Sikkim - Volunteering FAQs

Sikkm Volunteering FAQ

1. What visas and permits do I require?

A visa for India and an ‘inner line permit’ to enter Sikkim are both required. VBB strongly advise volunteers to contact the Indian consulate directly in their country of residence to gain advice on the appropriate visa for their trip as requirements change regularly and are outside of VBB's control. Whilst visa advice will be given by VBB, no guarantee can be made to the accuracy of this advice at a particular time.

Visitors to Sikkim must obtain an Inner Line Permit (ILP). Tthis permit can be obtained at Sikkim House in Calcutta or New Delhi, the Sikkim Tourist Office in Siliguri or at the border checkpoint in Rangpo. You will require a passport photo and a copy of your passport and visa. There is no charge for this premit and it takes only 15 minutes to issue. Permits are valid for 15 days, but volunteers are granted extensions thanks to an agreement between VBB and the Sikkimese Government. For more information regarding Indian Visas please contact us.

You will also need additional passport photos which are required for permits if you visit restricted areas of Sikkim. No fee is associated with these permits.

2. What costs do I have when volunteering in Sikkim?

In Sikkim volunteers are provided with accommodation and lunch Monday to Friday when they are working at the project.  At other times volunteers are responsible for their own meals. Kitchen facilities are available in the residence and there are good markets nearby with very reasonably priced fresh produce.  Sikkim is a little more expensive than the rest of India but is still very reasonably priced.  It's often as cheap to eat out as to cook unless you choose a restaurant in a major hotel.

Volunteers will need to allow for the costs of any touring/sightseeing they choose to do including any associated accommodation.  Tour guides are required for visiting many parts of Sikkim but they are reasonably priced.  It is suggested that volunteers should allow $100 per week as a reasonable allowance for most people.

Volunteers need to arrange and cover the costs of their own flights and visas to India, transport within India to Gangtok and also their own medical expenses, including travel insurance and rabies vaccinations. 

3. How long do I need to volunteer?

Although this varies widely, most volunteers will work with us for between 3 and 8 weeks. We encourage volunteers to stay for a minimum of three to four weeks. It takes time to acclimatise to Sikkim & to get over the culture shock of India. Staying for a longer length of time gives you a chance to get to know & socialise with the lovely SARAH staff.

The project operates twelve months a year though it is not recommended for volunteers to travel to Sikkim during the monsoon season (usually June to August). Please understand that, although the work performed is of great benefit, Vets Beyond Borders volunteers receive no remuneration. Comfortable accommodation and working conditions are provided.

VBB tries to ensure that the roster provides for an overlap in the arrival and departure of volunteer staff, to enable the transfer of information and advice with respect to the day-to-day operation of the programme.

4. What is the location of work?

As most of the street dogs in the areas surrounding Gangtok have now been sterilised, volunteers will spend much less time working in Gangtok itself. Some time is spent at the SARAH hospital in Gangtok learning the flank spay technique, training local vets in new surgical techniques or dealing with more complex cases. The majority of the work is out with the often very basic mobile clinics in regional Sikkim. It is not possible to advise volunteers where they will be working, prior to their arrival as the mobile clinics frequently change location as the work in each area is completed.

Transport to the mobile clinics is via share jeep taxis and is at your own cost (unlikely to cost more than $5 each way). It may take up to 4 hours to travel out to the mobile clinics as we are working in remote areas. Generally this type of work suits the more adventurous and fit volunteer.

5. What are the work conditions?

Volunteers work as part of a team comprising local veterinarians and allied staff. Volunteer veterinarians should be proficient in basic surgical procedures and should possess the confidence to perform such surgery efficiently, under field conditions without access to inhalation anaesthesia, and to instruct local veterinarians in the surgical techniques required for such procedures.

Volunteers will work in Gangtok for at least the first week with at least 1-2 local veterinarians and 2-3 paravets.  On field camps there is usually only 1 local vet plus the volunteer(s). The paravets do the catching, sedation and inductions whilst the veterinarians do the surgery and handle any anaesthetic difficulties (of which there are few).  The veterinarians perform post operative reviews the next morning before the dogs are returned to the site of capture by the paravets. 

Volunteer veterinarians also manage the clinical cases as they present. These can include road accidents, falls, other trauma, mange (demodex, scabies) and other skin complaints. Many of the street dogs are hospitalised until they are well enough to be returned to the street and so need ongoing veterinary care. 

Volunteers may be doing surgery in very basic clinical conditions. In Gangtok, isoflurane anaesthesia is available for complex cases. Orthopardic equipment, X-Ray, ultrasound, basic laboratory facilities, otoscope and opthalmoscope are also available. It is helpful to assist local staff with learning how to use all of the equipment.

In the field camps IV anaesthesia is used with any complex cases are referred to Gangtok for treatment.

As this is an early release programme, all routine canine ovariohysterectomies are performed via a right flank (rather than midline) approach. Although training can be provided on arrival, volunteers are encouraged to become familiar with the technique prior to commencing their placement. An e-copy of the surgical handbook complied for the programme can be provided on request. Volunteers should also be capable of managing routine medical cases unsupervised.

Veterinary nurses should be experienced in the surgical and medical nursing of small animals and be able to perform the associated tasks efficiently under field conditions.

Often people are reluctant to euthanase animals, but there is increasing acceptance that euthanasia is sometimes best for animal.  Discussion of euthanasia has to be handled carefully - generally it is best to involve a local vet staff member.

It is expected that volunteers will follow the standard clinic protocols – although discussion and new ideas are certainly welcomed.

