Career advice

Voluntary work in India was rewarding, but made me thankful for our NHS

Ann Russell returned from a trip doing voluntary nursing in India full of praise for the NHS, but grateful for her rewarding experience at a school and hospice in Kolkata

Ann Russell returned from a trip doing voluntary nursing in India full of praise for the NHS, but grateful for her rewarding experience at a school and hospice in Kolkata


Ann Russell at a school in Kolkata where she did voluntary work.

In January I travelled to Kolkata in India for a two-week trip doing voluntary work in a men’s hospice and a school.

As a semi-retired nurse – my background is in oncology and I now work as a bank nurse – I wanted to use my skills to help those in need, and also to see a different part of the world.

The hospice was very different from a UK hospice. Most of the men had been rescued from the streets, where they had been left to die – one man had been thrown on a rubbish heap by his family because he was disabled.

A team from the hospice would go out into the streets of Kolkata, and I was with them when we rescued a dying man and brought him back to the hospice. He would have died within a few days if we had not found him.

Care and skill

The hospice had just six beds for 14 patients, so those without beds slept on the floor. Resources were limited, but the men had plenty to eat, and a doctor visited the hospice three times a week to review each patient.

Nurses’ equipment was also in short supply, but the nurses still carried out tasks such as wound dressings with great care and skill.

Many of the men were physically disabled and did not have much opportunity to leave the hospice, so with donations I had been given by friends at home I funded a day out for the men well enough to go.

I was expecting a bus, so when a truck arrived I was rather surprised. But with a great team effort we got all the patients into the back of the truck and went to a local park for a day out.

Using your initiative

The hospice is run by a young man from Kolkata who also runs a school, a place full of love and laughter. The children play games and sing, and do simple arts and crafts. They took great pleasure in gluing buttons and sequins onto old compact discs.

There is no service or care for disabled children in Kolkata, but the school had a special class for disabled children. This gave their mothers a well-deserved break, and ensured the children were cared for in a loving environment.

I would highly recommend doing voluntary work overseas. If you go with an open mind it is an incredibly rewarding experience. I returned to the UK very thankful for our NHS and full of praise for the services we provide, especially for vulnerable and disabled people.

Volunteering overseas can also help improve your communication skills, increase your self-confidence and help foster innovation. The lack of resources in places such as Kolkata mean you really have to use your initiative to implement ideas that could improve nursing practice.

A Manchester-based charity helps fund the school and the hospice. If you would like more information about it email me at annrussell2005@gmail.com


Ann Russell is a semi-retired nurse from Manchester 

Read more

This article is for subscribers only

Jobs