Honestly, I had no clue what I was doing when I had applied for India Fellow. My folks seemed happy that I got into “something”, but they were not excited about the whole idea of me working in a random village that could be anywhere in India. Their fears were further intensified when I told them that I was going to be placed in Kalahandi district in Odisha; and that I’ll be working there for a whole year. The time passed quickly, and the programme concluded last month.
My parents changed their perceptions about Kalahandi. They have finally understood what I’m doing here and are now comfortable with me working here even after my fellowship. They are planning a visit to Swasthya Swaraj soon.
The journey so far has definitely been a roller-coaster ride; filled with cultural shocks, meeting some really amazing people, a few messed up ones too, tried a whole lot of new dishes I had never even heard of, travelled to unknown places, been depressed for a month, discovered my hidden skills… the list goes on. To sum it up, this was one of the best decisions I have ever taken in my life.
Those who are new to this program might be wondering how to live through this fellowship. I’ll share my learning with you:
I think patience is one of the most important personality traits required to work in this sector. It took my mentor around 5-6 months to trust me. There were days (even weeks) when I thought I was not contributing enough and even felt that I was probably a bad pick. Yes, there was plenty of challenging situation, and at times I felt lonely. But keeping calm was the only option, and things eventually turned good for me.
This will literally save your life. When I was giving a malaria training to high school children, I had to show them a video documentary as a part of the session. Unfortunately, the power went off, the speakers didn’t work, and the entire program was jeopardized. I immediately improvised and divided the divided the children into groups. I gave each group drawing charts, sketch pens and stationary; and asked them to discuss among themselves what I had taught them. Next, I asked each group to come up and present their charts to everyone in the class. It turned out to be a huge success, and that activity was later incorporated in the malaria training module.
Reading was one of the best things I did during my fellowship and will continue doing it forever. Books are your mentors. In the past one year, I mainly read books on development. Fortunately, online retailers like Amazon and Flipkart deliver to Bhawanipatna, where I live.
4. Gossiping – A big NO
Just like the corporate culture, gossip is pretty much common in this sector as well. After all, people are more or less the same everywhere. The only tip is to listen and ignore. Things can get pretty ugly, and your reputation (also mental peace) is at stake here.
5. Respect the field staff
Most of the field staff, like community workers, are locals, who are relatively educated in their respective areas. Believe them to be equal and not underlings, treat them like one and they will help you with everything.
6.Using your other skills
I’m just okay when it comes to drawing. It was only after a few months that I realised how useful it could be in my organisation. I drew posters, charts and other material for Malaria, Nutrition, Maternal Health and Reproductive Health, which are still being used by the staff.
7. Village life is amazing
As someone who grew up with an urban lifestyle, the village life was filled with culture shocks. Initially, it was very overwhelming as I had issues with open defecation, taking a bath outside and washing clothes in a river which cannot be called clean, or even fresh like the ones in Ladakh. However, the best things I loved about village life were a natural beauty, isolation, and simplicity. It was a pleasure to live without any cellular network or any media entertainment, as it made me reflect on my priorities in life. I was happier by just walking and enjoying the scenic beauty. During nights, I could see the sky lit with sparkling stars, and once even spotted shooting stars. I realised how the full moon was truly spectacular, and even witnessed fireflies dancing on the trees for the first time.
I was amazed by the simplicity of villagers who never had any preconceived notions about my appearance. I go to OPDs (Out Patient Departments) wearing a t-shirt and shorts, and nobody cares!
8. What’s the problem? Ask the villagers
If you want to understand or solve any problem, don’t just assume and start giving advice. Ask the residents to define and explain what challenges they face. More often than not, there is a vast difference between what we’re doing and what they want.
9. Don’t forget to Enjoy!
Last, but not the least, enjoy this year. A year like this will never come back, and you’ll only re-live it in memories. Travel, take a chance, do crazy things and make your fellowship worthwhile. I truly enjoyed mine.
About the Author: Sandeep Praharsha, 28 years, Masters in Global Health. Practised for a year with Airport Health Organization, GOI. Works at Swasthya Swaraj, Kalahandi, Odisha supporting the overall health program of the community – both, practising as a doctor as well as capacity building of the team and community awareness initiative.