TRAVEL THE GAP: INDIA Chapter 1 - Vellore rural district. Tamil Nadu. 2004.
Vellore rural district. Tamil Nadu. 2004. The poorest area of the poorest state in India. You might believe it, but you also might not. Having been here now for seven weeks, there has been a lot of time to think and much time to observe. With so many long bus rides my ideas have started to form, and with time to spare on easy-going evenings when the washing has been done and hung out to dry in the evening sun, what better to do than to start to write these musings that flow from my head? The first issue that had struck me is that of the concept of poverty. Many people here live in two room houses with a family of five, one room of which is the kitchen/store-room whilst the other is the general living and sleeping space. There is no loo, no running water and only sporadic electricity. But to say these people are unhappy or grieved by their situation is false. India1 has a natural calm running through its veins. This calm manifests itself into a no worries outlook and a very laisse faire attitude (~ what will happen, will happen). I came to teach health education but now I am here, if I am honest, I have moments of feeling rather superfluous. They know what a balanced diet consists of; they have a well functioning health system with free drugs and screening/vaccination camps; the children do want to come to school; the water pumps are plentiful. Yet at the same time many of the ways of life are very backward to the western eye. You would not see Mrs Smith from Little Hampton walking down the road with firewood on her head and a bucket of water under her arm. Nor would Mr Lee, teacher at Richmond High School, be caught sitting happily eating biscuits and reading the newspaper whilst a class of 60 students went unsupervised next door. And yet this society - so opposite to ours in many ways - works well on a day to day basis. More than that, it will clearly progress with the natural course of time. The Indian Government is working hard to develop its country, and films and advertisements drive the young people to modernize their own lives. I will slowly do my work here because of course there is work to be done - no denying that. I will discuss with Indians the differences between our cultures, and maybe hint at some issues that might be important to reconsider their views on. But I will not try to outright change a community, nor even change one person, because they are happy and good people as they are. In fact most have a more positive outlook than many in our western world. If you want to do social work in India then by all means come and help. Medical NGOs can always use volunteers. Bring your expertise, or money to build larger health clinics, buy library books and new laboratory equipment, or to renovate school and village toilets. All
Please note: 'India' in this book refers purely to the Southern Rural India I have experienced, unless otherwise stated. As a scientist I am not fond of extrapolation and so cannot comment on parts of the country I have not seen.
this will speed up the inevitable improvement process and have a direct effect on people's lives. Just do not try and think of new aid schemes as there are plenty in place that are very effective and simply need more man power and, importantly, more time. There will be no rushing India's development, just rushing the Indians themselves. This is a country always time to do things. There are no deadlines change will happen gradually. But change will happen. keep supporting, donating and visiting. as there is where there to meet and We just have no is so to
India is a country where the sun sets as a postcard vision to the sound of hooting bus horns, temples playing cheesy modern music, birds cawing and boys playing cricket. This is a land where dry leaves rustle across the parched ground whilst women chatter over brewing tea. Here, men wear skirts and tailors busily make new saris - everyday, all day. Sit in South India and wait for things to happen. Yes you must initially do something, but if you wait, those plans will gradually fall into place. It is just a matter of patience. Oh - and Indian flexible time. * * * * *
Well, I hope that gave you a small insight into my thoughts here in Tamil Nadu. It is just a start, and my feelings and ideas seem to change with the breeze, so I'm sure my next installment may be very different. I have no idea what impression it gave, but if it sounded negative that was by no means what it was meant to convey. I am very content working here and am beginning to see everything coming together and the good that is being done. My thoughts are simply honest as they can be, and realistic with no sugar icing. I trust that you are all well, and hope that everything is fine back home. The school where I am working (and indeed living next to) is a girls’ secondary school with about 1000 students. My village is called Odugathur, and is a one and a half hour bumpy bus ride from Vellore (a big town four hours drive west of Madras/Chennai in Tamil Nadu state). We have so far begun renovating the toilets, which were in disrepair and as a result the girls have been going to the loo in the playground field instead. We are starting toilet sanitation classes next week (probably the most useful thing we will do I believe), and we are holding a TB awareness and screening day in ten days time as TB is a big problem in our area. We also held a nutrition awareness day which was mush fun, and are having talks on adolescent health in few weeks. On non-health related issues, we have begun construction of a composting shed as there is no waste removal scheme in the school or town, so we are teaching the girls about the problems of litter and what to do with it. We have also started building a library, and are setting in place a house system (which the head master is very keen on) for extra curricular activities. So the fundraising was worth it, and much more is still to be done in the remaining time I have here. Thanks so much to you all, best wishes, Soph