IHP Health and Community Track 1 Spring 2016 – India

Letter Home India


The month of February was spent in the place of our first international adventure: India. With a population of 1.2 billion, there was never a dull or boring moment as we got to enjoy the full sensory experience of this beautiful country. As soon as we arrived, the entire team including Rajashree and Abid-Ji, our country coordinating dynamic duo, greeted us with bindis and garlands of marigolds. It wasn’t long before we felt like we had found a new family.

Our days were spent trying new foods, navigating the transit system, spending time with our homestay families, learning how to bargain like the best of them, and (of course!) attending classes and lectures. We were met with vibrant colors, smells both familiar and new, and a cacophony of loud horns and voices that together formed an experience we won’t soon forget.

One of the doctors we spoke to told us an old saying used for first time visitors to the country: “You cry twice in India, once when you arrive and once when you leave.” As we said goodbye that last night, many of us felt the truth in this statement. India will always have a special place in our hearts, and we hope that the quick snapshot we are able to provide you does our time there justice. The month flew by quicker than we could imagine, but we will never forget the friends and memories that we made.

Hope you enjoy!

IHP Health and Community,
Spring 2016
While in India we had three different professors for our four classes: Dr. Josh Cohen, the traveling faculty professor, for the Research Methods and Health, Community and Culture classes; the country coordinator and our fearless leader Abid-Ji for our globalization class; and a local faculty member Dr. Jayanti for the public health class. Our local faculty each offered unique insight into the situation in India, as Abid-Ji is more “liberal” and from a lower caste, while Dr. Jayanti more “conservative” and from an upper caste. Dr. Jayanti taught us a lot about public health policy in India, while Abid-Ji spent more time telling us about the reality on the ground. As this was a theme throughout our time there, our local faculty provided useful insight into this separation.

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The attachment of Ji to the end of a name is a sign
of respect, so that’s why we addressed the country
coordinator as Abid-Ji. He always had a way of
making himself comfortable in any situation,
often making us laugh in the process!

Everyday we also had either a guest lecture or site visit where we were able to learn about a wider variety of topics. We visited a rural government hospital and primary health center, a slum, and a private urban hospital too. We had guest lecturers come speak to us specifically about Indian history, the health system, the caste system, and the situation of rural women just to name a few of the topics. For most of us, class time was useful for asking questions about things we saw as we walked around and explored Delhi and the rural area. All of the guest lectures and classes combined to give us a more complete understanding of India, even though our stay was relatively short.

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The entire India Team (including Rajashree on the far left and Abid-Ji on the opposite) at our last dinner
together before leaving India! We wouldn’t have survived or had nearly as good of a time without them.
During our month in India, we had many site visits to complement and build on what we had been learning about in our classes and experiencing. In Bahraich, we went to a governmental district hospital as well as a public health center where we viewed the facilities and had the opportunity to speak with a physician, several new mothers, and other health workers. We learned about major urban and rural health disparities and also about the ways in which the intentions and implementation of governmental schemes are not always effective.

In Delhi, we met with several NGOs including NAAZ, an organization that houses and provides support to 32 orphaned children with HIV. They also offer other services such as a ‘Women in Sports’ program intended to empower adolescent girls and to educate them about important ‘life-skills’ such as puberty and sexual health, among other topics. Another NGO we met with was EFRAH (Empowerment for Rehabilitation, Academics, and Health), which works with people living in a slum community, most of whom are migrant ‘rag pickers’ who collect and sort through trash to sell to different middlemen brokers for small sums of money. EFRAH promotes human rights and provides education and other services for children in particular as well as commercial sex workers. Here, we also learned a lot about the universally practiced, age-old, oppressive, ‘illegal’ custom of dowries in India and the violence that often occurs because of it, which was very eye opening.

Throughout our time in India, we also learned a lot about the caste system, which is very complex and pervades all aspects of Indian society. We visited an NGO fighting for Dalit rights called NCDHR (National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights). Dalits, meaning ‘broken people’, are outside of the caste system and are systematically discriminated against, ostracized, and treated inhumanely. Dalits bear the brunt of the caste system’s structural violence in numerous ways, manifesting in major health disparities. However, NCDHR fights to promote economic, social, and political justice of Dalits. Overall, it has been inspiring to learn about and bear witness to the important work people are doing in light of all of the health issues we have been studying and encountering first hand.

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The above are just a few of the images that
were shared with us during our visit to
NCDHR of the various types of programs
that they have. These include demonstrations
and public hearings to highlight forms of
caste discrimination. “Hello I’m Dalit, How
Are You?” Is a powerful video on YouTube
about the challenges the community faces.

A huge component of our studies in India have been made up of case studies visits and interviews with local people and organizations in both rural and urban India. The five groups that reflect our interests are Maternal and Child health, Environment and Health, Traditional Healing Systems, Maternal and Child Health and Infectious Diseases.

