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Volunteer with Cross-Cultural Solutions

Volunteers Receive More Than They Give in Dharmsala, India

Volunteer in Dharmasala
Mandi Keogh with Dharmsala residents.

Cross-Cultural Solutions is an international not-for-profit organization with no political or religious affiliations. It offers various experiences, ranging from 1 to 12 weeks and almost 200 start dates to choose from in 12 countries: Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Morocco, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Thailand.

Its philosophy is clear: “Volunteer abroad and experience another culture like never before, while working side-by-side with local people in a fascinating region of the world.”

On arrival in India, we were given two days to adjust to the environment; during this period we explored Delhi with guidance from CCS staff. The coach journey from Delhi to Dharamsala allowed time for introductions and to discuss expectations and previous experiences. My placement was at the Red Cross Center, Kangra. I was fortunate to work with fellow CCS volunteer, Jennifer Hall, who I am still in contact with and have visited in Oregon, another new experience (I’m from England). Our volunteering assignment, centered on the physiotherapy department of the Red Cross Center, involved observing and assisting during treatment and therapy sessions.

While the hospital operated free of charge, treatment with the physiotherapy department was charged at a rate of 15 rupees, paid by those who could afford to. (Contrasts between Western healthcare and that available in Dharmsala were evident from our first morning. The facilities were limited, basic, and dated, compared to the modern, multi-tasking hospitals to which I was accustomed. We treated patients in a communal room, which contained three beds, a mobile privacy screen, five pieces of basic treatment equipment, and a bowl of water and a towel.)

During the first few days Jennifer, a masseuse, and I, a Reiki Healer, provided massage and healing at the beginning of a patient’s session. We soon concluded that our assistance would be most appropriate at the end of a patient’s session. Due to the nature of the treatment, such as manipulation of joints and repetitive exercises, which was often painful for the patient, we believed that our input would provide relaxation and aid circulation to the already overworked muscles and joints and also ease the pain.

Jennifer and I became part of a team caring for the mind, body, and spirit of each patient. The feeling of touch, from one human to another, brought smiles to their faces and ours, lifting the spirit and calming the soul.

The experience was further enhanced by opportunities to explore the local area in our free time. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that they would see only the four walls of the treatment room if they undertook the same assignment. Our frequent trips included a visit to MacLeoad Ganj, the present home of the exiled Dalai Lama, and another took us to the Norbulingka Institute, home to the Losel monks. We were free to interact with locals, visiting their homes, sharing food, and attempting conversation (our Hindi still hadn’t improved). There is so much to see and do, which, when combined with a contribution to the local population, provided an enjoyable and pleasing learning experience never to be forgotten.

For More Info

Cross-Cultural Solutions offers three types of programs: Volunteer Abroad, Intern Abroad, and Insight Abroad. Volunteer Abroad and Intern Abroad programs operate year-round, and range from 3-12 weeks. Insight Abroad is a one-week program and is available in Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. CCS is in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations and in partnership with CARE, one of the world’s largest international humanitarian organizations. Volunteer placements are with CCS Partner Programs, local NGOs or community organizations within each country, and are based on an individual’s skills and interests. Contact: Cross-Cultural Solutions Headquarters, 2 Clinton Pl., New Rochelle, NY 10801; Tel. 800-380-4777;, .

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