Gilda’s Club intern, Katherine Zerull shares her
experiences from a recent trip to India:
“Recently, I embarked upon the greatest adventure of my life. I faced giant bugs, unfamiliar bathroom facilities, and was embraced by the most spiritual woman I have ever encountered. There’s a woman in India who sits for up to twenty two hours while people pass through a line to come see her, tell her their sorrows, and receive a healing hug from the woman they lovingly call mother. This woman envelopes each person she meets in a love that I cannot fully describe. I watched as a mother, whose three children had been killed in an accident, collapsed into this loving woman’s arms and received comfort and peace. As I came closer to my opportunity to meet this woman, she was told that I was working on my masters in social work and was in awe of her humanitarian efforts throughout India. I approached this incredible woman not knowing what to fully expect and, as she wrapped me in her loving embrace, she repeatedly called me daughter in her own language. Without knowing me or my background she cradled me in her arms and loved me as only a mother can, unconditionally and completely. She pulled away from me, looked into my eyes as I noticed the tears in her own, brushed my hair out of my face, and proceeded to embrace me again while continuing to call me daughter. This woman wraps so many people in love each day without thinking about disease or her personal well-being. This woman’s name is Amma. Her theme is “Embracing the World” and she profoundly touched my heart.
India is a magical place, but it is also vastly different from the United States. It is so densely populated that it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “traffic jam.” The people were very interested in my fellow students and me due to the fact that our skin color was so different from theirs. One person came up to all of us and asked what country we were each from and, when we each had the same answer of America, she was incredibly puzzled. I asked why she was so confused and she just said, “How can you all be from the same country? You all look so different!” We then explained that, although we are American, we all have a different heritage. That seemed to help the confusion slightly. It isn’t that everyone looks the same in India. The variety of people is just not as easily noticeable.
The whole purpose for the trip my India was a study abroad opportunity to learn about the mental health policies and procedures in India. Above all else, I think that the stigma associated with having a mental illness crosses all boundaries. When I was seated in a room with a child who had been mistreated and left at the State Home for Children in India, I did not pay attention to the color of his skin, to the level of poverty or wealth, I only paid attention to the light in this little boy’s eyes as he smiled at me. I know that smile came through pain because I have seen it before here in America. That was a moment I will never forget. I will not forget wanting to simply wrap him in the love that his mother never showed him due to his mental illness. That experience, and the similar ones that I have had in the United States, will just continue to inspire me to be the best social worker I can be and that means attempting to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness. Each time I work with someone with a mental illness in my professional practice, I will remember that little boy’s smile, and I will remember to love and to work from an empowerment perspective.”