The Nirmaan-IITB camp was organized by Tata Center for Technology and Design (TCTD), IITB and Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH), Gadchiroli for a week in early Dec ‘14.
TCTD planned the trip for the Tata fellows and all project staff associated with TCTD. Prof. Anand Rao from CTARA also joined the students. Allowing students from different majors in engineering, leads to a much broader problem perspective in problem solving.
The SEARCH campus is situated in a village in Gadchiroli, the eastern most district of Maharashtra. This 40-acre campus has a hospital and residential facility for people serving in the hospital. This place is in middle of forest and presents a huge biodiversity. The campus is designed so that the tribal population feels homely and is comfortable to come here to receive healthcare service.
The hospital has been in service for over 25 years now. It started with offering gynecology services to the tribal population. Further, the hospital expanded its services, to suit the demands of the population. Instead of imposing the treatment methodologies on the people, they wanted to work with the people, and figure out ways of sustainable health care system in the region.
Over the years, SEARCH team has been involved in eradication helping people with alcohol addiction, ensuring safer deliveries and many other healthcare requirements. They determine the healthcare needs of the population, by directly talking to the people. Then, the team finds ways to solve these problems. All this has a significant research component. This group is one of the few institutions that works closely with the bottom of the pyramid population and hence is a good source for long term baseline data. The research outcomes that have been published by this group, esp. on the home-based newborn care model, has received recognition from countless many international agencies.
SEARCH also operates mobile health unit to take basic health care to remote locations. They want the society to develop in a way that the people are self-reliant for healthcare needs. They have trained a network of healthcare providers in the region to become ‘Arogya Doot’. These health care providers are representatives of SEARCH in the village and are equipped to take care of the newborn, monitor health of children and mother. Although, it took time for the villagers to accept the concept of ‘Arogya Doot’, these women have earned a lot of respect for their work in recent years. They are also invited by neighboring states to conduct training programs for health care workers there.
SEARCH also organizes NIRMAAN camps for motivating youth for social enterprises. These camps are organized every year in two batches and attracts youth from all backgrounds, inspired to work on social initiatives. Further, it has a strong alumni group, from the last five years. Nirman camp was a great learning experience for me.
SEARCH has gained a lot of recognition for its work. Many specialist surgeons from all over India, have started offering their services for free in camps. Thus, leading to availability of special services to the tribal population of Gadchiroli. However busy the campus feels like during the day time, the campus residents gather every evening for prayer and twice in the week for Shramdaan.
The center is headed by Dr. Abhay Bang and Dr. Rani Bang. This couple has lived in the rural areas of Maharashtra for most of their lives. The idea of Shodhgram is inspired from Dr. Abhay Bang’s early life years in Sevagram. Amrut, Kedar and Nikhil are involved in managing the operational activities. Dr. Nikhil and Dr. Mrunal have joined the activities of SEARCH and live in Shodhgram itself. The campus also hosts interns for a period of six months or a year and these are involved in the activities of SEARCH.
The most informative part of the trip was definitely the village stay. The objective of the village stay was to force us to understand the needs of the villagers, by going through their daily activities. The villagers welcomed us with open hearts and tried their best to make us feel comfortable. These 24 hours, gave us an opportunity to interact directly with the villagers, by working with them and simultaneously talking to them. Going around the village, many people came forward to talk to us directly and compared the lives of people in cities and villages. Many mentioned about their desires in life and told us the ways they are trying to get there. We tried to explore the problems faced by the villagers in all the fields, may it be education, agriculture, livelihood means, healthcare or basic sanitation.
I visited the village, Churchura, which is 8 kms from Gadchiroli district. Proximity to the city resulted in a lot of youth find higher education and employment opportunities in Gadchiroli. Following are the key observations of the lifestyle of the people in this village:
- The village has relatively stable electricity supply and cemented roads. The street lights have been around for 3-4 years, however, the solar lamps were installed this year.
- The village have 3 hand pumps from people carry drinking water.
- The school in village provides education only up to class 7. Students then go to other villages or to Gadchiroli for further education.
- The main crop in agriculture is rice. Off season, many people go to Gadchiroli as construction labors, painters, carpenters etc. Also 4-5 households do farming of silk.
- Talking to the villagers gave a feeling of ‘resign for life’, instead of happy. They have become physiologically immune, however, they portray a strong community sense. In order to help them live a better life, a solution should not hurt this strong community structure.
However, these are observations of a single person, observing the lifestyle for one day. Hence, in no case, can these be generalized.
The final part of the workshop was to raise a question to self. Two activities, around Maslow’s triangle and Gandhi’s talisman, helped the group raise these questions. Though it was very heavy session as it is never easy to answer when someone asks about your future plans.
I will suggest strongly recommend attend Nirman camp at least once. They have revolutionized healthcare for the poorest people in India and have overseen a program that has substantially reduced infant mortality rates in one of the most poverty-stricken areas in the world. They believe in research with people not research on people.