This week on FIMRC's Staff Spotlight, we are highlighting Project Kodaikanal's Field Operations Manager, Arun Selvaraj! Arun has been with FIMRC since 2012 and manages all operations of our site in India!
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background:
I am basically from southern India from the state of Tamil Nadu. I studied all my schooling in Vellore and moved for college to Pondicherry for my undergrads. I am an outdoor person and love hiking and fitness training.
What experiences led you to a career in global health before joining the FIMRC team?
I used to work as registered nurse and a certified midwife before moving to Sweden for my post graduate education in public health. I also have a post grad degree in MBA focusing on Project management. Being a midwife, I was interested in pursuing a career focusing on maternal and child health issues. Before joining FIMRC, I was associated with Youth Red Cross International in Sweden focusing on malnutrition among refugee children from developing countries. I also volunteered with Noaksark, an organization working for people living with HIV/AIDS. I volunteered with couple other organizations during my time in Sweden.
What surprised you most about the community at Kodaikanal?
Kodaikanal, in-spite of being a tourist destination and enjoying the privilege of scenic beauty on top of the hill, there is a huge disparity in social strata. People from all walks of life live in this town from fancy souvenir store owner to tourist guide, farmer and daily laborers. Having worked extensively with various communities here in Kodaikanal, I realized there is an immense need for basic health and hygiene, lack of awareness on open-door defecation, garbage disposal and personal hygiene. Although most of the factors are directly associated with political inability, there is definitely room for development from the community itself.
What advice do you have to those who want to volunteer?
As a volunteer, one should be open to adapting cultural shock, what might seem abnormal to an outsider's eye perhaps is a part of life for some people. One should be flexible enough to wear a different kind of lens to view things in a different way to avoid stereotypical thoughts. Respecting the cultural differences will help merge with community, thus will improve social rapport. Also, India is a vast country with differences in culture, language, food and dressing style from state to state.
What is the funniest thing you've experienced living on site?
Sunday is a big market day in Kodaikanal and all of us shop for our veggies and fruits from the farmers market. People tend to think I don't understand the language because I always walk with foreigners and hike the prices double not realizing the fact that I know Tamil fluently. One time this mango seller is hawking 60 rupees for a kilo in Tamil and abruptly started to scream "Kilo for 100" after seeing us walking by. He was very embarrassed once he realized I could speak Tamil!
What does a typical day on site look like for you?
My day starts with a quick staff meeting in the morning before heading to the partner hospitals with volunteers. At the hospitals, we help the doctors and nurses in various departments based on the needs, while volunteers will get to rotate among the departments. We head to town for lunch and spend the afternoon session at the creche with the children in performing the routine medical checkups and playing with the kids. In the evening, volunteers will shadow our doctor at the rural clinic and help the nurse with regular activities. During off days, we tend to spend our time hiking around the hills and exploring the town.
A fun fact about yourself!
I am a trained Thai boxer, and I train school kids in my free time. I also love training dogs, not so good at it though!