Equipped to Serve: PHC Senior Michelle Wright
Patrick Henry College senior Michelle Wright quickly learned that living in India would be different than life in the States. For starters, her toilet would not flush, and the power went out multiple times a day. Her “shower” was a bucket of water and drain, over which she carefully placed a brick to keep out poisonous snakes. And then there were the huge, biting ants.
Courtesy of PHC/Michelle Wright
“[M]y time in India has shown me that even more than specialized laborers, the world needs people who can think, lead, ask good questions, and are willing to fight for truth,” says Michelle Wright.
A government major in the international politics and policy track, Wright lived in India from June to December 2010, fulfilling 12 PHC internship credits while working with Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA), a Christian non-government organization that aids the poor and marginalized in North, Northeast, and Central India.
Wright’s objective was, in part, to help construct a policy in Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh, for EHA’s new palliative care program, which aims to provide comfort and pain relief to patients with incurable disorders. She spent time both in the villages helping the sick and in the office writing policy recommendations intended for use by India’s government, as it wrestles with the problem of treating the country’s desperately ill.
“It’s impossible to write a policy unless you understand the environment that the policy is going to affect,” Wright said.
The work required Wright to become intimately involved with the local culture, visiting and treating suffering patients with all manner of ailments, helping to clean the patients’ wounds, and even administering pain relievers. She also worked with families to teach them the importance of cleanliness and how to care for patients under terrible conditions.
“Beginning a new program from the ground up is certainly difficult,” Wright said. “Working with people who are dying is exhausting and mentally draining, but there have been so many little encouragements along the way. One of our patients came into the hospital to say, ‘I am so glad that there is a program for someone like me. The doctor told me that there was nothing he could do and I thought that no one cared.’ ”
Not surprisingly, due to the region’s bleak living standards—strange food, unfamiliar viruses, and unsanitary conditions—Wright herself became seriously ill many times.
Courtesy of PHC/Michelle Wright
Wright spent time in India getting to know the people and their culture so that she could write policy recommendations for Emmanuel Hospital Association.
“I have had malaria, three rounds of eye flu, a poisonous spider bite, and more run-ins with food poisoning than I care to remember,” Wright said. She has endured chills in 120-degree weather, vomiting for hours at a time, and high fevers. She has completed at least eight rounds of antibiotics and has had multiple hospital stays and IVs.
Due to problems with her visa, Wright had to leave Lalitpur for another EHA hospital in the Himalaya Mountains in Herbertpur, Uttarakhand. From there she continued to write policy for the Lalitpur palliative care program as well as working on policy for Herbertpur.
“Everyone here is amazed by how easy it is for me to read and summarize huge documents. I definitely learned that skill in Dr. Stephen Baskerville's classes at PHC,” Wright said.
At Herbertpur, Wright became involved in a youth outreach program where, along with three students from a local college, she decided to put together a concert for the teenagers in the slums, villages, and orphanages.
But seemingly simple tasks become complicated ordeals in a Third World country. For example, the group wanted their volunteers to have name badges, but discovered that they couldn’t just walk into a store and find nametag stickers or plastic covers. “I don’t even need to mention the hassle of making banners, finding the right cords for projectors/guitars/sound equipment, locating chairs that would sustain human weight ... and so much more,” Wright added.
And yet Wright maintained her cheery outlook and found a positive lesson.
“It’s really cool to be in a position where we have to pray and trust that God will meet all of our needs. In the U.S., we depend on our own resources and abilities a lot more than I realized,” Wright said. “We create a backup plan if God ‘doesn’t come through’ like we were expecting. In India, it’s hard to have a backup plan .... when you don’t even have the resources to make an original plan.”
Despite major flooding across the region, nearly 300 kids came to the concert.
Wright credited her PHC education with giving her practical skills for this internship.
“[PHC classes taught me] how to find and analyze information and research what I don’t already know,” Wright said. “The skills that I learned in Dr. Les Sillars’ [journalism] classes and writing for PHCHerald.com have been my biggest asset here in India. I totally and completely credit Dr. Sillars and Professor John Grano with my writing skills.”
More importantly, Wright thanked PHC for giving her the framework in which to view the world.
“The Christian foundation of PHC’s curriculum has enabled me to see [India]—with all of its issues—from a biblical perspective.”
Through her internship, she experienced living in another country and gained practical experience in policy writing.
“I haven’t just written policies from an office, I have been privileged to see and understand the kinds of policies that the government should be pursuing,” Wright said. “I am seeing, experiencing, and becoming immersed in the issues that were previously limited to ‘book learning.’ I can honestly say that this has changed the way that I view the world.”
After her upcoming graduation in May, Wright is interested in working abroad through international business or the foreign service.
Adapted from an article that originally appeared on the PHC website on December 7, 2010.
|About the author
Carissa Davis is a Patrick Henry College student who also works in PHC's communications department.