This past summer I was given the opportunity to travel to Chennai, India and teach various high schools and colleges about HIV awareness and preventative measures. This is through a non-profit organization called the International Alliance for the Prevention of AIDS (IAPA). I applied to this summer internship program (SIP) thinking I wouldn’t get in because it was competitive. By lucky chance I received my acceptance letter after my interview and could not believe that I would be spending my summer half way across the world.
My summer in India was filled with so much gratitude, happiness, experiences and many lessons. By day I would wake up, eat breakfast and teach about 2-3 lessons a day. We would travel to each school though public transportation which allowed us to interact with locals and feel like a local ourselves. People there were always extremely nice and helped in any way they could without hesitation.
One of the teachings that distinctly stood out to me was in a college not too far from the hostel we stayed at. We took a share auto which was essentially a mini three wheel car that would fit as many people as you could cram inside. After this drive we arrived at the school and walked into a classroom of about 25 or 30 college students. The students were very attentive and asking a lot of questions. My partner was teaching his section and I went to go sit down on a bench in the audience. A young girl called me over very quietly and asked me a very personal question. The fact that she felt so open with me and that she could trust me made me feel like I had done my job that day. Since India is a very conservative country it is often very difficult to go into these classrooms and talk about sexual education. These students have never had a sex ed course and that within itself is breaking many boundaries. Everyday we taught in India was the best day of my life. The important thing to remember is that HIV is a disease that can be nonexistent only if people are educated about this topic and know how to protect themselves.
As I said so many times in India and will continue to abide by this quote for the rest of my life, knowledge is power. Knowledge is one of the strongest and more powerful things that an individual can gain. Every single day we opened up discussion and opportunities for stigmas to be broken and for knowledge to be gained. Every single day everyone on my SIP team worked so hard to make sure they delivered a well taught and full lesson. It was so important that we taught as many people as we could about HIV/AIDS and we encourage questions throughout the entire teaching because their family or teachers are not necessarily the first people they can go to when they have questions. Us being there gave these people an opportunity to learn how to keep themselves and their loved ones health.
During this trip we also took two trips to the Kerala, Ooty and pondicherry. These trips were very fun and helped immerse myself in the Indian culture. We went to many temples, walked around the cities and experienced different things on this trip that I would have not had the opportunity to do otherwise. We took an overnight train to Kerala which was something that I had never done before and was quite the experience! Kerala also had beautiful beaches and backwaters that we were able to boat through.
This trip taught me so many things about infectious diseases, public health, global health, public speaking and my own self awareness. I am so grateful that I took this opportunity and was able to spend my summer in this beautiful country, I wish I could go back every single day. SIP 17’ thank you so much for being a wonderful group of humans, you all worked so hard to make this program what it is and to teach anyone we can about this disease in order to help reduce global stigmas and hopefully bring down those atrocious numbers of diagnosis. It is very cliche but India truly changed my life in ways I never imagined that it would.