Enrichment Grant Report: Zach Burns ’14

Zach Burns ’14 was selected to receive an Enrichment Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. This funding helped support his six-week fellowship volunteering with the MINDS Foundation in Gujarat, India.  MINDS was founded by Raghu Appasani ’12 while he was an undergraduate at Wesleyan. Read Zach’s story below, and visit the PCSE website to learn more about our Enrichment Grants.


MINDS FoundationThis summer, the PCSE helped support my six-week fellowship volunteering with the MINDS Foundation in Gujarat, India.  MINDS improves mental healthcare in rural Gujarat through education programs, and by providing free psychiatric treatment for patients unable to pay.  In addition to patient care, the MINDS Foundation provides a platform for relevant research.  My work this summer continued an ongoing research project that assesses the stigma surrounding mental illness in rural Gujarat.  With a research partner and a translator, I interviewed mentally ill patients and their families about their perception of mental maladies.  I asked them to what extent they agreed or disagreed with statements like “I can have a good, fulfilling life despite my mental illness,” and “I am disappointed in myself for having a mental illness.”  While much work remains to be done in encouraging the acceptance and stressing the treatability of mental conditions, many patients and family members had healthy attitudes about their situations—and as the MINDS Foundation continues to demonstrate that mental illnesses can be eased or cured, these attitudes will spread throughout the villages.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy time in India showed me how much the standard of decent healthcare varies across the world.  I have been told by more medically experienced American MINDS volunteers that no hospital in the United States, no matter how poor and underserved its location, looks quite like the hospital here.  Beyond the lack of soap in bathrooms, the stained and deteriorating offices, and the regular sewage floods in waiting areas, the most striking difference is the lower expectations of the patients here.  Some come into the hospital doubting that it will serve them better than traditional remedies would at home.  But many doctors and hospital staff I worked with are motivated and intent on raising the bar.

I would encourage students interested in mental health or Indian culture to get involved with MINDS at Wesleyan.  There are important ways to help the cause off-site, especially in fundraising and publicity.  Students content with bugs, mud, and spicy food should also consider volunteering in India for an exciting and inspiring fellowship.