In my first week here I've already seen so many things that are entirely different from what I'm used to seeing in the US. One question I got asked a lot this week was: Why India (FIMRC also has sites in Peru, El Salvadro, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Uganda)? My answer: It's something different.
The Indian culture is beautiful and unique, something that I become more convinced of each day I am here. But I think that many people forget that India is a third world country. In a culture with women who are dressed in beautiful colors and gold jewelry, large weddings, and Bollywood, it's easy to overlook the villages where people work 7 days a week doing hard labor to provide for their families and children are often malnourished.
Kodaikanal is one such place, but you may not realize it at first glance. High up in the mountains of Tamil Nadu, many people come to Kodaikanal for vacations to escape the scorching temperatures of the plains (even in summer it doesn't get much hotter than 75 degrees) and take in the sweeping views. As a result, there are many large and beautiful summer homes and hotels here that may only be occupied for a few weeks throughout the whole year. In sharp contrast to these empty mansions are homes made of pieces of tin, mud and sticks where entire families live in a single room. In these households both parents must work all the time in order to provide for their families but it oftentimes is not enough.
Due to these conditions, in addition to the fact that the only way to get to the town is a several hour drive on narrow roads that wind up the mountain, many of the people who live here, especially the kids, do not have access to adequate healthcare. Malnourishment and respiratory infections are extremely common in the child population while osteoarthritis, diabetes, and muscle strains are a part of life for many of the adults here.
My first three days here were spent in the crèches (similar to preschools, for children age 2-5 whose families can't afford to send their kids to other schools) measuring the kids' heights, weights, and arm circumferences. The majority of them were underweight for their age. In the afternoon, the doctor came to examine the children who were sick that week. Out of 40 or so kids, about 15 were sick. Many of the kids had handkerchiefs pinned to their clothes because runny noses and coughs are everyday occurrences for children who live in houses with several people and little ventilation. It broke my heart, but they were still just normal kids playing and trying to get our attention, completely oblivious to their missing buttons, inside out sweaters, and runny noses.
Hopefully in the coming weeks I'll write more about the differences in healthcare, life here in India, and my experiences in the hospitals and crèches and all that I've learned, but for now I just wanted to say that I'm here in Kodaikanal and I'm here because there are people and kids who need help even though it's sometimes easy to overlook.
P.S. Sorry for the lack of pictures..next time!!