Friday, February 15, 2013

Incredible Winter Abroad in India

Elizabeth Krawczun, Verrazano Class of 2014, has returned from her winter study abroad experience in Jamkhed, India.  Read below for her perspective on the experience.  More detailed explanations of the photographs are available at the end of the post. 

My study abroad in India was an opportunity that I will not forget. I met some wonderful people who have donated their lives to the hospital and its work. I made some good friends, both fellow students and staff in the facility, who are driven and determined to help others. I saw the poverty of some villagers and mistreatment of women. Further, I came to realize that I do want to pursue public health. Before travelling to India, I had some reservations about what I had chosen as my intended major and future career path. While abroad, it became clear to me that public health is where I would like my work to be directed.

I am going to miss many of the people I spent the last three weeks getting to know. Becoming a part of the “CRHP family," as they say, was an emotional experience on its own. Despite the short amount of time there, I became attached to the people through their stories. Every woman trained by CRHP as a health worker in her village had a story. Having the opportunity to see these women fight against their oppression and become empowered was beautiful.

It was difficult to not be affected by the level of poverty and gender inequality when walking through the villages and cities. As Westerners, we were all struck by how differently people live and we all felt a little ashamed of how well we live and how secure we feel in the United States.

The purpose of this study abroad was to do exactly that; to force us to realize that these people have next to no way of changing their situation. CRHP’s goal is to provide the people with resources to solve some of the most basic problems - to shift the focus of biomedicine from curative to preventative. When walking through the villages, I was able to see how the villagers had implemented some of the changes and how bringing resources and health care capability to the people was the best solution to combat the growing rate of disease.

This study abroad had its own difficulties, one of which was communicating with non-CRHP administrators. This was sometimes a struggle. I was able to pick up some words in Marahti, but never really learned enough to do more than ask for tea. Secondly, it was very tough being an American there. Three of my fellow students were of Indian descent. I drew the most attention because I was tall in an area where the average height is 5’2” and have a very light complexion. In the cities, and when we travelled to two religious sites, people would circle us and take pictures, silently take videos, and corner us, laughing, and snapping pictures. Many times, people would come up and ask if we would take a picture with them. Again, I was singled out for being the fairest and the tallest. It was very uncomfortable, and some of the rest of the group and I never quite felt safe outside of the hospital grounds. 

This study abroad was an experience that I will never forget. It is not meant for students who want to have a good time or learn the history and go site-seeing. We studied and discussed the village trips more than reading from a textbook or having formal classes. This program is for students who do not mind living in sparse conditions with few amenities outside of the necessities. When people now ask me, “How was India? Did you have fun?” I don’t quite know what to say. I had an interesting educational and emotional journey, but I cannot call most of my time there “fun." I did have fun with students and interns at CRHP, but the actual course was down and dirty. The professor I travelled with and the directors of the hospital wanted us to see village life for what it really was. I would go back to study and contribute to the hospital in any way I can. I am grateful for this study abroad experience and appreciate the opportunity to share in such a wonderful cause.

Photo Descriptions

The first picture shows one of the times that the group was greeted into the home of one of the village health workers. Generally, special guests are greeted with the placing of red and yellow paint on the forehead, the giving of sweets, the kissing and painting of the feet and, and the burning of incense. This particular woman also gave each of us a coconut, which is considered a good omen.  

The second picture is of a girl carrying a pot of water from the water truck to her home. This part of India, on the Deccan Plateau, is experiencing a severe drought and has had no rainfall for over a year. Because there was next to no crop yield, no drinking and bathing water, and less sanitation in the villages, disease and dehydration are major problems. Thirty years ago, CRHP built tube wells in poorer areas that would collect and store the ground water. Now, these tube wells are dry and the government is now intervening and sending water trucks to the villages. One of the main concerns, however, is that some villages have water trucks come every day, while others only get water once a week. Because India is very corrupt, areas where the mayor knows one of the government officials are able to pay off the official and have access to more water. 

The third picture is of me at Sancrant, the women’s festival. At this point, the group and I had left the first mosque and were about to travel to a temple to continue the celebration. During this festival, women bless each other with the red and yellow paint, sesame seeds, and sweets. 

The fourth picture was taken during a trip to the Buddhist caves of Ajanta, located in the Aurangabad district. The entrances to the caves are all along the edge of this cliff-like area. It is believed that these caves were built between the second and seventh century. The sculpture within these caves was amazing, as were the paintings and murals on the walls. These caves were discovered in the early nineteenth century. 

The last picture shows a village health worker demonstrating how she takes the blood pressure of the villagers. The equipment that these workers have is out-of-date and the hospital is trying to provide more advanced basic equipment with donor contributions.


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