A palliative care patient smiles at the camera as his calf rests at his side in the Union Territory of Pondicherry, India. Before taking the photo, a nurse helped me ask for permission, translating the request into his native language Tamil.(The Daily Iowan/Helaina Thompson)
By Helaina Thompson, The Daily Iowan
A cup of hot tea sits in my palms. This is my second visit to India, and I’ve answered this question many times. “Our organization serves the elderly and the critically ill, those who have been abandoned by their families,” I say. “We give them medicine for their pain. We provide social support. Many of our patients don’t even have someone to talk to.”
My friend’s father, whose cups we are sipping from, responds, “Is it not the same where you are from?”
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Filmmaker Danny Boyle took me on my first trip to India. As a teen, I watched one of Boyle’s breakout films, Slumdog Millionaire, regularly from the comfort of my childhood home. I was mesmerized by its jarring footage of Indian slums, imagery that many critics would later scorn for its worn-out stereotypes and “poverty porn.”
In December 2015, seven years after the film’s release, I visited southern India as a student on the University of Iowa’s India Winterim program, which over the past 10 years has sent more than 1,000 students to cities across India. In November 2016, I returned for a second time to complete a multimedia project. Twice I traveled in the name of “voluntourism,” a growing trend in the tourism industry that combines international travel with volunteering efforts, most often in poor regions of Asia, Africa, and South America.