Saturday, February 19, 2011

Graduation Day

Hello from Aranbol, in Goa. This is India for those who can’t really stomach “India”- -a far cry fro Jamkhed to be sure, but it’s nice and relaxing and quite easy travelling. I have a lovely Cliffside room overlooking the sea and I’m enjoying a few days of well-deserved rest before I hit the craziness of Mumbai and then the different kind of crazy that awaits in Melbourne. This is a hippie traveller town and with the shops selling glass pipes and the dreadlocked white kids wandering around, I’m just waiting for Jerry to show up!

Before I go any further, just a quick tutorial on how to post comments, as I’ve received many queries. Apparently, you can only do it from the main page of the blog, so I’ve sent you the link to that page this time. At the bottom of the post, there is a place that you can click on for comments. From here, you should be able to then post. So please do!

I know I’ve been out of touch. The last week of the course was busy with our group project and since then, I’ve been travelling, without my regular wireless connection. I’ll go back to our final day at Jamkhed and return, briefly, to our beautiful graduation ceremony. The biggest problem with this is that you are all very behind and frankly, you have not completed the work you need to do in order to fulfil the requirements of graduation. I am more than partially responsible for this- in my effort to complete my group project- which was a hypothetical project cycle incorporating the key principles and values in an Aboriginal Australian context- I did get a chance to share so many aspects of Jamkhed that put the “Comprehensive” in Rural Health Project.

For example, I didn’t tell you about our visit with the Farmer’s Club members, who explain how the first place CRHP starts in a new village is with a Farmer’s group, because you need to get the men engaged before you can get to the women. Unless you saw my photos, you didn’t learn about the amazing organic farm (where I milked a cow!) that uses wormiculture to create natural fertilizer and feeds 250 schoolchildren a day as well as all the visitors and staff at the compound and also provides work and housing for people living with HIV/ AIDS who have been ostracised from their communities. I didn’t go into much detail about the watershed projects that began in order to prevent soil erosion and create clean drinking water in the villages as water is the cornerstone of health. Nor did I delve into the Jaipur foot project, which provides low-cost prosthetics specifically designed for village life, allowing the user to return to work in the fields, allowing them to earn income and provide for their families.

The problem with Dr. Arole’s model is that it is so very comprehensive. One of the most powerful days of learning we had was when we did a village visit with the mobile health team alongside the village health worker. We saw the women’s self-help group (SHG) meeting, and they all gathered at the home of the VHW to have their blood pressure checked (if they were pregnant or over 40). The SHG is an income-generating scheme where each woman puts an agreed to amount. One of the women in the group was quite concerned as she was unable to pay back her loan on the due date. Her cow and calf had both died and her baby had been accidentally poisoned. In addition, she had suffered appendicitis. The combination of all of these hardships meant that she didn’t have the money. If she’d borrowed from a bank, her few, meagre possessions would have been taken from her, but the SHG understood her situation and gave her an interest-free extension, as well as emotional support. After this was decided, her blood pressure was checked, because the VHW was worried about the effect that all of these stressors were having on her mental health. This is just a quick glimpse of one of the most powerful days we had at Jamkhed, wandering around, seeing how the VHW was received into people’s homes. And the homes varied between the well-off and the very poor, but everyone was glad to see the VHW (who lived in a fairly modest home in comparison).

As the beach is calling, I’ll leave you, for now, with the words I spoke at our graduation ceremony. The ceremony was attended by our group as well as a group of 10 Nigerians who arrived our last week to learn about the project in the hopes of replicating it in their country. The VHWs were in attendance, as well as all of our teachers, translators, bus drivers…everyone at the compound who took part in our learning. Both the VHWs and the Nigerians performed a song (two different songs), giving the proceedings an international feel. Shoba, Dr. Arole’s daughter who did much of our teaching, spoke as did Shayla, another teacher. We sang as well, “We Are One, We Are Australia” at Shoba’s request and then a few of us spoke. Here’s what I said:

If I had to pick a moment- and there are many moments- that will stick with me as I return to life in Melbourne, it will be the stories of the Village Health Workers- your stories- especially the one who said this isn’t health education- this is love education.

I’m a bit of a stereotypical New Yorker, jaded and cynical at times. At the same time, I have a belief in the human spirit and trust that ultimately there is good and justice in the world—I just sometimes get distracted by the negatives and lose sight of these deeply held beliefs. I get blinders on. Coming here has stripped away those blinders. The Aroles have shown that two people can make an untold amount of difference by empowering communities and teaching others that THEY can make a difference in their own lives.

Over the next few hours, we will be thanking all of our teachers for sharing their knowledge and experience with us, and this gratitude is heartfelt and sincere. And I have no doubt, with the varied talents of this cohort, we will each take what we’ve learned and apply it in various, meaningful ways to our current and future paths.

But just imagine, for a minute, if each of us were able to share with ten people the idea that they can change the world by empowering others to change their world. And then those ten people did the same thing, spreading this message. Now I don’t mean everyone will be setting up Farmer’s clubs and creating watersheds and starting organic farms with wormiculture and empowering women by training them as VHWs. I mean on a small scale, just spreading this simple message that each of us could teach those with less power and less agency to start to take back their world -this could have an untold effect.

I know that one person alone can’t change the whole world. But CRHP and the Aroles have shown me that they can change the way the whole world changes.

Thank you.

The VHW checks a woman's blood pressure. This is outside the VHW's home, as that is where the SHG meets.

The woman who had suffered such hardship and was late paying back her loan stands outside her modest house. You can tell she is much relieved after the SHG meeting where she was given an extension.

The picture of health in the village- the new VHW, who has been so for 4 years, the former VHW, who served for almost 30 years, and the nurse from the mobile health team who comes once each month.

Shae and I await the festivities

The Nigerians singing and dancing for us!

The women who bought Saris pose in their finery.

Our graduation goodies: the garland smells delicious(and meant something too but I forget what), the candle holder demonstrates that our knowledge enables us to be a source of light, the scraf (everything else is on top of it) is something all teachers are given, and the certificate is well, a certificate.


Justin M. said...

Wow! I'm trying to think of something smart, sassy and funny--as a good comment should be--but I'm just in awe of this experience. I think you've inspired the sass right out of me!!

Good on ya Sheryl!!

marjorie said...

We don't have VHW's here in the states. What would be comparable here I wonder? clinics? Health education in school?

Sheryl said...

@Justin- I can't believe I've left you work here is clearly done.
@Marjorie- there could never be something like a VHW in the US or Oz because of the litigious nature of those societies and the many rules and regulations surrounding health care. Don't forget, most VHWs are illiterate women who rarely have more than a 3rd grade education. I suppose free clinics are the closest we have in the US, but those don't have the personalised aspect the VHW provides, as she knows everyone in her community as well as the social and cultural values at play.

chippy said...

What encouraging insight. Thanks Sheryl for sharing what can happen when a few people think outside the box creatively and compassionately. Now, were there any impromptu Hollywood dance numbers during your stay?!