ADMISSIONS BLOG

Admissions Blog

Dr Jaemin Park, a graduate from Class 2014, is currently a Pathology resident at Baylor College of Medicine, US. Prior to graduation, Jaemin spent two months in India (one month in Tenali as a volunteer in an orphanage). The town of Tenali has few foreign visitors and even fewer foreign volunteers. The entire town soon knew about Jaemin and two local Telugu Indian newspapers even featured him. Jaemin shares his story.

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Jaemin with Dr T Thirumoorthy at the Duke-NUS Graduation & Hooding Ceremony on 31 May 2014. Dr Thirumoorthy taught the class about the importance of empathy in young doctors - something that resonated deeply with Jaemin during his time in Tenali

Towards the end of my 4th year in medical school, I thought, ‘Why not use the two months until graduation to do something truly meaningful?’ I knew that once residency began, it will be challenging to commit myself for a long volunteer trip.

So why India? I have always been fascinated by its beauty, diversity as well as its extremes in lifestyle and poverty. The country has amazing potential, but struggles to provide basic necessities like clean water and shelter for a large part of the population. I saw an opportunity to volunteer among the underprivileged of India and gain experience.

Former President APJ Abdul Kalam envisioned India as a developed country free of poverty by 2020 in his book “India 2020”. Current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi would also like to eliminate poverty and bring India on par with other developed countries within the next few decades. This could be achieved by the youths of India when they join the workforce. My goal was to make a positive impact on these young minds by sharing knowledge and experiences, and encouraging them to pursue their ambitions.

An old church acquaintance linked me to the founder/manager of Good Shepherd Orphanage1, Bishop John Victor Kishore in Tenali. This independent orphanage is fully funded by worship offerings, they have 20 boys and 30 girls aged five to 19 years in their charge. 

Upon arrival, I was greeted by 50 children who tried to shake hands with me simultaneously. It was overwhelming but their laughter soon put me at ease. A few children could speak English fluently, but everyone wanted to learn about me.   

It’s tough being an orphan in India. Many parts of rural India hold vestiges of caste system and orphans are usually neglected. Their dreams also become simplistic when confronted with poverty and survival.

Jaemin and Bishop Kishore distributing gifts to the children. The Bishop ran the orphanage for more than a decade and the adult children that have moved on to independent lives often visit him.

So instead of teaching them core subjects, I covered topics such as motivation, goal-setting, hygiene etc. I conducted a simple exercise by making them write down their goals for five years and ten years respectively. This was to encourage them to think about the great things they can achieve, just like how our Vice Dean of Education, Professor Bob Kamei can get buckets.

Goal-setting exercise to help the children plan their future in concrete terms. Many children listed finding a job, helping the orphanage and owning a house as their goals.

This boy’s ambition is to be a doctor. I am happy that I can be his role model.

I was also able to introduce the children to astronomy and taught the older children basic computing skills - an essential requirement for most jobs. It was challenging having just one laptop and telescope, and many children from the surrounding areas would sneak in to participate too. For the older children, I provided career counseling as they were finishing school and leaving the orphanage to be independent. 

Teaching the older girls how to use Microsoft Office.

Showing them a universe beyond one that they are familiar with. I later donated my telescope to the orphanage.

Aside from the orphanage, I made several trips with a local pastor to tribal villages on the outskirts of town, bringing basic necessities to them. On one particular trip, I had only my lunch money - INR 250 (S$5), but I was able to buy a big bag of rice, candles and soap and distribute this among 12 people. Helping others is simple and even a little aid can go a long way.

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Some of the villagers from a tribal village. Many of them lived in conditions worse than the orphans.

Learning about pathology practice in India. Jaemin with his gracious host Dr Shashikala Krishnamurthy (center), Department Head at the Shamnur Shivashankarappa Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre.

I am definitely visiting Tenali again, but for shorter durations. I will never forget the hospitality of the Bishop, orphanage staff and children. I have plans to connect with local church organizations to raise funds for the orphanage, and hope to also host some of the older children if they pursue higher education in the US or Singapore. 

People come from all walks of life. No matter what situations they are in, there is always something you can learn from them, and it is important to respect them for what they do.

1. Good Shepherd Orphanage/Divine Care Ministries

By Dr Jaemin Park, Class of 2014