Thursday, June 18, 2009

Holy Cow - Jeff's Leaving India

My strengths lie in speeches, acting and drama. But these are not skills I have known my whole life. These skills have been derived from her taking the time to get to know me and understand what I would be good at. She helped me to learn appropriate facial expressions and gestures. She always strived to make me and others as perfect and whole as possible, never leaving things half-finished or incomplete. She made sure that the same person finishes the task whom she assigned it to, correctly. She was fearless.

Even though she is physically not around us anymore, she still guides all of us, so much so that every single morning I cannot start my work until I pay a visit to her memorial site. I have done this every morning for nine years, and my experience is that work goes much smoother with the leadership she still plays in my life.

- Ganpatrao Waibhat (CRHP Worker since 1971)

I remember a story that has since changed my life: Once, we were a little late to Mandli village and there was a leprosy patient sitting under a tree. His fingers were fully deformed and he was not able to break the bread he was trying to eat. She noticed it and went close to him, took his bread, and broke it for him. The patient said “madam, please don’t do this, what if you get leprosy?” She replied “I cannot get leprosy by touching you or your bread. The disease does not spread like that, so you don’t worry about me getting it.” Her love shown for leprosy patients, displayed to the village by cleaning their feet sores, made me very upset that I avoided touching leprosy patients. Yet such a big doctor breaks the bread for him! Slowly, her examples helped me to start to adapt this way. Today, if any leprosy patients come for x-ray, I feel very comfortable to touch them. For the last forty years, I have been working and chatting with them.

People always said good things about those who have passed away, but I genuinely, from the bottom of heart, thank her for what she has taught me professionally and personally.

- Moses Gurram (CRHP Worker since 1972)

As I leave Jamkhed and begin to head home back to the states, I am given the opportunity to look back on my own personal growth and what I have learned. Perhaps more interesting, though, are those I have learned from. One of the most impressive people I have met since I arrived in Jamkhed has been Mabelle Arole. However, Mabelle died in 1999. Over the past five to six months, I have worked with a social worker to interview and collect the stories and memories of Mabelle from those who knew her best - thirty seven village health workers, villagers and staff members.

One of the challenges that CRHP seems to face in the future is to continue to push the organization forward, be innovative and exemplify a sustainable, equitable and integrated mission. This is still done well but it will become more difficult when the original staff, those who knew the initial struggle s faced by CRHP and the dependence on a vision and values, begin to retire. To help keep Mabelle’s stories alive and her spirit active in new staff, the video hopes to capture the original struggle and soul behind CRHP.

But it is not difficult to still feel Mabelle on campus. Every village health worker continues to speak of her. Her memorial site on campus is visited daily by staff. People live their lives based on the teachings she gave them. Through the interviews, I was amazed at how many little things about Mabelle people remember. It is those small things that really seem to touch people, that people remember the most. Mabelle never wore jewelry, her sarees rarely matched, she at times wore her shoes on the wrong feet, she laughed loudly and openly, she would rush out of bed if a patient came or VHW called, and she lived a simple life. She brought life to villages upon arrival and every visit used to be a community event. People would sit and listen to her speak, believing not only in her intellect but in the fact that she was one of them. And that seems to be one of her biggest contributions – she made each person not only feel empowered, but made them believe that others are equally good. She truly believed in the power, goodness and strength in each person and people feel alive by having known and spoken with her.

A common theme to the interviews was the feeling of one large family. “She cared for her family just as she cared for us. The world community seemed to be her family,” Yamunabai said, a VHW in Ghodegaon for 30 years. And she worked to spread primary health care and women’s rights around the world, working with the local, state, and national government. She was regional director to UNICEF for Southeast Asia, working in Kathmandu, Nepal, and she was a member of the Christian Medical Commission and World Council of Churches. Her greatest legacy, however, lives in those she continues to touch and the leadership she continues to play at CRHP, nine years after her death. “She taught us how to care for the problems of others. How to love others. How to participate in the sorrows of others. She guided us throughout our path. She taught us how to struggle in order to achieve something bigger. She gave us the gift of a lifetime-courage. This will help us as long as we live.” - Sofia Bee Shaikh, VHW in Patoda for 32 years. I feel so proud to have completed a fellowship in her name.

My eleven months in Jamkhed have ended and I almost ready to go. I am excited but very sad and I would certainly be able to stay here for one more year if need be. The people I have met, the things I have done and learned, the projects I have worked on, the food that I have eaten have all been much better than I could have asked for.

Before arriving in Jamkhed, I did not know what primary health care was, but now I hope to dedicate my life to its principles. I had no understanding of community development, yet now I hope to be a doctor to serve the needs of the community. There are a couple key lessons that CRHP has taught me that I will quickly point out:

One – It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how much money you have, or how well connected you seem to be. What matters when it comes to success is a die-hard commitment to the community, especially those who are most vulnerable and needy. In fact, I have come to find that money and intellect can serve as barriers to really being able to work with the community.

Two – The work done with the community needs to be based not on finances, not on theory or formulas that have been shown to work, not on great ideas, but on values. Values like love, equity, trust, humility and confidence are the pillars of a successful organization and project. Without them, struggles and uphill battles cannot be overcome. And these values need to be reflected in every staff member.

Three – The true caretakers of the community and the family are women, and that very often they get little of the respect they deserve. The women are the ones who are constantly there for their family, who work their butts off to make their family safe and healthy, and yet who rarely share many of the luxuries that us men share. Even in America, I have come to realize that women are often mistreated and not allotted the full status they deserve.

In Jamkhed, I leave behind cows in the middle of the street, tea stalls at every corner, the extremes of rain and heat, and people defecating on the side of the road. And I have little idea how I will be able to readjust back to life in America. Tea is 100 rupees in America (2 rupees here), haircuts are 750 rupees (25 rupees here), and I can’t be stuffed with delicious Indian food for under 1000 rupees (250 rupees here). I leave Jamkhed happy not because I am leaving, but because of all I have gained.

I encourage you to help Jamkhed in the future, visit if you can, or read the Jamkhed book if you have the time. I also ask that you help CRHP financially, with however much money you can give. Every little bit counts and your money will be well spent at CRHP, as their overhead and staff costs are kept at 20%. If you have read this blog, or if you have spoken with me over the past year, you see the incredible work CRHP has done and continues to do. If you are interested in donating anything from $5 to $500, you can visit

Finally, I want to say thanks to those who have followed my blog and kept up with me over the past year. The blog has given me an opportunity to write down my thoughts and experiences, as well as keep in touch with friends and family back home. These conversations and posts have played a big part in my hope to fully grasp what I am experiencing here.