I recall a time on my travels through India when I fell violently ill with what the locals call “Desert Fever”. My throat was raw, my fever was high, I couldn’t handle the light let alone get out of bed and my tummy wouldn’t hold anything down. There I was on my own in a strange city on foreign soil and all I really wanted was my Mum to be there to care for me. Who came to my rescue? The locals. The hotel staff checked on me at regular intervals, making sure I had plenty of clean, bottled water and a supply of bland food. They also assured me they’d seen this in foreigners many times before, I reaction to the extreme heat and dust of the desert, that I wasn’t to worry but if I wanted they would happily find me a Doctor. For nearly a week I languished in my misery while these kinds folks cared for me with smiles, patience and a genuine concern for my well-being and peace of mind. I am eternally grateful to the locals who kept a watch on me during my hour of need, and I know my family were too.
I’m sure you’ve all been there, illness on one’s travels is not uncommon as our senses are assaulted with an army of new bugs and bacteria. Usually it’s a minor issue, a touch of the flu or ‘Delhi Belly’ perhaps. Lay up in bed for a few days and endure it while it passes. Sometimes the story gets more complicated and we are glad we talk out that travel insurance to cover the doctors fees or stay in the hospital. And more often then not there are people around who help us through, our travel companion, other backpackers in our hostel, staff or local folk we have met along the way.
What is the purpose of sharing this story with you all? Well here in the office we are occasionally asked by WWOOF members, “what do I do if my WWOOFers fall ill?”. It seems a strange question as to some the answer is obvious. I asked our WWOOF hosts what they would do and the answers were unanimous, let them rest up and care for them as needed, when they are well you can continue as planned. As one host articulately pointed out “How much does it suck when you get sick while travelling?? Compassion and empathy are vital parts of being a WWOOF host” (Sarha) Ain’t that the truth, how much does it ‘suck’ when you get sick while travelling? And how wonderful it is when folks, often relative strangers, jump in to care for you. It restores ones faith in the goodness of humanity.
Another one of our hosts responded to my question by saying “we support and care for them, like someone will do for our kids one day” (Giselle, Host). That’s the trick in life isn’t it, what you give out to others will one day come back to you. Not necessarily from the person who initially received, and possibly not directly back to you, but someone somewhere along the way will return your gifts in kind. As my parents have looked after numerous travellers on their journeys, so to have I been looked after while travelling, and my parents have been grateful to know that.
Of course there are the nuts and bolts of this situation to consider. What if it looks like our unwell WWOOFer is not going to be getting better any time soon? Many hosts are not in a position financially and/or physically to care indefinitely for someone who is unwell. Again the answer to this dilemma is with our hosts, they all said that they would get them to the doctor and make a decision from there. While some hosts are able to have the WWOOFer stay on, others say they have had to check them into a backpackers as soon as the WWOOFer is well enough. The key here is ensuring the WWOOFer is able to take some care of themselves before we ship them off.
Here to we must point out the importance of travel insurance when one is in foreign lands. The cost of visiting a doctor or having a hospital stay varies from country to country but in many places it would break the travellers very small piggy bank. All WWOOFers are advised to have travel insurance to cover them for just such an emergency. It may not be necessary but if you find yourself with a huge hospital bill and the urgent need to fly yourself home the dollars you spent on insurance will seem small in comparison.
So in short the answer to this question of what a host should do if a WWOOFer falls ill is take care of them as you would your own child. In the majority of cases a couple of days bed rest is going to take care of the problem and your WWOOFer will be back with plenty of energy and thankful for the kindness they were shown. Our hosts indicated that usually WWOOFers stay on longer, with a greater enthusiasm for their work, if they have been cared for in their hour of need. And if the illness looks to be progressing get them to a doctor as fast as you can, just as you would want someone to do for you(or your kin) in the same situation.
In conclusion I think the comment from WWOOF Host Ian sums up the situation succinctly,
“If you gonna ship in free workers, you gotta look after them . Or you could hire locally” Remember that WWOOFing is all about fair exchange, WWOOFers help the host, Hosts help the WWOOFer. If you think about how you would like to be treated in the same situation and apply that to all aspects of the WWOOF exchange then things should run fairly smoothly for all involved.