Four and a half weeks down, three and a half to go. I can’t believe my time in India is already more than halfway over. I don’t think I have ever been exposed to so many new experiences in such a condensed period of time. Reflecting on my time here so far, I feel so lucky that I have this opportunity to work, travel, and live in a place so rich in culture and history. There is definitely a huge difference between the weekdays and weekends here. The weekdays are filled with routine and structure, while the weekends are filled with travel, confusion, excitement, and usually sweating.
Thus far, I have really enjoyed the project I am involved in at PHFI. One of the main projects underway is the iPROMISe campaign. iPROMISe stands for Promoting Health Literacy in School and is focused on diabetes prevention in private schools. PHFI has created a manual for teachers to conduct lessons and activities with their students, teaching them about obesity and diabetes risk factors and prevention methods. A large portion of my work is researching the prevalence of diabetes and obesity prevention programs in the context of India as well as globally. It is really interesting to learn about the changing infrastructure of Delhi and other Indian cities, and how it affects the health status of children and families. Before beginning this research, I would have never thought of India having problems with obesity or diabetes, since the attention has historically been focused on undernutrition. I have also been working on a powerpoint for PHFI to present to the World Health Organization (WHO), to implement the iPROMISe program into schools throughout Delhi and Gurgaon. It is exciting to know that I am a part of implementing a brand new school program that will influence the lives of children and families throughout the city.
It is a conflicting feeling doing work on programs/policies for children of affluent families in Delhi, while also being exposed to so much poverty and struggling. Each day at 5:00 pm, I leave work and head to the nearby gym. On the way there, I pass by mothers and their children walking or playing on the side of the road, barefoot and dirty, while their mothers sell fruit and other food items from their stand. I think about the difference between the children who get up everyday and head to school and the children who get up everyday and help their parents sell at the market so they can have food on the table.
This past weekend, Sylvia and I traveled to Jaipur. As we wandered around shopping and sightseeing, we stumbled upon a beautiful Hindu temple. Outside the temple was a young girl (probably around ten years old) asking people for food. As we got closer to her, she was motioning to her mouth and repeating the word roti. I asked her name and she responded, Monika. She was pointing to a place, but I couldn’t tell where she wanted to go. I pointed ahead and said “chalo”, or “let’s go”. She finally stops and points to a small market. We walk in and she points to a huge bag of flour, a bottle of oil, and a bag of rice. I soon realize that this meal is not just for her, but for her family. Sylvia and I take all the items to the counter, and ask the store clerk if they know the girl or where her parents are. They don’t speak much English, but they quickly say, “no parents, grandmother”. Sylvia and I pay the clerk and push the bag towards her. I ask the clerk to translate to her asking if she needs us to help her carry it. She quickly puts her hands together and bows in gratitude, picks up the heavy bag of flour and the remaining items, and walks out of the store. In that moment, I wanted to know more about her and where she would bring that food, feeling sad that I was unable to help her beyond that point. After this brief encounter with Monika, I couldn’t help but think about the difference between her and the children who will soon participate in the school programs I am working on.
My project at work highlights the importance of physical activity, recommending 60 minutes of exercise per day. The manual recommends activities, such as going to the park and playing cricket after school and going for a jog before school. I think about my own life and how much time I spent in school with my friends, playing sports, complaining about homework, stressing about grades and which college to attend. It is eye opening to see families in the community unable to send their kids to school and children like Monika who have to go out each day and find a way to feed her family. I often feel a combination of satisfaction inside the office and a sense of helplessness on the outside.
I guess it’s safe to say my mind has been racing with different thoughts, feelings, and emotions ever since I arrived in India. The time spent at work, in my community, and traveling to different cities have exposed me to different aspects of the country and its people that I never would have known without this experience! On to the next half of this journey…
Trip to Jaipur!