Global travel and philanthropy was a foreign concept to me a few years prior to making San Diego my home. This is peculiar because if you ask any of my friends they will tell you that I am obsessed with learning about other cultures as if I was the stereotypical wanderlust-obtaining traveler. I also obtain a predilection for understanding human disease and how I can help others overcome these disparities using basic biological research. However, I gained an alternate perspective of human disease outcomes through Project RISHI at UCSD. By attending the India trip summer 2015, I immersed myself in Indian culture, assessed unknown health disparities in the village of Anandwan, and provided first aid education and supplies to children in the local schools. By volunteering my time to positively influence the collective health of the village through our sustainability projects, my experience became even more valuable in that my understanding of global differential health outcomes became tangible. It may be simple to grasp the concept that multiple social, political, and economic factors contribute to global health disparity but you internalize this concept when working in a village like Anandwan.
Anandwan is nestled in the state of Maharashtra, in what looks to be the very center of India. Being that this trip was my first overseas experience, I did not know what I was to expect entering Anandwan both culturally and logistically. Anandwan is a home to the stigmatized, as it is a leprosy colony that includes approximately 2000 villagers. Those who enter Anandwan for treatment relinquish their previous home and lifestyle to live in communal association with those in the village because leprosy holds an enormous social stigma in India. Men, women, and children adopt a role in the village that most closely matches their abilities, thereby providing them with equitable support for living and thriving in the village. Baba Amte, the founder of Anandwan, held this ideology of giving people a chance and not just giving them charity and that culture is pervasive throughout. Our aspiration as we entered the village was to improve the collective health infrastructure through Baba Amte’s wishes; by assessing individual health, implementing a sustainable solution, and providing basic health education, our chapter follows the model of building good health from the ground up by changing the social and health climate of marginalized villages like Anandwan.
Education projects constituted a few days of our trip where we held half day education camps in the Anandwan primary school as well as the Anandwan Deaf and Mute school. While the entire trip was rewarding, this experience was extremely impactful as each of us was responsible for conveying some preventative health or first aid concept to these children. One can imagine that the barriers to overcome were immense; I had a combination of a language and cultural barrier to overcome and teaching students who could only communicate in sign language (Indian Sign Language at that!). However, we were fortunate to have the help of the school teachers who mediated communication between us. I taught the students how to identify the different types of burns and what they should do if they receive a burn of that nature. The children not only picked up the concepts quickly but they were also intrigued. We even had to make up a clapping game at the end of our session because they learned almost instantaneously and we were left with so much time on our hands! Collectively, our efforts taught us about Anandwan’s need for further education in primary schools such as basic sexual health education, biology lessons, and English communication.
The majority of our time in Anandwan was devoted to our village research project where we set up a community health clinic in the Anandwan hospital to gather health information on a plethora of villagers. Our objective was to assess general vitals, Diabetes risk, and mental health. We held the goals of providing this information to the Anandwan Hospital for organized patient file development and assessing the health issues within the village since diseases like Malaria and Leprosy are adequately treated with the current village health infrastructure. Concomitant to this, we provided the medical supplies for these assessments and volunteered time throughout the trip to wrap wounds for leprosy patients. Our work provided the hospitals with the necessary supplies to continue these assessments and our time collecting the data provided the hospital current health statuses of 973 adults and 192 kids. In the future we will ascertain what the village needs for upcoming projects by analyzing the data. Furthermore, our work may promote the implementation and completion of additional health projects within Anandwan through Non-Governmental Organizational funding which is validated by our field research within Anandwan.
Through our two main projects this summer I learned that Anandwan is truly an anomaly in the way the society functions to build up the potentials of these individuals who have been relegated and stigmatized by the greater society. By forming tight associations within the community, with individuals receiving equal contribution and gain, Anandwan exhibits the most perfect example of a socialized society that I have seen. However, even in this society that transforms the abilities to equitably support the individual, the encroaching problem that we strive to resolve continues to be access and availability of medical supplies and treatments to new diseases. These diseases, like diabetes, impact a society as it develop from a third-world state of poverty to a developing state of growth and prosperity. Anandwan is a model for Project RISHI’s mission because it captures the dynamic nature of this continued development of rural societies. However, Anandwan also teaches us the solution to this problem: abrogating this social injustice through the collective effort of everyone in that society.
While I have enormous hope for the continued social and health improvement in Indian societies like Anandwan through work of organizations like Project RISHI, my experience gave me more than I was able to give Anandwan. My two weeks in India shaped my worldview because I saw the disparity experienced in a society that represents the experiences of a majority of the world. This is not only important to maintain humility for the immense privilege I have, but it provides me a foundation for how I should view global health inequities. We have a lot of work to do as students and professionals interested in fields of healthcare, research, and policy. I can only hope that our generation and future generations will be mindful and determined to close these gaps in healthcare and experience such that equality among all is a reality.