I cannot believe how quickly this internship has gone by. I’ve been in India for over two months and am leaving in just two days! Time has a way of slipping by quietly like that, it seems. There have been so many great experiences I’ve had here in the company of Michelle, Ravi and other interns, and also with the CORD workers, a wonderful bunch of human beings. And I wish I could blog or write about every one of them, but there are just too many experiences to count!
I think more than anything I’ve been inspired by the vision of CORD and its director, Dr. Kshama Metre, who is more commonly referred to as Dr. Didi. Through some conversations with her and also from viewing an interview with her on YouTube (yup I did that), I’ve learned a lot about Dr. Didi. She used to work as a pediatrician in Delhi, serving the vulnerable and the suffering. But after some time, she began quickly to realize that human suffering is not only a product of pathophysiological mechanisms in the body gone wrong. Human suffering reflects a much more comprehensive and interrelated set of conditions, both individual and societal, that shape well being or lack thereof. She saw that vulnerability and suffering sometimes resulted from social injustice or poverty, gender inequality, economic insecurity, or political disadvantage. She sees all these interrelated components as “blocks” that collectively influence how we live our lives, how healthy we are, and the degree of our happiness. In order to deal with suffering, it won’t suffice to deal with each of these “blocks” individually. Medicine, for example, will often extremely effectively treat a disease, but on its own will not serve to prevent the social conditions that exacerbate illness and disorder in the first place. Medicine is just one “block,” as Dr. Didi would say.
Real change, then, is a process involving all of these blocks. So we can achieve happiness by simultaneously striving for social justice, financial stability, political empowerment, gender and racial equality, and health, all of them. With this vision in mind, Dr. Didi helped found CORD, and here I sit today in the CORD Training Centre in Sidhbari, a large building with a bustling environment giving off vibes of teamwork, enthusiasm and collective support. It is home to several sectors, including Primary Health, Disability, Sanitation, Self-Help Groups, Income Generation, Legal Cell, Alcohol Abuse, Adolescent Girls, and Mahila Mandal (Women’s Group). The basic idea is the empowerment of the community, and in particular women, who do most of the farming in rural areas, yet do not receive acknowledgement or recognition for their large contributions, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post.
And for Dr. Didi, empowerment is not about temporary change, nor about quick fixes. One of the most interesting things she has told me is that truly successful development, which occurs in and by the community, is often not even visible; you can go into a village and might not even notice that this family or that neighbor has been empowered, or has begun to realize her full potential. I found this to be very true; for all the times I have gone into the field to interview women farmers for my Nutrition Project, I would not have visibly noticed the signs of progress that marked the empowerment of the farmers had they not been pointed out to me. But the change is there.
I admire Dr. Didi especially for her willingness to turn from medicine, a prestigious field receiving marked recognition and attention, towards a cause she believes in her heart to be right. By her actions, not only her words, she sets an example that countless have followed and will continue to follow.