FAQs by Volunteers regarding life in Mumbai

Q1: Where will I live and who will pay for it?
Q2: What if I have relatives with whom I would like to stay?
Q3: Will this be a safe experience for me?
Q4: How will I get around the city?
Q5: Communication/Technology?
Q6: I am interested in a career in medicine, will I be able to work in a completely clinical setting?
Q7: How is a volunteer matched with an NGO?
Q8: What is a typical day for an AVSAR volunteer?
Q9: I don't speak Hindi or Marathi, will that make it difficult for me to see patients or contribute to the group?
Q10: How much can I expect to spend?

1. Where will I live and who will pay for it?

You will not be living in the slums. The AVSAR Home Base provides modest accommodations for you, with Western amenities, prior to your arrival. In exchange for the extensive and comprehensive support offered by AVSAR (please see FAQ), you will be expected to pay for your own accommodations (approximately $500 for the month). AVSAR Home Base is a modest apartment with provisions for safety and comfort. This apartment has 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a living room and a kitchen. AVSAR keeps costs low for volunteers by seeking donations from friends, family, and enthusiastic supporters. If you know of someone who you would like for us to approach who may be interested in helping subsidize this expense, please contact us at (info@goyalmd.com)(e.g., private donors, physicians, community associations, Rotary Clubs, cultural organizations, major philanthropic resources, etc…). If you would like to be a part of the email campaign to help raise funds, please let us know.

2. What if I have relatives with whom I would like to stay?

The AVSAR experience is an experience of intensive service to the underprivileged. We believe the value of an AVSAR volunteer is that he/she has is interested in this experience for the simple purpose that it is about providing service to the community; and not about spending time with family and friends. During this time of service, we do understand that volunteers may need to rest and recharge by taking some time for themselves or by visiting family, but volunteers are expected to budget their time appropriately so that they can return to the AVSAR Home Base in the evening. Volunteers are allotted 2 vacation days each month they are part of the program. In other words, all volunteers are expected to stay together at the AVSAR Home Base (unless it is the Saturday night of their vacation weekend).

3. Will this be a safe experience for me?

You are obviously responsible for your own safety. While Mumbai is a big city, it is known to be extremely safe. It is very unlikely that you would ever be in any personal danger during your experience (unless you ignore our advice and decide to cross the railroad tracks, or hang off the train like the local youth). While petty theft is something to be aware of, if you use common sense and pay close attention during orientation (keep your valuables in your front pocket, don’t ever leave your personal belongings in a train station, etc.), you should not have any major problems while you are here. AVSAR Home Base is also equipped with closets with keys to safely store your valuables. The slum-areas also tend to be very safe and easily navigated by most volunteers.

4. How will I get around the city?

Two options: Public transportation (bus and train) or car (taxi or private).

Your housing is located in a central area (Sion/Matunga) which allows quick access to various modes of transportation (local trains, taxis, buses) to most points throughout the city.

Public transportation can be a great option that saves time and money (considered by some as a rite-of-passage, but one that we help you out with during orientation). Women will have either a separate train or a separate train compartment (which tend to be less crowded). A one-month first-class pass on the train costs approximately $10 - $15.

Traveling by bus costs about Rs.3 to Rs.10 each way ($1 = Rs. 46). Trains charge Rs5 - Rs.30. Cabs charge approximately Rs.14 per kilometer. Taxis are readily available throughout the city. A one hour cab ride can be as little as $4 or as much as $10 depending on how far you are traveling. In general, though, Mumbai is a small city. The “Auto-Rickshaws” have a minimum charge of Rs. 9.

An a/c car with a driver can be arranged for less than the cost of renting a car in the U.S. (minimum cost is about $250 for the month + fuel). This would have to be arranged in advance.

5. Communication/Technology:

Internet cafés are inexpensive (Rs. 20 per hour) and offer a high-speed internet connection and are readily available. If you bring your laptop, you can connect from home (good speed). For conducting research and checking email, there are computers available at the AVSAR Home Base with a high speed internet connection. For printing documents and papers there are several good internet cafes that charge between Rs. 4-10 for printouts. You can bring your own GSM mobile phone from the states (be sure to bring your unlock code as well) and buy a prepaid SIM card when you get here. That will allow you to call anywhere in the world for a reasonable price. Or you can rent a phone from us when you get here for approximately $15/mo (including $7 talk-time).

“STD/PCO” booths are everywhere and offer very economical means to call anywhere in the world.

6. I am interested in a career in medicine, will I be able to work in a completely clinical setting?

AVSAR emphasizes the value of “helping where the help is needed”. This means when you apply to AVSAR, we screen your application and match it with the needs of the NGOs. While you may get exposure to medical clinics and camps, please know this will NOT be a purely clinical experience. Those seeking such an experience are asked to look into volunteering at hospitals or through other organizations. As you get exposure to an NGO, you will be able to OBSERVE in the clinics and work on a public health project. This is NOT a clinical rotation.

7. How is a volunteer matched with an NGO?

The value of the AVSAR program is that we are able to do a grassroots needs assessment of the particular needs of the NGO. You may have some skills on your resume that you take for granted, but will be of enormous value to the NGO. According to volunteer skills, NGOs needs, project timelines, number of volunteer months, and language; volunteers are placed with our partner NGOs. When you prioritize your preferences, we take that into consideration for a valuable volunteer experience for all.

8. What is a typical day for an AVSAR volunteer?

As stated on the website previously, AVSAR expects the volunteer to be committed to an experience of service while they are in India. Depending on your project, this means long days in the field, community, or clinics; meetings two times a week with AVSAR staff; Hindi tutoring three days a week for those who are not fluent or wish to increase their fluency; daily journal writing, peer topic presentations, long commute time in and around Mumbai; and project tasks for AVSAR in addition to tasks for your partner NGO. Bombay weather can also impact the work, especially in the monsoon season. This essentially means that if you have family in the area, you should not expect to see them too often as we have packed schedule every month. Because 1 month is such a short time, we hope all volunteers maximize their experience in order to have a maximum benefit to the partner NGO. To see a sample month’s schedule, please click here.

9. I don't speak Hindi or Marathi, will that make it difficult for me to see patients or contribute to the group?

If you don’t speak the language, of course it can make the experience challenging; however, the doctors working for our partner NGOs, as well as the office staff and personnel all speak English fluently. They are very willing to translate for you when needed. Also, you will receive some basic language materials to read prior to your arrival into Mumbai. You will also have language-training during your orientation as well as throughout the month (by tutors who are hired by AVSAR). We encourage accepted candidates to begin their Hindi study before arriving in India. The tutor is meant to be a guide, so all effort put in by the volunteer will make this a better experience.

While language can be a barrier, we hope that it will not discourage you from applying for an experience that you will likely look back on without any regrets.

10. How much can I expect to spend?

Don’t think about it because you WILL have a very unique experience that will force you to realize how fortunate you truly are, and how rich you truly are. If you must have a figure, expect to spend approximately $1800 for one month (depending on the time of year, your preferences in cuisine, transportation, etc…). The ticket will cost approximately $1100 to $1300 from the US, the lodging/program fee will cost $500 per month. Currently, volunteers get daily meals from a meal service that charges about Rs. 25-30 (less than $1.00) per tiffin/meal. Mobile phones can be rented from us for $15 during the first month (comes with $7 of talk-time charged on the phone), and then $8 rental fee for each additional month.

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