DukeEngage in Visakhapatnam

A Duke student spends a summer learning about public health work in rural India.

Month: July, 2012

Final week of full productivity

Wow. I have only about ten days until I head back to the states, and now, as I head into my last full week here in Haripuram, I can’t believe that my time here is almost over.  Like I’ve posted before, in wrapping up now, my goal is to ensure sustainability, and so this next week is packed with meetings with folks involved in the process.

On Wednesday, I’m presenting the status of the work so far to the BCT community education organizers (CEOs).  After that, Thursday and Friday are going to be spent talking to the youth committees and village elders with the BCT CEOs.

Tomorrow, though, BCT organized a day trip to the tribal regions for me and another American student here to learn about learn about the challenges faced by tribal communities.  It’s a three hour drive from here, so we’re leaving at 5 in the morning.  I’ll have an update on this tomorrow night.

So far, though, I have a busy week ahead of me.  I’m looking forward to the challenges, but I’ll be sad so say goodbye to all the folks I’ve gotten to know.


Picking up speed

The past few days, as I’m starting to wrap up my project (only two weeks left!), I’m focusing on sustainability.  I feel like I’ve done a decent job of getting people in Haripuram and Bhogapuram to start thinking about hygiene issues (especially handwashing), but it has to stick.  I’ve been working with the youth groups in both villages (Haripuram’s youth group stopped meeting, so I’ve gotten them to start meeting again) to get them to push the kids in the village.

dog and puppies

This is completely unrelated but one of the dogs here at the headquarters gave birth to four puppies. I just added the pic because they’re really cute!

The drawing activities worked well (did it again today in Haripuram).  I relearned a valuable lesson today about doing any kind of fieldwork.  If it’s hard to get going, just start doing it, and things will fall into place.  Today was a great example.  It was really hard in the beginning to get the kids to start coming to draw posters about handwashing, but once we got started at the village temple, everyone started to notice how fun it looked, and more and more kids came, to the point where I didn’t have enough paper (we ended up with 35+ drawings)!  Just like we did in Bhogapuram, we’ll be putting them up in front of the school.

Getting teachers in on the push is another part of the effort we started (the youth groups and myself).  Today, I got the schoolteacher in Bhogapuram to agree to teach the kids about washing hands everyday.  She in fact even wrote a quick message on the corner of the board about it, saying that she’d get soap tomorrow so that all the kids could wash their hands with soap before the mid-day meal.  I don’t know if she’ll really do this, but the guys in the youth group will follow up.

I’m sad to see the project coming to a close, but it is really exhilarating to see what I’ve done starting to pick up momentum.

Back in action!

Whew, I’m finally back – sorry about the absence!  I took what I thought was going to be a weekend trip to Hyderabad a couple of weeks ago and got sick.  After five days of an on and off fever and nausea, I booked a last-minute flight ticket back to Visakhapatnam, making my way back to Haripuram by bus this morning.

It suddenly hit me that I have only a little more than two weeks left here, and I’d better start to hurry up to establish the sustainability of the project.  I’m going to be reaching out to the friends I’ve made in the villages and the colleagues I have at BCT to keep the youth interest in improving sanitation conditions.

More updates as the week goes on.

Little artists drawing for change

In our lesson in Bhogapuram yesterday, the kids all drew posters for the town talking about washing hands, and how important that is.  I was really proud of them, because they all put a lot of effort into the drawings.  In all, it took about an hour (longer than our discussions usually are).  The idea is that now, after scanning them, I’ll Xerox the posters and next week, we’ll all go around town hanging them up.

Poster drawn by one of the kids I work with

A poster drawn by one of the kids I work with. The caption explains how washing your hands can prevent the spread of germs.

I was very impressed with how quickly the village has started changing.  According to the local school’s headmaster, a lot of the kids bring soap with them to school (there is no soap in the building) to wash their hands before lunch.  A lot of the parents have been telling me that their children are asking them to wash their hands too.  It’s exactly what I wanted to do, and I’m glad that after a few weeks of talking about these issues, we’re starting to see something.

An English

A poster from a child who attends an English-medium school.

Dharma and Krishna are happy about the progress, too.  They say they’ll keep up the initiatives in their weekly Sunday sramadanam events, but for me, it’s great feeling for the first time in my trip, that I really have directly made a change.

Temple Run? Nah, let’s do Temple *Climb*

When I went to Bhogapuram today, one of my similarly-aged friends, Krishna asked me if I wanted to go for a climb.  I’m usually game for most things they do around here, and so I agreed.

The inner part of the temple.

The inner part of the temple.

Just behind Bhogapuram is a very famous, 12th century temple devoted to the Lord Shiva.  It’s a very unique site because the temple was built over a stream, and very pure water (especially for this part of the country) comes from five ancient fountain jets that are built around the temple.

