In two weeks I’ll be leaving Virginia to go on a service trip to rural Vizag, in Andhra Pradesh, India. As a college student at Duke University just finishing my second year, I’m not really sure what to expect. I’m going through a program at Duke called “DukeEngage,” which funds undergraduate projects both domestic and international. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it’s a great way to get young student engaged with the world of service early on. While they have several Duke-sponsored and even Duke-managed programs for students to apply to, I chose to apply for an independent project grant.
I am an Indian-American, and since I am fluent in Telugu, one of the eighteen official languages of India, I thought I could do the best work in Andhra Pradesh, the home state of my parents. I got in touch with a local non-profit, the Bhagavatula Charitable Trust (BCT), which undertakes a variety of service projects in the region, tackling the issues of education, agricultural reform, healthcare, women’s rights, etc. They communicated to me that their newest initiative is a foray into sanitation and hygiene, and so over the ten weeks that I’ll be in India, I’ll be working with BCT to survey and begin interventions regarding the sanitation and hygiene in the villages around Visakhapatnam, or Vizag.
Vizag is a coastal city of 1.4 million. I’ll be working and staying at the BCT Farm Complex, about 30 km outside the city, in a village called Haripuram (see the map). Most of the villages I’ll be visiting are located in the Alluri Sitaramaraju Forest Area, a protected area of jungle about the size of Massachusetts. These villages are fairly remote, and consequently have only recently been electrified. Most of them do not have proper waste-disposal systems in place, and so many residents simply defecate outdoors. This is a practice that brings deadly diseases such as cholera and dysentery to the table, just to name a few, and needs to end. I am very excited to be able to learn about the fieldwork involved with public health.
The hardest part about having an independent project like this is that I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to be doing. There is a plan drawn up for my week-to-week work, but I’m sure that it will change as the situation on the ground does. I’m definitely going to have to be able to think on my feet and be ready for anything. I’m already most of the way through preparing; I’ve gotten all (seven) of my shots and boosters, picked up my malaria pills, mosquito repellent, and bed net, bought tons of toilet paper (hard to get in rural India), and UV water-irradiating flask in case I run out of water while I’m visiting folks (don’t want to get sick!). Precautions I’ve got to take…
Until then, though, I can bum around at home. Countdown to DukeEngage: two weeks. Takeoff on June 1 – can’t wait!