It’s winter in Bhopal too!

As we run well into January time seems to be passing by alarmingly quickly. The unusually cold weather in Bhopal has definitely meant things are a little quieter round here at the moment. India is seeing one of its coldest snaps for a long time, which I’m sure is nothing compared to what the UK has seen lately, but when you have no central heating or hot water, or worse still, no home, it’s pretty easy to see why it’s hitting India hard! I for one am sleeping with five layers on and three blankets, and it is still hard for me to get out of bed in the morning. Let’s spare a thought for those who are perishing across the state. I discovered today that the schools are on ‘thanda chutti’ which means cold holiday so I guess that’s why less people are coming to the clinic too.

The staff remain busy however. The community health team are getting ready to start doing health education on menstruation and menstrual problems with young women in the bastis. This is important anywhere in the world, but particularly in Bhopal, where many gas-affected women suffer from serious gynaecological problems such as amenorrhea, dysmennhorea and constant abdominal pain. We’ve been putting together some simple information sheets about normal menstrual cycles and the typical problems women face as often they don’t realise that what they are experiencing is far from the norm.

The Community health team

The community health team are: Masasrrat, Salmaan, Tabassum, Sunil, Jyoti and Radha, and they work really closely together. They are out in the bastis most days teaching the 60 or so community health volunteers how to take malaria slides, screen urine samples for diabetes and checking on anyone who is identified as being unwell. The work they do is invaluable and the potential for the community health project is one of the most exciting happening at Sambhavna (I think !).

Sticking with the health theme (clearly this is the easiest thing for me to write about so I’m milking it) Shahnaz, the librarian, has been working with me on a diabetes health promotion project. We’ve been making cloth posters with simple pictures and Hindi words to make people aware of the risk factors and symptoms of diabetes and what can be done to improve health related to diabetes. Lucie, one of the volunteers who you will hear more about later, has provided us with some amazing art work without which I for one would have been totally snookered. We hope that this weekend we can roll it out and do a health promotion class with some women who have diabetes. We would like to talk with these women about what they feel is important or difficult about managing diabetes and then produce a leaflet that can be distributed by women in the bastis to their friends and neighbours. I was surprised that diabetes, traditionally a problem of the affluent West is affecting so many people here but I am learning that due to easy accessibility of unhealthy foods even for the poor, diabetes is a huge problem in India, and there is speculation that the incidence is higher in Bhopal because of gas related endocrinology problems.

 

Serenity in the garden

Let’s move to the garden where things are a little more serene than in the bastis, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a hive of activity. Josh, Lucie and Eric, three volunteers, have been busy digging up roots in the garden with Ratna, and they have the blisters (and the muscles) to prove it! It’s amazing to be able to access such a diverse range of plants, herbs and animals on your doorstep in the middle of a very polluted city. A beautiful, natural eco-system is well established, and it is very moving to watch local gas-affected women collecting armfuls of medicinal herbs to take home.

Community herb gardens are being encouraged in the bastis so that people can grow and use their own treatments which gives them more control over the own healthcare. Until Sambhavna came into being, this was something they were very much denied, facing long queues in inefficient hospitals, waiting to pay someone for unnecessary steroids or antibiotics. Many people claim they were never examined by a doctor before Sambhavna and I can only imagine how personalised treatment by practitioners who care passionately is deeply meaningful to them.

Immediate applications

It’s not just the local people that benefit either. I currently have an Aloe Vera stem (above) in the fridge, which is bursting with fresh cold aloe vera gel that I am applying to a cut on my foot. Lucie is drinking a concoction of tulsi (basil) leaves (below) and I’m not sure what else to combat her chest infection, and thus far it seems to be working a treat. Not an antibiotic in sight!

The Ayurvedic doctors, Dr Roopa and Dr Jay are planning an interesting research project on a detoxification treatment plan using panchakarma and ayurvedic medicines; they haven’t yet applied for ethical clearance so information is limited for the time being however. I look forward to updating you with details soon.

The foreigners!

The volunteers are an interesting bunch too. Josh and Lucie travelled overland from the UK to India, and are determined not to fly on the return journey either. I ran into them on the street near Sambhavna and I think they were somewhat surprised to hear a Scottish accent ask them, “Are you Josh and Lucie” in the middle of a congested basti street in Bhopal! They are both switched on, intelligent and committed individuals with a passion for activism against climate change. They are staying at Sambhavna for a month and are planning to produce a documentary of interviews with gas-affected staff and patients. They also hope to put together some articles for publication in UK media and if the quality of work they are producing now is any indicator, will have no problem in doing so! They have also been working in the garden, doing some IT training with Shahnaz in the library and are blogging their experiences. In between all this work Lucie has also learnt to say, ‘How are you’ in Hindi, which she is rather proud of!

Ben is our resident Belgian, who self admittedly understands 20 percent of what I say, although I think this may be improving. Either that or he is getting better at lying! He is spending over a month at Sambhavna and is doing a ‘magnifique’ job of translating the BMA website into French in order to raise awareness across Europe about the issues in Bhopal. He is teaching French to some local children, and he REALLY likes Parle G glucose biscuits.

We said goodbye to Brenna, an American girl who spent five months working at Sambhavna, documenting every plant in the garden, helping in the Panchakarma rooms and keeping the kitchen ticking over. Also to Eric, who is a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy studying in Pune. We were all amazed by his intelligence and dilligence, as we found him asleep in the library one night with his Spanish homework in front of him and his pen still in hand! We all wish them well on the amazing journeys they most certainly have ahead of them in life.

Alright, I’m hoping to bring you more information on the wider political, environmental and legal issues surrounding Bhopal and also a bit more specific detail on the different treatments available, as well as a bi-weekly profile of someone at the clinic but sadly I’m being distracted by the urge to dance in my room to Lady Ga-Ga, plus it’s almost time to begin the laborious process of getting under my mosquito net and several blankets!

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We believe Dow & DuPont must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.