Forgive me readers…it’s been three months since my last blog post. Unacceptable. The life of a freelancer (researcher/grant writer/grassroots development worker/wife/mother) was busier in 2015 than I had expected. The year of 2015 ended with Broozi and I moving back to our home town of Vellore after just 9 months in our last Navy posting in Mumbai/Karanja, while the DH stayed on. Once we had counted 100 Fridays left to go in the Navy and now the countdown is over. The DH has taken early retirement and will join me at Christian Hospital Mungeli (CHM) in Chhattisgarh where we begin a new chapter in our lives together.
You can expect a lot more blog posts about our lives in rural India working at the grassroots.
CHM is a not-for-profit organisation. We run a 120 bed secondary care rural hospital, a nursing school for rural Chhattisgarhi women (and men), a K-12 English medium school and a community college for eighth grade dropouts. If you’ve been following us on Facebook you’ll be quite aware of all that we do. Mungeli is a remote district in the state of Chhattisgarh, 110kms north of the capital Raipur.It is at CHM that I am Director of Development which means I write grants, raise funds, build partnerships with other organisations, and build the internal capacity of our systems and staff. I will soon start community health research and outreach.
I started out with writing grants for CHM because I believe that good work happens here, good people have committed to working here, and a good community flourishes here. We work in a low-resource rural setting. CHM is hardly a perfect organisation – but is any? I choose to give my time and commitment here because it’s a challenge and I see plenty of potential to improve every aspect of what we are trying to do for the rural poor.
Doing research in the UK and in India, I began to feel that many of our reports (mostly evaluations and policy recommendations on welfare, health, education among vulnerable groups – young offenders, single mothers, ethnic minorities) were great door stoppers. The quality of the research was sound but I felt that the lives of the people who had contributed to that research had not changed. Being a qualitative researcher one spends a lot of time talking with people, often in their homes, understanding their world views, observing how they live their lives and cope with challenges of child care, housing, jobs, poverty and aspiration. So it began to bother me that they gave so much to the research and I gave very little back in the way of tangible change.
Working at the grassroots level has given me a new hope. I don’t know about you, but I get depressed thinking about world poverty, malnutrition, inequality, under-5 mortality and the list goes on. I find that the only way to tackle these mind blowingly gargantuan problems – while keeping sane – is to work in my small puddle of the ocean to make life better for the poorest people. And if everyone is working or somehow contributing to making life better for others in their small puddle, then that’s how a sea-change can occur.
In the world of development we talk about making the world more equitable in health, education, skills and wealth, eradicating poverty, empowering women and creating gender equity. Working at the grassroots, we are doing this everyday at CHM. Our successful grant for a mobile clinic from USAID ASHA means that we can bring essential ante-natal care for pregnant women to the most remote villages that are not served by the public health system. And ante-natal care has proven to reduce stillbirths, eclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy leading to seizures and risk of death for baby and mother), anemia etc.
By training young rural women to become nurses we are giving them high skills, a sustainable occupation and strengthening the rural health workforce. We all know that if you educate a women, it is more likely that she will educate her children especially girls. If that’s not empowering women then I don’t know what is. And then there’s education, which we know can lift people out of the cycle of poverty. Our village school for 916 children just graduated our first batch of 15 twelfth graders. They are the first in their families to get an English education and have been accepted for courses in nursing, engineering and business. We have helped put these kids on a better path than the one they were on.
I have been associated with CHM for many years now. But I’ve had to move around the country for my husband’s job – one has to keep the marriage alive! And now that our time is done in the Navy we can both move to rural Chhattisgarh, to CHM, and I can get really stuck in. So far I have been able to raise support for all our efforts in health and education, while not actually living in Mungeli but going very often. I am delighted that I will get to share Mungeli with the DH. So far the words I’ve written in grants or the presentations I’ve made, have supported what we do at CHM. Now my family will also be a part of this effort. The DH will be a science teacher in our village school teaching maths, physics, programming and robotics to our middle school and secondary school kids.
So it’ a new beginning for us this year. And I invite you all to share in what I love to do. Some of you have money, others have time, but all us have talents and skills that we can share. So come and share with us, we promise you a good time.