Written by: Manisha Bhatia
Team Members: Varshini Cherukupalli, Apas Aggarwal, Shreya Agarwal
Location: Charniya, India
Project: Project RISHI: Health and Lifestyle Analysis in Charniya, Hayana, India
Fellowship: International Group Research Fellowship in Global Health
The Project RISHI summer trip was mind-blowing. Each student involved dedicated so much time and effort into ensuring the project successful started its India trek with a bang. Before we even started planning the summer trip, the Research and Education committee started developing an extensive needs assessment to determine how we could help the community. The exec board and members worked tirelessly through Samosa fundraisers, disease presentations, and donation letters to raise funds and educate ourselves to prepare for the community.
The community I am speaking of is Charnia, a village 45 minutes outside of Chandigarh. The village is comprised mainly of two populations: the farmers and the brick manufacture workers. After spending time in the village, however, we learned there were many other types of people there. We met people who worked on government projects while living in huts, construction workers who lived in sedentary homes, factory workers who lived in bricks stacked upon each other, and engineers who lived in beautiful permanent homes.
We spent over 8 days surveying different parts of the community, and as much as I dreaded a full day of survey each morning, it was one of the best ways to get to know the diverse community.
During my first day of the needs-assessment survey, I worked with another student, and as he asked questions, I recorded the families’ responses. The first house we visited seemed well-off; the family had a bed, electricity, a fan, and a sturdy building. They knew all of the answers to the infectious disease section of our survey which made me wonder if the population would benefit from our involvement. However, our next house showed the community’s need.
The family of nine lived in a small one bedroom home that had an extended porch. They were Harijans in the Hindu caste system; they were the untouchables. While the other families we surveyed had the ability to move upward in society, the Harijans did not have that opportunity. The family answered our questions as best they could; however, their knowledge was lacking. The mother of the family constantly added to her husband’s answers, and she looked to me for approval.
After the interview, we moved to the next house, a luxurious home with two foreign cars in the garage. During the interview, I could not stop thinking about the previous family. Just as we left the nice house, the woman from the previous house approached me and started talking about the treatment she received from the doctors and the below poverty card. I tried to note down as much as possible, but our community guide was hurrying us to the next house.
I almost forgot about the woman, but then she appeared at the site of the health camp as we were setting up. She was wearing a sling on her right arm, and approached me with tears in her eyes. She told me she and her husband had been in an accident the day after we surveyed them and they did not have a way to receive proper medical attention. She looked to me as her advocate but, the best I could do was to tell her was to come to the health camp and physicians would examine her. Each time I spoke with the woman, I was surprised by how much she opened up towards me. During our first encounter, I had just said hello, and let my RISHI partner ask the survey questions. Yet the woman approached me outside of the next house. At the health camp set up, there were five of us working on the organization but the woman once again approached me about her accident. In our 20 minute survey, I made a connection with this woman who truly needed medical attention; just by being the community, our group of NU students made a real difference.
The day of the health camp, however, was when we learned about all of the different medical issues the community faced. After meeting with the civil surgeon and numerous other doctors at the beginning of our trip, we learned the same practices applied to students – meaning, we were not allowed to do any invasive tests, including sugar and hemoglobin test. So, through our advisors, we found some MBBS students to volunteer their Sunday morning to help run this health camp.
It was raining cats and dogs as we set up for the health camp. Once it started, the weather cooperated, and the chaos on the ground began. The community members were lined up and ready to start the process, so we had them go through multiple stations: sign in with height and weight; vitals: blood pressure, hemoglobin, and sugar levels; then they waited for their name to be called. The patients would then see the specialty doctors for whatever ailment was the most severe; some patients saw a couple of doctors to make sure everything was checked up. We had a variety of specialties, but the most amazing thing was seeing the doctors from different institutions and with different ties to the community work together. Everyone relied on one of the volunteers to direct the community members to the right specialty station, and then each of the doctors relied on the pharmacy, staffed with multiple doctors, to allot the right medications. I was impressed seeing such a mix of people, doctors, volunteers, and students, unite for the community.
There are a ton of things to be said about our trip. But, the one the only thing I am thinking about is how lucky I am to have been part of this entire journey. I went to India for 20 days and each day has taught me at least one new thing. We are setting up the groundwork for an amazing RISHI project, and each trip member has shown their dedication to the sustainability and effectiveness of the project.
I am so thankful to have come on this trip with 10 other extremely driven NU students who always prioritize the needs of the community. I am so impressed that after each of our long surveying days, the extremely tiring health camp, and even while we are site seeing, RISHI trip members are willing to discuss our project at length. Monday evening we drove to Amritsar to see the Golden Temple, slept less than 3 hours, shopped around the city, watched the changing of the guard, and made our way back to Chandigarh. Though everyone was exhausted, we managed to have a serious discussion about the progress of our projects. Once we started the discussion, everyone chimed in because these people, my Northwestern peers, these 10 other NRIs truly want to help the people of Charniya.
I am looking forward to what the new RISHI generation will bring to Charniya!! This trip has really solidified our connection with the community, and as hard as we worked this past year, I know the Project RISHI members will work even harder, with a more defined goal this upcoming year. The diversity in Charniya begs us to look at the community with multiple lenses and slowly work with them on different solutions to their many problems.
I am so thankful to have had this opportunity and am excited for more students to experience this!