Maternal and Child Health met traditional birth attendants and ASHA’s during our rural stay as well as with a gynecologist in a private hospital in New Delhi. The Environment and Health group had a wide range of visits, including: government agencies, NGO’s and community members themselves. Traditional Systems of Healing and Mental Health both visited traditional healers as well as a Sufi Shrine in Bahraich, and then separately visited a non-profit working on supporting those with mental health conditions and a clinical psychiatrist and two government universities teaching Yoga and Unani Medicine as systems of traditional healing. Lastly, the Infectious Disease group interviewed an HIV/AIDS link worker in Bahraich whose role is to educate, council, and deliver medications to women who are HIV+ as well as a pulmonary doctor in a private hospital.

Overall, all groups concluded that it was a very eye opening experience to see the huge disparities between rural and urban India, and that this was the most appreciated aspect of case studies because we got to experience a lot of different aspects of Indian systems of healing even though we were only there for a short period of time.

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Traditional Healing Systems visited the Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga and learned about the ideology
and practices such as the use of herbs that are incorporated into yoga, which is part of the government system of
healing system known as AYUSH (Ayurveda – Yoga – Unani – Siddha – Homeopathy).


In addition to our time in Delhi, we also spent a week in the town of Bahraich for our rural stay. To reach Bahraich, we had the wonderful experience of travelling in an overnight train. The ride lasted about 10 hours, and despite the questionable toilet situation and some bouts of motion sickness we all made it in one piece.

While in Bahraich, we did site visits to local hospitals and primary care centers, conducted interviews for our case study projects, and visited with NGOs working in the area. One NGO we heard from, Dehat, does a lot of work surrounding issues of child marriage, child trafficking, and girls’ education. One of their initiatives is establishing child parliaments in rural villages so that children have the opportunity and platform to advocate for their own rights. To see their work firsthand, we had a day trip where we heard from one of these child parliaments and met with members of a second tribal village. On this same day, we also took a break from work to do some fun excursions! We had the chance to see alligators and ride elephants!

While in Bahraich, we stayed in an open office and activity room at a local school. On our last day, the school was holding an “Annual Day” celebration. All of the students performed dances and skits, and we were also asked to participate! We performed a collection of eight different dances and even got some of the local students to join us. Be sure to check out our performance!

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Dance Performance, Overnight Train, Child Parliament, Elephant Riding, Villages near India-Nepal border

Our homestays were a central element of our time in India. Our families welcomed us into their homes, fed us delicious homemade food (and lots of chai!), and helped us navigate all of our questions and experiences. It was always nice to return home from a long day of classes, site visits and the hectic and sometimes overwhelming sights, sounds and smells of Delhi to a big plate of chapatti and dhal, and of course the Hindi soaps. Some of us lived within walking distance of our classroom while others took the metro or bargained with auto-rickshaw drivers every morning to get to school. Our homestay families were always there to answer our questions about what we had learned in class or about what the best sights to see were around Delhi and they could add personal depth and insights to what we were studying.

Some families enjoyed taking their students out to restaurants and planning fun evenings out while others tended towards quiet nights talking or keeping up with all the very entertaining soap operas. We attended birthday parties and learned to cook our favorite new Indian dishes. We took many pictures together (trying to avoid joining the strangely high statistics of selfie-related deaths in India, of course) and took walks around our neighborhoods after dinner. We can’t thank them enough for welcoming us into their homes and treating us with such warmth and kindness.


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Photo with Mama-Ji, Jasola Apollo, the location of our classroom and where some of us lived, Most of us lived in allies such as this in Govinpuri where motorcycles and overhead wires were commonplace.

While we had many opportunities to engage in rich academic discourse, we also had our hands full exploring the amazing city of New Delhi! There were many sites to see in New Delhi, from grand temples to extensive markets. Many of us visited the Lotus Temple, which is a modern Bahai temple that was shaped like a lotus flower and kept silent so that followers of all religions could find peace for reflection. Another must-see was the exquisite Hindu mandir Akshardham. This mandir was jaw dropping with its beautifully intricate details and carvings of Hindu deities. Some of us also went to Humayan’s Tomb, which was a grand tomb for the Emperor Humayun that had a series of beautiful buildings. There were a variety of markets for shopping, chatting with locals, and eating such as Lagpat Nagar, Khan Market, and Dilli Hat where we learned the art of bargaining that became second nature for many of us by the end of the month. We also visited Surajkund Crafts Mela, a two-week event that is also the largest arts and crafts festival in the world, where we got to a taste of art and culture from the many different states of India.

For the free weekend, we had several location options to choose from. Some students went to Rishikesh, a small town also known as the yoga capital of the world settled on the foothills of the Himalayas. We were able to relax and do yoga, visit temples and shrines, and admire the holy river Ganges. Other students visited Jaipur, also known as the pink city. There was much to do in the bustling city such as visit the amazing Amber Fort, ride elephants, and of course lots of shopping!

Finally, our stay in India would not have been complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal.

Overall, we had a great time exploring New Delhi as well as other cities throughout India. We were able to learn and greatly appreciate Indian culture during our one-month stay in the amazing country.

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Humayan’s Tomb, Lodi Gardens, Old Delhi


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Taj Mahal, Lotus Temple, Amber Fort


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