I arrived in Bhopal exactly two weeks ago and I have begun my volunteering internship at the Sambhavna Trust Clinic. Sambhavna is 10 minutes away from the Union Carbide plant that was responsible for the gas tragedy. Sambhavna specifically aims to provide medical care for gas victims. Free. Sambhavna is also a very activist NGO. Not only does it treat patients, it also does research on the tragedy, from the legal, environmental, human, health and social aspect. The clinic also has the biggest collection of documentation on the chemical disaster and thus attracts journalists, researchers, activists and students from all over the world on a regular basis.
I feel very privileged to be a part of the Sambhavna Clinic for the next two months (well six weeks now) because the work they are doing is extremely valuable for the community. Sathyu Sarangi, the head of the clinic, is actually very well known in India. He is the one who heads all the projects and meetings and keeps the staff active and motivated. The clinic has various medical cabinets, Ayurvedic doctors, allopathic doctors, a yoga doctor, a path lab and health workers. Although western medicine is available here, the clinic prefers to offer Ayurvedic treatments simply because that is what the community prefers. The Indians have been following the Ayurveda book of medicine for thousands of years and this system is trusted and well-integrated in their culture. Who said western medicine is better anyway?
Speaking of western things, we also are not allowed to use chemical-based products here because the water system is connected to the huge garden in which herbs with medicinal value are grown. I had to chuck away my shampoos, creams, and all the other chemical stuff that we are so used to back home (soap, laundry detergent, makeup…). Instead, I’m using ayurvedic soap, almond oil for my hair, diluted lemon juice as a face wash, and garlic as an insect repellent. I really like this alternative lifestyle because it gives my body a break of all these chemically conceived products that we as westerners are so used to. I’ve always wanted to detox, and this is the perfect chance to do it. Also, the reason why I take this alternative lifestyle so seriously is also because one of my projects at Sambhavna is about medicinal plants. The other project is at the Orya Basti School. So let me describe to you how I spend my days here and what is the work I do exactly.
In the mornings, I volunteer at a school in one of the slums near the Union Carbide factory, the Orya Basti School. This community has been hit hard and Sambhavna is the one who opened the school for them. I teach the kids English and we play games during lunchtime. I’ve been doing this for two weeks and I really feel like the kids know me well now and like me. As of next week, I’m starting a health project with them about medicinal plants. They have a huge garden around the school that we clean every Saturday and because the rainy season is starting, we are going to turn this forlorn garden into a medicinal garden, kind of like the one we have at Sambhavna. But there is no point in planting a garden if the children don’t know the value of the plants they’ll be growing. So I’ll be working with two other staff members and we will be educating the children on the value of each plant and how they can use it when they get sick. I’m excited at the prospect of being part of this project because teaching children self-care is extremely fundamental. Waterborne illnesses, diarrhea, TB, vomiting, are all sicknesses that occur often because of the highly MIC-contaminated water that these kids from the slums have no choice but to drink. By growing this garden, the children will learn how to take care of themselves and hopefully the knowledge will spread to the rest of the community. Children are influential, not only because they represent the future adult generation but also because they can influence their elders. I also do drama (interactive theater, hollllerrrr) with the children on certain days of the week and we’re preparing a play on Diarrhea, Vomiting and Malaria. EXCITING!
After school, I bike back to Sambhavna to continue on the medicinal plant project. And yes, I said bike. The school is a good 25 minutes away by bike and its too hot to walk it during the day. I could take a rickshaw but it would be expensive to do so twice a day from Monday to Saturday. So Devakar Sir gave me a bike! I was really afraid to use it at first I’m not going to lie because several times I have to bike on some major busy roads that are very chaotic, but I found some shortcuts to stay away from the scary parts of the roads. I also realized that once you’re part of the chaotic system its really not that bad. Its seems scary from outside, especially as a pedestrian, but once you’re on a bicycle, scooter or rickshaw, you’re a part of the traffic flow and with a bit of firmness, a bell and a mean look, you usually get around just fine. Anyway, the medicinal plants project consists of compiling a database of all the plants of Sambhavna’s herbal garden and documenting their medicinal properties. A past volunteer started this work already, and I’m classifying all the information that she found in a format that would be more accessible to the general patient. It’ s quite hard to read all these scientific reports about plants and extracting the essential information to then translate it in simple English, but I really enjoy doing this kind of work. I’m very passionate about using natural ways of curing oneself rather than resorting to medicine that is really harsh on the body and creates a ton of side effects. It’s a long process but I hope that I’ll have done enough plants so that we can put some of the info on Sambhavna’s website.
Then, when I’m done with work, I either do some yoga (the yoga doctor showed some positions that are particularly beneficial for asthmatics) or some jump rope and then I watch Mad Men with Emily. I also read a lot. I just finished Le Parfum by Suskind and To Kill A Mockingbird. Anyway, y’all this entry is long enough so I’ll just stop here and keep you updated in more posts. Don’t expect me to update as much as before because my days are pretty much the same and also because the connection is not very reliable.