrive.

Volunteers need to stay  for a minimum of two weeks in order to do something worthwhile. It can easily take up to three days for a volunteer to orient him or herself to the local situation as well as make sense of the work going on at the clinic and communities. We accept volunteers who wish to stay for longer periods of time, such as six months to a year.

Once you have arrived at Sambhavna and are ready to start working, we strongly recommend you spend the first day just getting to know the clinic and its work by meeting the people who work here. If you do not speak or understand Hindi, you can get a lot of information from staff members that speak English. Some may be too busy with their work and you may have to wait a few days to meet everyone. Please remember you will not have anyone supervising your work or providing guidance unless you ask for this help.

All volunteers are expected to document their work. The length of your stay will determine how much documentation is done. We ask volunteers to write-up a final paper of observations and/or explanation of your work here.

There is a volunteer meeting every Tuesday at 6pm. These gatherings are to introduce any new volunteers and talk about what each person is working on and how it is going. Rachna or a volunteer chosen by everyone, facilitates the meeting. Items to be discussed can be brought by anyone present. Notes from previous meetings are located in the Volunteer Notebook in the volunteer room.

The volunteer room is a place for you to work as well as socialise. During clinic hours (8am to 2.30pm) it is used as a work space. There are desks and plug sockets, and it’s one of the best places to pick up the wireless signal. After the clinic has closed the space can continue being used as a work space or as a place to talk, read and listen to music. Smoking is never allowed during clinic hours, but after hours the tower accessible from the volunteer room may be used for smoking.

All volunteers are asked to fill out an entrance survey upon arrival and an exit survey upon departure. These surveys are designed to help you reflect on your experiences and pass on knowledge to new volunteers, as well as to enable Sambhavna to keep complete records of who has volunteered and take in any suggestions for improvement of the volunteer program.

Water

All water at Sambhavna comes from the Kolar Resevoir in Bhopal and is not contaminated by chemicals. Sambhavna uses Aquaflo & Aquaguard electronic filters to remove all bacteria and dirt which are available for your use. Foreigners are advised not to drink unfiltered water straight from the taps.

Food

Lunch and Dinner: Sambhavna provides all volunteers with free vegetarian lunch and dinner six days a week. On Sunday you may choose to cook in the volunteer kitchen or go out. Lunch is provided in the canteen kitchen downstairs and is available from around 12 noon to 1pm. Dinner is cooked in the upstairs kitchen and is generally ready between 8 and 9pm. Please advise us if you have any dietary restrictions – food is vegetarian and often vegan.

Breakfast: Sambhavna does not provide breakfast for volunteers. The canteen downstairs provides breakfast generally between 9 and 10am and is available for about 5 to 10 rupees. Tea is also available in the mornings at the canteen for a few rupees. You may also choose to make breakfast in the volunteer kitchen upstairs.

Accommodation

There is one dormitory for men, one for women, and two guest rooms. Each dormitory sleeps up to six people and the guest rooms can each sleep two. The dormitories are kept strictly for the separate sexes; volunteers of the opposite sex should not socialise in the other dormitory. Couples who come to Sambhavna to volunteer together may ask to stay in a guest room, but we cannot guarantee availability. After 11pm, dormitories should be quiet if anyone wants to sleep. Each dormitory has a bathroom with both western and Indian style toilets and showers. Guest rooms have western toilets. Each volunteer is given a cabinet which can be locked.

Birds-Eye-View-of-Sambhavna-Trust-Clinic

Photo taken Harshit – Birds Eye View of Sambhavna Trust Clinic

Phones and internet

Sambhavna does have phone lines, but these are heavily in use during the day by the clinic. In the evening you may receive incoming calls, but we would prefer that you do not do this very often and that you make sure no one from the clinic needs the office or phone line you are using. We ask you not to make outgoing calls from the clinic phones. If you need to make phone calls there are cheap PCD/ STD/ISD phone booths near the clinic.

Sambhavna has wireless internet. The signal is the strongest in Sathyu’s office downstairs and in the volunteer room directly above it, across from the library and documentation centre. If for some reason the internet is not working properly, there are also many internet cafes nearby on Berasia Road. There are a few laptop and desktop computers at the clinic which can be worked on and used to check email, but they may also be in use by clinic workers. Therefore it is recommended that you bring your own laptop if you have one. If the project you will be working on here needs a computer and you do not have one, please talk to us about it before you arrive so we can make arrangements. Adaptors for foreign plugs can be purchased very inexpensively.

What to bring and what not to bring

Mattresses, pillows and mosquito nets are provided to all volunteers. Sheets are kept in drawers underneath each bed but you may wish to bring you own. Mosquitoes are plentiful, especially in the clinic. We recommend that you take malaria medication during your stay here and bring plenty of mosquito repellent. You may also want to bring adapters for your electronic items, sun block, locks for your belongings, a flashlight or reading light, and shoes which are easy to take off. We do not provide towels, but they can be easily purchased in New Market. We ask that all volunteers either bring a water bottle or use one of the many plastic ones we have accumulated to use at the clinic.

We ask you not to bring environmentally-unfriendly items such as laundry detergents and certain kinds of soaps. All of the water that drains from the washing machines goes directly into our garden and detergents will adversely affect our organic plants. If you have questions about what is and is not desirable please check with us beforehand.

Sambhavna provides environmentally harmless Sanchi soap free of charge.

Clothes: Although volunteers should wear what they feel comfortable in, remember that Bhopal is a conservative city. Wearing Indian clothes is always a good option, and many female volunteers in particular find they are more comfortable wearing the Indian salwaar kameez.If you are coming to stay during the monsoon (late June to early September) we recommend you bring an umbrella and/or rain gear. These items can also be purchased easily in New Market or Chowk. If you are coming during the winter months (December to February) it is recommended that you bring some warmer clothes such as socks, closed-toed shoes and jumpers. Bring a pair of shoes which can be easily removed such as flip flops or sandals. At Sambhavna there are many rooms, such as the canteen eating area and the pathology lab, where you need to take off your shoes in order to enter.

Laundry

Instructions for use of the washing machine are next to it. As already mentioned we ask that you do not bring or use normal laundry detergents. You are welcome to use our soap, called Sanchi soap, which contains no detergents because it only comes in hard form, first you need to grate it and melt it in hot water before putting it into the machine. There are also plenty of clothes lines to leave your clothes to dry.

 

If you are interested in coming to Sambhavna (or would like a group of your students to visit), please contact sambhavnabhopal@gmail.com . If you are UK-based, you’re more than welcome to come and visit us here at the BMA office in Brighton before you go. If you already have a project in mind to work on or have certain talents that you think may benefit the clinic, please let them know. We always welcome blogs, photos and videos from volunteers for this website and our various social networks – do keep in touch!

We believe Dow & DuPont must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.