Almost time to wrap up our stay in Gudalur. I think my only regret is that we can’t stay longer.
The Ashwini organization was started in 1990 to fight the social injustice and exploitation the Adivasi (tribal) people were suffering. The Adivasi are traditionally aboriginal hunter-gatherers that live in scattered, small villages throughout the forest. After vast influxes of immigrants (starting with British colonization) and legislation banning people from entering the forest, the Adivasi became the lowest members of society and could only work as bonded servants or unskilled laborers.
The Ashwini organization first facilitated the formation of village level sangams to prevent any more of the Adivasi land from being taken away. The Adivasi were taught how to plant permanent cash crops like tea and pepper. More people joined the Ashwini effort and eventually a school and hospital were established. Today, the infant mortality rate has gone from 25% to better than the national average. Illiterate tribal girls were trained and have become nurses in the hospital. The hospital ownership and administration has been given over to the tribals, thus enormously elevating their status in society.
On wednesday, we headed out into the field and visited two villages. The hospital serves ~300 villages in the area. Each village is visited once a month to deliver medications and nutrition supplements for the children. All infants and children are monitored for malnutrition by tracking weight and height. The entire population of tribals have been screened for sickle cell trait. A mental health program is currently being established.
Today we visited the school. It served up to 10th standard until last year, when the law changed. Now it serves children up to 5th standard. It also serves as a bridging center, helping children who dropped out get to a level that would allow re-entry into regular school.
We topped off the day with a short safari in the Mudumalai tiger reserve and going to the Elephant camp to watch them being fed.
distributing monthly supply of supplemental nutrition and medications for the children in the villages
lunch break among tea and pepper fields
elephant feeding time at mudumalai tiger reserve
We have been very fortunate to spend the past three days at the Narayana Institute of Cardiac Sciences located in the Bommasandra Industrial Area of Bengalaru. Dr. Colin John, Head of Paediatric Cardiac Surgery, welcomed us with open arms upon our arrival. A towering man with an international reputation as a leader in his field, Dr. John’s warm demeanor and passion for teaching were immediately evident as he invited us into the operating theatre and carefully explained each step of various surgical procedures. We were able to observe surgeries for repair of: Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Circulation, Ventricular Septal Defect with Patent Ductus Arteriosus, and Tetralogy of Fallot among others. The hospital is the largest pediatric cardiology center in India and among the largest worldwide; 53 pediatric cardiology surgeries were performed here in the last 6 days alone.
Downstairs on the ground floor, the clinic lobby was bustling with families from all over India and the world. It is not uncommon for patients to flock from near and far to Narayana to receive care. To accommodate the sacrifice these families have made, the clinic is set up to gather a clinical history and examination, perform necessary radiology studies and ECG’s, and form a decision regarding the medical and/or surgical management of the patient all in a single day. The doctors and staff were all incredibly warm and kind; we were very lucky to spend time in this truly special place. Starting tomorrow we will spend the next two days at the Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Center here in Bangalore, before traveling to Mysore Friday evening.
Touched down in Bangalore early early Wednesday June 18. Set out to get a little lost in city jungle and traffic before meeting Shaun and Michelle for a trip up to central Karnataka to visit the 14th-16th C. Hindu temples and palaces of Hampi. Memory bank: whipping around in three-wheeled auto rickshaws with Shaun, Michelle, and our caterpillar backpacks. The first sip of chai after a bumpy, full bladdered-sleeper bus. Walking past rambles of monkeys (who, by golly really do like bananas) in the wee hours of the morning and glancing behind to see a painted elephant named Lakshmi following us down an outdoor staircase, making way to her morning bath. A river basket navigated by palm frond. Knocking knuckles on thin stone pillars (various ratios of Ca, Fe, and bauxite) built to be played for a queen who liked to dance. Being blown to bits by warm wind. Watching the sun set over an impossible landscape of rice patties, coconut palms, and Arizona desert red earth, shrubs, and boulders. And finally meeting Lesley, our ambassador to South Indian culture, back in Bangalore.
And most recently, eating with my hands.
Follow our journeys here!
Meet our team: