India: Visiting Rural Nagpur and Gadchiroli

India 2013

By Lindsey Mastis

March 06, 2013

Also published at Lindsey Mastis' blog

Most people in India live in rural villages. These communities are very different from the overcrowded slums and streets of Mumbai. Although it seems people have more room, there are just as many challenges.

I flew with a group of journalists from the International Reporting Project* to Nagpur in Maharashtra state in India. Then we took a chartered van southeast to Gadchiroli, a little more than three hours away. There, we visited with representatives from SEARCH, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that stands for “Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health.”

We met with the founders, a husband and wife team – both doctors – who have made it their mission to bring health care to villages and tribes. India is huge, and hospitals are spread far and wide. I learned how SEARCH is filling the gap, bringing health care to people who would otherwise have no means to get to a hospital.

While touring the facility, I saw a little boy in a large hospital bed. His family was taking turns watching over him. Nurses explained he was suffering from seizures and epilepsy. It’s possible his condition stems from some of the same preventable health issues I was focusing on. This tiny little child is just two years old, and his face was covered by an oxygen mask. He is from a local tribe, nurses explained. Had SEARCH not been there, this little boy would likely be suffering at home.

In another room, I met an 8-month old boy wearing bright pink. His mother was excited to show off her son because he was getting well. I was told he had malaria; shortly after arriving at SEARCH, his temperature was brought down and he started to get well. He seemed like such a happy baby, and it was hard to imagine what would have happened to this child had health services been completely out of reach.

After touring the complex, we set out by bus to different villages. I met with a woman in her forties who is responsible for saving the lives of several babies each year by using a breathing apparatus on newborns that fail to breathe after being born. This woman had an entire kit to help babies in their first hours of life, which is critical in a country where 900,000 newborns die each year, according to the World Health Organization.

The woman is part of India’s ASHA program, which stands for Accredited Social Health Activists, and means “hope” in Hindi. The government of India instituted this program, but each ASHA is responsible for providing healthcare and information to about 1,000 people.

We followed the ASHA through the village to the home of a woman who had given birth 14 days earlier. The ASHA weighed the newborn and happily reported that the child was of a healthy weight. This is a success story.

The child has not yet been named, in accordance with tradition. Although many people in India say they wait for naming ceremonies, some admit the reason babies aren’t named for months is because so many die. The doctor at SEARCH said some families have become apathetic because childhood deaths are so common. That broke my heart.

I wanted to feel like every single child I met mattered. That each one had the potential to make a positive difference in their communities. But I’m an American, and I grew up hearing rhetoric about the American Dream and that we each could achieve great success as a business owner, astronaut, forewoman, or even a President. It was something I long believed. These aren’t the dreams of the parents of these children. Their wishes are for the things us Americans take for granted: healthcare, clean water, transportation, education.

I loved visiting Gadchiroli. Its residents seemed to have such pride. Parents were proud of their children, and whole families were extremely hard-working. Seeing a couple of success stories raised my spirits.

I hope the child suffering from seizures makes a recovery as well.

Lindsey Mastis is a video correspondent in Los Angeles for Feature Story News. Lindsey traveled to India to report on child survival with the International Reporting Project.