Monday, January 21, 2008

Science binds

January 4, 2007

h/l: From insurgency to medicine, with love
intro: Mumbai-based NGO training students to become health workers in their own states

From: Vrushali Lad

Mumbai: For 21 students from the country’s north eastern states, who have battled with poverty and frequent insurgency all their lives, the chance to travel to Mumbai for training as primary health workers is much more than a turning point.

These students, aged 18 to 34 years, will receive 10 months of free textual and practical medical training at Kanjur Marg in Mumbai, after which they would go back home and work as Public Health Workers – a prestigious title to hold since there are no doctors or health centres in most of their villages.

Mumbai-based NGO Purva Seema Vikas Pratishthan, established by the late Bhaiyyaji Kane in 1971 to help youngsters from the N-E states, brought the candidates to Mumbai on December 6 last year. “They are from remote villages in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland. Some of them know basic health treatments, while others are freshers,” said Devendra Dewasthale, a volunteer with the NGO.

He added, “They would be imparted classroom training for six months at the Vatsalya trust. After that, they would be given on-field training for four months at clinics or hospitals.” Once training is complete, each student would be given a starter kit to take back home. The end idea is that each of these students would go back and build a network of health workers in their states, without recourse to governmental help.

That, however, is easier said than done. “When they first arrived, they were bewildered. Most of them had not even seen a train in their lives, so arriving to the hustle-bustle of Mumbai was a huge cultural shock for them,” Dewasthale explained. Add to that the students’ limited knowledge of India outside their own villages and that most of them don’t speak Hindi, and the first few weeks of their stay was confusion personified.

“However, a group of our volunteers in Bhandup, who are foster parents for the students, have shown remarkable patience and commitment towards the programme. While some take turns to transport the students, others provide meals or help with studies or anything else our guests may require,” he said.

After a few early hiccups, from filling enrollment forms in English to following lessons for six hours at a stretch, Dewasthale said, the students have now started settling down and are enjoying their current phase of learning. Said Chamsi from Tirap in Arunachal Pradesh, “Everyone in my village told me not to come to Mumbai, since they felt I would be treated badly. But I am glad I came.”

The most important process of learning for these students, however, transcends the medical boundaries. “These students, and the youth in the N-E states know more about terrorist outfits than their own country. In fact, they do not identify with India at all and are rootless.

Besides, extreme poverty and lack of education has confined these youth to their remote villages. It is time they were introduced to their own country,” Dewasthale signed off.

About the programme:
- The students are being trained as Primary Health Workers (PHWs) for 10 months
- Their training includes classroom lectures, volunteering at health camps, training in village clinics and hospitals
- On completion, each will be given a starter medical kit to take home and certificates from the Vatsalya Trust, which is training them
- The total cost of the 10-month programme, including rented homes for the students, transport, meals and stationary, is expected to run into Rs 15 lakhs. The money is being raised privately

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