The Gangtok Clinic operates Monday to Saturday (approximately 8am-4pm). Volunteers may take off the Saturdays so they can take part in weekend trips. When on field camps volunteers work every day and the length of day can be variable in length (often 7-8am to 2-6pm), depending on for example, weather, roads, dog catching success.However on the field trips there is also lots of talking with locals, cups of tea etc etc as educating the public is also a big part of SARAH activities.

6. What languages are spoken in Sikkim?

The main language is Nepalese, but many people speak  English. Volunteers may need to communicate through a local Nepali speaking staff member. Local tribal languaes are Bhutia and Lepcha.

The religious groups are approximately 60% Hindu, 28% Buddhist, 7% Christian, 1.4% Muslim. There is no inter- religious strife in Sikkim. The people are polite, perhaps a little reserved but volunteers are treated with respect.

7. Do I participate in other activites?

Veterinary Seminars

All volunteers are asked to present a seminar (usually a power point presentation) to the SARAH vets & government vets. Vets in Sikkim have no access to further education so we can really make a difference by sharing our knowledge & skills. This is a fun event with a prize going to a local vet for the best veterinary question of the afternoon. The seminars are followed by tea & cream cakes!!

8. Is travelling in Sikkim safe?

Although thousands of foreigners travel safely in India every year, sensible precautions should be taken. Vets Beyond Borders cannot accept responsibility for your personal safety, should you decide to come to India to volunteer.
Government websites should be visited to obtain up-to-date travel warnings: (www.smartraveller.gov.au) (http://travel.state.gov/) (www.fco.gov.uk)
Additional advice can be found in good guidebooks, such as The Lonely Planet Guide (www.lonelyplanet.com).

9. What medical information should I know?

Contact your doctor to obtain current advice on appropriate vaccination and anti malarial medication. Vets Beyond Borders volunteers MUST be vaccinated against Rabies if they are to be working in India. Please take out comprehensive travel medical insurance as there are no provisions for medical cover under the terms of
this volunteer programme. Please check carefully that your insurance will cover you for veterinary work (eg. STA travel insurance will no longer provide insurance for this).
Heed medical advice for travellers to Asia to minimise the risk of preventable illness. The old maxim, “don’t drink the water”, is certainly true.
For further health information the WHO (World Health Organisation) website provides a very comprehensive report on ‘International Travel & Health’  (http://www.who.int/ith/en/ )

10. What will I eat?

Lunch is currently provided to volunteers free-of-charge Monday to Fridays at the Gangtok & mobile clinics. Lunch is simple Sikkimese food. Lunch is usually rice with vegetable or meat curry. Indian food is quite spicy. Less spicy Tibetan or chinese food is available at restaurants in Gangtok & regional centres.

There are no alcohol restrictions in Sikkim & alcohol is freely available. Smoking restrictions are similar to those in Australia - not in workplaces, usually not in public places and not in the volunteer residence.

11. Where will I stay?

Free comfortable accommodation for volunteers is provided at the Vets Beyond Borders residence in Gangtok. The volunteer house is a 3 bedroom house with 8 beds & 2 share bathrooms (hot water & western style toilet). The house has kitchen facilities & a lounge with cable TV. Power failures do occur especially during the monsoon.  Clothes can be either hand washed or taken to an indian laundry.

The facilities at the mobile clinics are very basic. Volunteers may be staying in simple hotels or in local houses. This is free of charge. Please bring a sleeping bag. Running hot water may not be available and water may need to be heated with an immersion heater in a bucket. Western style toilets may not be available

12. Will I have out of pocket expenses?

Out-of-pocket expenses largely comprise travel costs to Gangtok and non-essential purchases you may choose to make. Gangtok itself is not quite as cheap as the rest of India and there are many restaurants, internet cafes, bars and bakeries which may tempt you. Allow around $Aus 100.00 per week for food & transport. Bring a bit more if you plan to buy souvenirs & do any trekking tours.

13. What should I bring with me?

Clothing
The Sikkimese dress-code is quite modest. Please do not wear shorts or singlets. Long thin cotton trousers or skirts and loose fitting cool cotton tops with sleeves are appropriate in summer. A hat & sunglasses is essential, especially in summer. Warmer clothes are required in winter (Dec – Feb). Bring a light raincoat or umbrella. Indian clothing may be purchased cheaply

Personal Items
A sleeping-bag is essential as you may be working in outlying parts of the state. Good quality mosquito repellent should be brought from home. Bring basic toiletries & a towel with you. Any personal medication, eye glasses and contact lenses should be brought with you, including a repeat prescription for medication and eyeglasses in case of loss whilst overseas.

Mobile phone
SIM cards are very cheap in Sikkim & will work with most unlocked phones. You will need a passport photo & photocopy of passport & visa. International calls are cheaper to make from a mobile than from call booths. Mobiles are the main form of communication here & ensures that we can contact you when you are out with the mobile unit.

Laptops
Can be used in local internet cafes to connect to internet. Also useful if out in mobile clinics…many towns close down very early at night & can be fun to have some entertainment such as a dvd or two.

Veterinary Equipment
By all means bring your favourite surgical kit or needle holders. A head-torch is essential for surgical illumination as power failures are common & out in the field there may be no electricity.

Donations / Current Wish-List:
We are currently running three clinics in Sikkim. As it is difficult to source some items in India, we would be most grateful if volunteers could bring some of the following with them:  Autoclave tape, long-acting amoxicillin injection, text books, orthopaedic equipment in reasonable condition, flea/tick treatments, novelty pet items (collars, toys, freebies from drug companies) or veterinary posters.

If you are bringing injectables, please ask us to provide you with an explanatory letter for Indian customs.

DO NOT PACK KETAMINE OR OPIATES AS THIS CAN LEAD TO MAJOR PROBLEMS AT THE CUSTOMS DESK, UNLESS PRIOR CLEARANCE HAS BEEN OBTAINED.