Sunday, January 30, 2011

Our first Village Visit

So, you’re probably wondering when we’re going to start doing some learning around here. Fear not, the reason I’m so behind on the blog already is because our days are full (as is my brain!). As the week has progressed, I’ve gained a better understanding of the Jamkhed story and history so I’ll give you the two-cent version in instalments over the next few blogs.

Dr. Raj and Mabel Arole met at an Indian medical school and wanted to do something to change the dire health outcomes in rural India. Knowing a western stamp would help them gain acceptance from funders, they travelled to the US and studied public health at Hopkins (among other things) before returning to India and eventually settling on the current site for their visionary project, that of improving the health of the locals in rural India, receiving a land grant and funding from various NGO’s, many of them Christian, in line with their Christian faith. Btu they do not proselytise and they serve people of all faiths, rather their Christianity informs their strong values and sense of justice.

Originally they tried to get nurses to come to this remote area of Maharashtra. The nurses were afraid they would never find husbands if they came here, so the Arole’s even arranged marriages for them. But when the nurses started families, they didn’t want to stay to raise their children so they soon realised this model was unsustainable. Dr. Raj , when in a village and seeing how a woman was responsible for caring for the family and for handling the delivery of babies, realised that someone without a medical degree could meet many of the basic health needs of the village. This brainstorm led to the idea of engaging Village Health Workers; that is, local women from each village who would be trained by the Aroles to provide basic medical care. The idea for the project was born and over the next few blogs, you’ll learn, as I have, how this simple idea has changed over 200 communities and in addition to dealing with health issues, has addressed such issues as gender discrimination and caste-ism as well as economic sustainability.

For our part, we spent Tuesday morning on our first village visit, which meant that we drove about 30 minutes to a village and once there, divided into small groups, each with a translator, and had a walk around, with a chance to chat with the locals about their lives. We got to witness firsthand their infrastructure, including the large wells they had and a collection of toilets in the centre of town, just waiting to be installed somewhere. We saw the kinder, which provides protein formula for children up to age 6 and the school, which also has a lunch program. We saw the variety of houses in the village, from rudimentary huts a man told us he sleeps with his family and his 5 goats all in one room, to larger 2 and 3 room cement blocks with satellite dishes on top. We saw lots of healthy babies, smiling, shy girls and boys angling to have their picture taken.

We learned at the end of our visit that this is a village that is part of the CRHP, with a Village Health Worker. There is no TB and virtually no leprosy in the village and all of the children are well nourished. This doesn’t mean there is no poverty and we saw ourselves that there is still a discrepancy between the haves and have-nots in the village. We also saw women working very hard, cleaning, scrubbing, fetching water, carrying things on their head, while a large portion of the men were drinking tea in the town square.

It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. The toilet blocks were a good example, as Dr. Arole told us one of his greatest failures is teaching people to use toilets, even if they have access to them, because defecating in the street is simply the cultural norm, and obviously, poses a great sanitation and hygiene risk. But the children are in school and the babies are fed and the Village Health worker told us no babies had died in her village in 6 years. That is a start.

I’ll leave you with a few photos of the village so you can see the happy children yourself!

These girls greeted us shortly after we arrived, when we were in a poorer section of the village. Then, their teacher came out to scold them for missing class!

This is the man who told us about his goats and explained he was worried about theft and predaotrs and thus, the livestock slept in the family home.

We saw this woman carrying these sun-dried Chilis. Before we could photograph her, she had to fix her dot, which demonstrates that she is married and her husband is alive.

These boys were all hanging out in the kinder-though some of them look a bit old for it. The teachers were proud to show us the protein/ grains that are part of a government scheme but promoted by the Village Health worker.

This was the youngest boy at the kinder and he kept getting pushed out of the way as the other kids jostled to have their photo taken. He was in tears before we left for the day- I think the excitement was a bit too much for him.

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