Avril Meyler, a retired holistic practitioner from the UK, is currently volunteering at Sambhavna and Chingari in Bhopal. She is using her skills to massage the children with disabilities at Chingari. Avril is currently raising funds for Chingari and has already raised £230 from donations from friends.
Avril’s Volunteer Report:
I was grateful that the first day following my arrival on 26th November was a holiday, giving me chance to orientate and settle in. Some time has been spent reading, researching and gathering information from colleagues. This was followed by an interesting and informative field trip with staff of the Research Unit yesterday.
I accompanied Rooman and Sabahat and experienced my first threesome motor-bike ride as we traveled to Jay Prakash Nagara community situated opposite the UC Factory Site, to do some follow-up work. Rooman was patient himself in translating after every visit we made. Each family we called on had either a member or more suffering from a birth defect, these ranged from a girl born with five fingers to a more seriously depressed young man aged seventeen who had lost his mother as a result of the damage done to her by the gas poisoning, there were also many youngsters with congenital heart diseases.
Many older members of the families had suffered as a direct result of the events of 2nd-3rd December 1984 and these conditions varied widely but included serious lung problems. Members of this community were already listed as patients of Sambhavna and the purpose of the Research Unit’s visit was to issue an invitation for follow-up consultation with the camp doctor to monitor their ongoing condition.
As well as the unique motor-bike ride I saw my first painted pink faced goat and another who had a bag strapped to her udders, without Rooman’s patient on-going translation I would be still pondering on this as well as the more serious encounters of the day.
One of these encounters was when we were invited into the home of Mrs Shamshad to meet her son, daughter and grandaughter. Rooman invited me to ask questions as Mrs Shamshad seemed willing and wanted to share with a foreign volunteer.
I learned that she lost her husband Kuhaja on the night of the events of 3rd December 1984 as a direct result of gas poisoning. She herself fled through the streets, carrying her two young children on that fatal night. She now suffers from breathing problems which has been treated at a hospital other than Sambhavana – and here we got a bit lost in translation but it transpired that she stopped the treatment because of her son’s interest in cricket. I’m not sure of the connection here however I gathered that thankfully her condition was improving and stabalizing. She was a brave and inspiring lady and has clearly suffered not only the loss of her husband but single handedly raised two children. She became upset when speaking of her husband and so I ceased asking questions at this point and thanked her for her time. I also visited the Congress Nagar community with Panjam for an hour the following morning.
The remainder of Friday until 3pm was used reading press items and discovering that an amazing amount of time seems to have been wasted by government initiatives that come to nothing and appears cyclical and circular. Given that 28 years have passed since the night of the disaster, the same issues that immediate followed have still not been resolved. This is born out by the list of demands being made in the Delhi Demo on Sunday. To which my initial reaction upon reading them was;
“If this demands have not been met during the past 28 years what will be different about the next 2 years?”
Friday evening was a much more positive yet poignant experience as I joined many others from the Chingari Trust in a candlelit vigil at New Market, along with press and T.V. Cameras.
First Impressions and Summary of last 5 days.
As well as realising how little I really knew about the work being carried our here in Sambhavna before arriving, every day has brought surprises, leading to questions, and left me with a thirst to understand and learn more. But more than anything I have been impressed by the energy, dedication and inspiring enthusiasm of staff as well as helpfulness and welcome extended to me from each and everyone I have encountered.
Whilst the work here is of a serious and complex nature there is also evidence that staff are working with a dedication and love that impresses and proves as did Mrs Shamshad that we all have the opportunity to turn a tragedy into living life with purpose joy, and love.
Finally, at present I am still gathering information that often overwhelms and I am still formulating the direction of my work here and suggestions from staff will be welcomed and appreciated especially regarding priorities.
I am grateful to be here and share in this huge undertaking that is changing, growing and evolving.
Thorsten Gilmore, a retired postman from Sweden has been volunteering in the medicinal herb gardens at Sambhavna.
“The spirit, the kindness, the all over sincerity amazes me. I am so happening to be able to take part in the work here.
The Union Carbide gas disaster even today effects everybody’s life here. Pollution of the groundwater, toxic waste for which nobody will take responsibility. Manifestations and disabilities of lots of different kinds have been recorded in Bhopal. People come together demanding medical care, remediation and fair compensation. No more Bhopals.”