The symbols on the mountain.

The symbols on the mountain.

The site is called Panchadarla (Sanskrit for the “five streams”).  I’d seen the temple before, but Krishna said we were climbing the small mountain behind it.  Now, one of my favorite iPhone games is Temple Run, but I never figured I’d be doing a temple climb.

bird's eye view

A nice view of the area. You can see Haripuram in the distance, and Bhogapuram is obscured by trees.

The climb was very fun and Krishna kept telling the ridiculous stories behind every little piece of graffiti we found on the way up.  The view from the top was amazing.  I’ve been travelling around this little patch of Visakhapatnam District for over a month now, but seeing it all from that bird’s view was amazing!

symbols up close

The symbols up close

Potentially-fatal transportation level: expert

Today, I spent all day working on a side project BCT gave me.  We’re making a 5 minute video about their educational initiatives, and so today I went ahead and shot all the video for it.  Next week is going to be fun – I’ll be squeezing video editing time in between working on my main project.

Share auto

It was like this, except I was wearing a backpack…

I had a couple of interesting adventures today, too.  As I’ve gotten even more comfortable with living here, I’ve ventured into realms of transportation that make a rush-hour DC Metro ride feel spacious.  I was lucky enough to be able to get into a share auto.  For those of you who don’t know what an auto (a.k.a. a tuk tuk in Southeast Asia) is, picture a tiny, yellow, three-wheeled, 175 cc engine-powered steel cage whose designer apparently didn’t believe in suspension.  To add the “share” part of the concept, stick nine people in this miniscule vehicle designed for three, and when you can’t fit anymore in, let them hang out the side.  This clown car-like concept terrified me the first time, but after I realized it only cost ₹5 (9¢) to get home instead of ₹30 (54 ¢), I was sold.  It’s actually kind of fun once you get over the fear of hurtling at 40 mph hanging out the side of the window, holding on by a couple of fingers.

family bike

These folks make us look like amateurs.

Three-person motorcycle rides are also pretty common, but I was too timid to give them a shot until today.  Unfortunately, I had not thought about the extra difficulties that might add, and the severe lack of asphalt roads here made for a bumpy ride incompatible with male biology.  Plus, with three guys on it, the poor motorcycle struggled the whole way.

People here definitely get very creative when it comes to transportation – I’m sure not if I can handle their level of expertise.  Next time, I think I’ll take the bus!

Today, I worked with a real community leader…

In the end of my last post, I wondered whether the stark difference between Haripuram and Bhogapuram would make working in Bhogapuram easier.  Turns out, it did, thanks to one guy: M. Dharmaraju.

Photo after Kolattam

Some of the kids I talked to today. Back row from right: Dharma, his father, Chinna, and myself.

Dharma is a remarkable fellow.  The guy has done so much for his village already, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will continue to change Bhogapuram for the better.  The most amazing thing about the guy is how modest he is.  I already talked about how, when the government wouldn’t clean one of the village’s dirtiest streets, then filled with garbage to knee level, he told the village youth, and ultimately the whole village, to do it themselves!  He didn’t leave for a post he was offered in Hyderabad because he wouldn’t be able to serve the community anymore.  He got into fights with his family because he would do tutoring for free on his house’s rooftop.  I really look up to him, and I’m glad he agreed to take up the battle with me.

Me and Dharmaraju

Dharmaraju and me. I blinked awkwardly and didn’t notice until I was home.

All the problems I ran into in Haripuram were avoided.  He knew the kids, he got them into a line, he got them to listen, and he told me at the end when I asked him how he thought we should continue, “Don’t worry, if I say they should do it, they will.”  I don’t think his equivalent exists in Haripuram.  There are a couple of guys who took up the responsibility there, but not to this level.

I’m glad Dharma is guiding me.  He said that he’s happy to have a new project to work on, and that he’s glad I brought this to Bhogapuram.  That in itself made my day.  I’m glad I found some support after feeling a little isolating the past couple of days.

Tomorrow’s going to be fun.  As a side project, we’re making a short film about BCT’s educational initiatives, so I’ll be running around getting footage.

Defining the community-Ani relationship

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships, in the context of social work.  I’ve been thinking about what my role is in all of this and whether I’ve taken the right track in approaching the problem I came to try and do something about.

I befriended children when I came.  That much is clear in the rest of the blog.  I wanted to get to know them before I started to work with them so I wouldn’t seem like an outsider.  I accomplished that aim, the kids love me. However, I’m now questioning what I did – did I go too far?  Did my befriending the kids get in the way of teaching them about sanitation issues?  When teaching yesterday, my friendships with the children got in the way a lot.  They struggled to see me in an authority position, since I had spent three weeks getting to know them as a friend.  Getting them to listen and sit was a huge challenge.

nani son

The kid is very cute, though! (Posted with permission)

Another issue comes up when I deal with adults.  While I have great, respectful conversations with them, sometimes they make requests of me that give me the painful feeling that I am being used.  I blogged about Nani Gaaru and his child a couple of days ago.  Yesterday, I took a picture of his baby at his request, and soon, everyone wanted pictures of their children.  Is that what I was there to do?  How can a single, (seemingly) innocent action change how everyone sees you?

