Saturday, January 28, 2006
Bidada Sarvodaya Trust
The past few weeks have been an incredible experience. We volunteered at a NGO in Kutch, the western region of rural Gujarat, called the Bidada Sarvodaya Trust. You can look them up at www.bidada.org. The organization is over thirty years old and started out providing dental and ophthalmologic care to large numbers of patients. The organization had begun expanding its services and especially after the catastrophic earthquake in Bhuj in 2001. Since then it created a multitude of not only specialty health care camps but also a huge rehabilitation center. It is phenomenal that they can make a prosthetic limb for less than 20 bucks. Well, every January there is a massive medical camp where throughout the month, various physicians and specialists come and set up all kinds of clinics ranging from orthopedic, gynecology, general surgery and of course pediatrics. Then they operate on a certain number of surgical cases and even refer complicated cases to Mumbai, which is supported by donors.
Well, we spent about 3 weeks there with our primary focus on a child health care project which consisted of packing a bus full of volunteers, physicians, optometrists, educators to random villages and setting up day camps at the various schools. Here we would basically see anywhere from about 250 to 400 kids ranging from 1st to 10th grade, and would give them screening physicals. But of course, with the poor access to care, and the socioeconomic conditions of the people, it definitely wasn’t just screening…Man, we had NO idea how some of these kids went to school and played like no big deal with massive malnutrition, raging pneumonias, skin infections, thalassemia/severe anemia and congenital heart disease. Tarak set up a two-day pulmonary clinic where people, mainly adults came out of the woodwork (they read an ad in the paper) for a medical opinion/treatment. We were once again amazed how some of these people were able to work and function with how bad their chest x-rays and lungs were. If that wasn’t overwhelming enough, the 2 day pediatric camp at the actual hospital was nuts!!…so basically it was Tarak, me and Shefali (a new pediatric friend from Raleigh) each set up at small tables with TONS of families that had lined up since the night before in massive numbers to be seen at this well known annual charitable camp. I swear for the first 2 hours, every 10 minutes, one of us would shout “Oh my God!” (Shefali), “Woah!” (Tarak) or “Oh shit” (me), which usually would result in the other two running up to see what god awful congenital abnormality or disease the poor child had. I won’t go into details of the crazy stuff we saw, for the sake of the non-medical people (We showed my parents some of the pictures, and my mom just starting making gushing auntie sounds and just started repeating gods name). Anyway, it was definitely an experience of a lifetime, and we consider it a blessing to have been able to participate and provide some service to these people. And the people there were so appreciative and grateful for everything, even when we were frustrated at the severe disparity and gaping holes in the health care system. Well, we hope this is our first of many years of attending the camp!
In between working, we did have some time to play and see some of the surrounding areas(the above picture is the salt flats near the Pakistani border). So, considering we are Gujarati and we have spent a lot of time in Gujarat in all of our trips to India, we can say that the region of Kutch (it means tortoise in Gujarati since the region in kind of shaped like one) is like none other. It is surrounded by the Gulf of Kutch and the Great and Little Ranns (deserts). The coolest things is that in the midst of what seems like inhabitable lands, there are traditional tribal villages that produce some of coolest textiles, embroidery and mirror work, bustling mud hut communities, camels that are always causing traffic jams, and beautiful palaces and Jain temples. We were in Bhuj during Sakranti, or Kite flying festival where the sky is filled with a sea of vibrant colored kites and the entire day is spent on the terrace, eating and trying to cut other people’s kites. From Bhuj, we took a day trip to visit some traditional villages in Hodka, the salt lakes that is only15km from the border of Pakistan, Bhujodi (known for weaving shawls and blankets) and Vijay Villas Palace (the king’s residence). In our time here, we had a chance to make new friends who had also come to serve. In some of our other pictures on the link, you can see our Kachhi compadres…Vaibhav, Shefali, Mike, Rishi, Bhavesh, Jay, Tushar and Monte who definitely contributed to our awesome experience!!