Who knew five days could include so many challenges and even more learning experiences? This trip, just as the rest of the RISHI trips, started in chaos where we barely made our connecting flight from the Delhi airport to Chandigarh but after the chaotic start, every moment seemed to go right. We had two goals on this winter trip: to find a sustainable solution to have a constant presence in Charnia and to follow up on the IFA (Iron Folic Acid) supplementation program. Since leaving Chandigarh this summer, we have been following up with the community health promoters to see how the community has responded to the IFA supplements. We realized, however, that phone calls are not the same as the one-on-one interactions that we had over the summer. So, we hoped to get locals involved in our projects.
As soon as we stepped off the plane, we started meeting with different members of Chanidgarh’s Rotary club in hopes that they could act as our constant presence in Charnia. Throughout the week, we attended a Rotary club meeting, gave a couple members a tour of Charnia, and created some long-lasting relationships. This was the first time we were able to meet people our own age and explain our projects in Charnia. The Rotary members gave us more insight to Chandigarh, a city that hosts us at least one month every year, and even better critiques of the project. With their help, we will have a stronger and more constant presence within Charnia which will hopefully lead to better compliance.
In addition to getting to know the Rotary members, we trekked to Charnia everyday. Although we had been away for so long, the first time back was like we had never left. The brick factories were in their manufacturing season so each zone was bustling with work and activities. Over the summer we feared that since the population we were working with was a migrant population that many of them would not be in Charnia when we returned. However, we saw many familiar faces. We also worked through some of the communication issues we were having with the community health promoters. Unfortunately, we found one zone in particular experienced many side effects from the medication. Once we questioned them further, we realized many of the kids were overdosing because they thought the IFA supplements were like candy. With parents as busy as theirs, we knew we had to help the parents and children understand both the purpose of the IFA supplements and the reason they were experiencing side effects. With some visual aids and reducing the dosage, we were able to convince the brick zone to continue with the supplements. On our last day in Charnia, we collected some hemoglobin levels and saw some initial improvements compared to the summer levels.
On the last day of our trip, I was not ready to leave. The whole week had been full of meetings with the Civil Surgeon, local physicians, and global health professionals. Each meeting taught me more about the glaring health disparities in India and the different methods employed to attack them. Each meeting galvanized us to sort out the kinks with the IFA supplementation program and perfect our follow up protocol. Each RISHI trip has underscored “Health is Wealth,” one of the quotes we saw on our first trip. In a country with so many people and a limited number of resources, health is one of the most important states to strive for.