For our last two days in Bhimavaram, we ventured back into the field to investigate three areas where Byrraju Foundation is providing solutions for the rural population: water sanitation, virtual learning, and healthcare. Kate, Slater, and I were assigned to this last project which involved visiting three Byrraju clinics, speaking with doctors and nurses, and finally speaking with patients and non-patients in four villages: Gnuru, Juvallapalem, Kallakuru, and Kopalli.
Several learnings shocked or surprised me. Every person we interviewed, even the more affluent, reported that they never go to the doctor for check-ups or preventative care of any sort. Health education seems to be sorely lacking, particularly with regard to hygiene. Diabetes is on the rise in India, a trend which surprised me given a previously held assumption that this disease was more a product of indulgent, developed-country lifestyles.
Also surprising was the proximity within which people from varying economic classes live. At one point, we were walking in Kopalli alongside a picturesque lake, surrounded by coconut trees and I identified that this was among the quietest, least polluted places we had yet to visit in the area. Our enthusiastic interpreter, Ranga Raju, unexpectedly took a sharp left and beckoned us to follow him to what turned out to be his home. We met his mother and daughter, and he insisted on serving us chai and oranges. One may wonder how this is relevant, but it’s worth noting as these kinds of delightful distractions occur multiple times a day during our field visits. As we left the home of this relatively wealthy family, we walked less than fifty yards to a cluster of huts. One of the inhabitants, a frail younger lady, became our interviewee. We learned that she had been battling typhoid.
India is making me realize that I must work consciously to check many preconceived notions at the door. The task of separating instinctual judgments from observations is challenging, particularly in the most foreign of foreign countries I’ve yet to experience.