Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Beyond Tourism: Studying Healthcare Principles in Rural India

Elizabeth Krawczun, a CUNY BA Epidemiology major in the Verrazano Class of 2014, is studying abroad in Jamkhed, India for the winter intersession through Brooklyn College.  As a Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship recipient, Elizabeth is sharing her study abroad experience on the Verrazano Voyager.  Read below to learn more about Elizabeth's experience in India.

While in India, I am having the opportunity to see what few want to see. Much of the area near where I am staying is poor villages and unfertile farmland. The drought here has affected everyone and the government has now stepped in to provide some water to the villages. Disease and death have increased tremendously during this time. With the lack of safe drinking and bathing water, many more villagers are sick.

A woman working in a rural Indian village
During this time of drought, the ideas behind the creation of the Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP) reflect the need to provide healthcare by identifying the root of the problem. Instead of only treating the patients who have disease, CRHP is trying to provide a means by which the villagers can have some sustainable solution. In this time of drought, CRHP has been building tube-wells to harvest the ground water beneath the earth and providing firewood so that the water can be boiled before drinking.

During the classes, we all learn these principles. The lectures are taught by the Director of the facility, Dr. Shoba Arole. Her parents began this project in 1970 and now she is in charge of managing the hospital.

My group has had the opportunity to take tours of two villages. I have been able to see what many do not want to see. It is difficult to walk through these villages. Most people live in unsanitary conditions and leprosy, tuberculosis, and AIDS patients are common. The children of these villages are amazed by a group of Americans and they always want their picture taken. Women silently wash clothing or grind up grains for chipotle. The men who are not field laborers quietly drink tea and sit along the road. The towns, however, are loud, bustling, and just as unsanitary. Street vendors and store clerks harass you, and the art of bargaining must be learned quickly. 

Market day in Jamhked

Both towns and villages, however, are set in tradition. During my time here, there have been two cultural festivals; Dawali and Sancrant. Sancrant is a women’s festival that is celebrated in January each year. Women visit their local temples and carry a tray covered by a cloth and flowers. On this tray, there are red and yellow paint, sesame seeds, and sugar cubes. Women walk through the temple and place the red and yellow paint on your forehead, throw the sesame seeds on the top of your head, and then give you a handful of sugar to eat.

Elizabeth participating in a blessing ritual during Sacrant
The two temples that I visited were completely filled and women fought to bless everyone who entered the building. Attending this festival put the material that I had been learning in lectures into perspective. On this one day women are celebrated and acknowledged. Meanwhile, they are abused and mistreated during the rest of the year. CRHP has made it a priority to do away with the gender inequality in this area. By teaching women about disease and treatment, using the resources available to them in the village, the facility aims to target one of the root causes of the health in the area.

In my time here, I have learned a huge amount about topics I would have otherwise known nothing about. I feel as though, in this study abroad, I am not just being treated as a tourist and seeing only a fa├žade that hides the real problems. I have had the opportunity to see the poverty and filth of the villages, the torment and abuse of the women, and the sick and dying patients in the hospital. CRHP does not attempt to gloss over the unpleasant things for its visitors. Instead, the directors here are trying to show us everything, making sure that we understand how much areas like this need help and willing us to bring awareness to their cause.

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