What relationship do I want to form with the community?  I tried my harder not to come off as a foreigner, and I’m certainly not trying to say I have all answers (I don’t know if I have any), but one of the greatest challenges of this trip has been how to present myself to the people I meet.  Maybe they have little access to cameras, but I can’t take photos of everyone I see and give them prints.  Ultimately, the relationships I form and the first impressions I make are all influence how my work plays out.

That’s the most interesting thing about the relationships I’ve made here.  My connections with the community are so vastly different in Haripuram and Bhogapuram that the outcome of what I’m doing is going to be different in each village.

Well… it could have been worse.

I learned a few valuable lessons after my experience in Haripuram last night.  First, never take anything for granted, and second, you cannot do anything alone.

When thinking up the lessons, I had banked on having the traditional Kolattam activity to get everyone in a mood where they would sit and listen for a few minutes.

That didn’t work out too well.

kids after lesson

Some of the kids who I talked to afterwards (cropped for decency standards)

I even had coordinated with Nokaraju, the gentleman in Haripuram who puts together Kolattam and other social and cultural programs for children.  He had told me that if I came to Haripuram around 6 pm, he would arrange a Kolattam practice so that I could see and maybe even learn some of the dance.  When I arrived, I couldn’t find Nokaraju anywhere, and none of the kids seemed to think there was a Kolattam practice that evening.  When I finally tracked him down, he told me that one of the girls in the program had “matured” and so her family wasn’t sending any kids.  This was, apparently, reason enough to cancel Kolattam for the foreseeable future.

Trying to make the most of the situation, I asked him for his help in rounding up some more children.  He said he was busy, though, and left.  I did what I could, got 21 kids to sit, and talked to them about these issues.  It didn’t sink in, though.  They correctly answered my questions about when to wash hands and how to do it, they practiced with me, and they even told passing adults, but ask them today, and I don’t know how many of those children could tell you what we talked about.  It’s repetition and practice that’ll drill it into their heads, though, and I have a few weeks left to do that.

Hanging out

We all went to Giri’s house afterwards to hang out!

I think that’s one of the hardest parts about independent projects.  When someone, especially a community member, drops you in the middle of the ocean leaving yourself to swim, there’s no one to turn to.  Even at BCT, they suddenly left me to myself a couple of weeks ago.  I won’t lie, it is pretty frustrating.

I’m hoping today in Bhogapuram will be better – I know the guys arranging the Kolattam much better, and I feel more confident that they will not flake on me.  Still, to make sure this doesn’t happen next week in Haripuram, I enlisted a couple more guys my age to help out.  I’ll be sharing lesson plans with them early next week, and hopefully things will be smoother.

Yesterday was a rough learning experience.  I thought I had it figured out, but everything fell apart in the span of minutes.  Lemonade from the lemons, though.  Bhogapuram update later tonight.

Big day! and also electricity problems…

This is the halfway point!  Honestly, I thought I’d be able to get more done by now, but there’s no use crying about – I’ve just got to move on.

So, after a few weeks of slowly getting to know everyone in the villages, I start my sanitation/hygiene discussions with the kids today.  When I came, I thought there was a little more set up, I thought there were going to be doctors working here, and I thought that I wouldn’t be working alone, so it took a little longer than I thought to get in there and get to know people, but I think I’m there.  I’ve become good friends with the guys my age in Haripuram and Bhogapuram, and I’ve gotten to know the kids really well too.

UPS power

The fact that no lights are blinking on this backup power source means no computers and no Internet when the power goes out (like 4 hours/day). Gotta get work done the old fashioned way!

Now I approach a critical part of the project.  Tonight, I’ll be attending a Kolattam (traditional dance) practice at the local temple in Haripuram and then all the kids, a lot of youths, and some of the elders are going to come to hear my discussions with the little guys.  I’m a little anxious, because if today doesn’t go well, the rest of the time is going to be harder – I have to sell it well so that people keep coming!  I’ll definitely write an update tonight before tomorrow’s first lesson in Bhogapuram (which is going to be tougher since I don’t know the folks there as well).

Generator room

This lovely generator room (when it has diesel) keeps our work going when the power and the backup power fail.

Meanwhile, the power situation here has been terrible.  The backup power source blew out the other day, and sometimes the generator runs out of diesel, so there are now frequent breaks in getting stuff done where everyone throws their hands up and sits outside.  It’s a little frustrating, but hey.  Just learn to roll with it.