By Hans Desale
I need to start with a little bit of structure before diving into our trip. I am a firm believer that every story deserves a background, in order to give the reader some sort of context when understanding the story. So I wanted to make this first blog post an introduction about where we were going, who I am, and a little bit about my pre-travel idiocracy.
Lok Biradari Prakalp was founded in 1973 by the Indian social worker Baba Amte at Hemalkasa, India. It is a three-part NGO, dedicated to the poor and tribal people within the forests and villages in walking distance. Walking distance really means how far a person can walk; Lok Biradari Prakalp hosts a hospital that sees hundreds of patients a day. Dr Prakash Amte, son of Baba Amte, runs the hospital. The story of his struggles in making Lok Biradari Prakalp is documented in the book Pathways to Light: a book I wish I had read prior to embarking on the trip. His son and daughter in law: Drs Dighant and Anagha Amte, are the current primary doctors on site. Although both are capable of minor surgeries, many patients need much more attention than they can give. In full irony, many of these patients also cannot afford that attention at a private or state run hospital. So once a year, the Nagpur Rotary Club buses in around 30-40 surgeons, anesthesiologists, ophthalmologists, and medical residents for two days of surgery. This year, the doctors completed close to 230 surgeries total in the two days.
My name is Hans Desale, and I am a scientist at a San Diego based drug discovery company: Receptos. I work in the biology department. After three years, I can honestly say I feel comfortable with a pipette or a needle in my hands. I’d also accrued quite a bit of vacation time, and was looking for a place to use them. My sister is in her last year of medical school, and was going to use her last bit of free time for her fourth trip to volunteer with the Hemalkasa Surgery Camp. The stars aligned, and I decided to tag along. It was a good thing she was there because I found myself in a world I was completely unprepared for.
I made my flight to India as unenjoyable as possible. Although I was leaving early New Years Day, I had made the foolhardy decision to revel in New Years Eve merrymaking with some friends the night before. This led to the ire of my fellow passengers, when I proceeded to release the contents of my stomach into an airsickness bag while flying in turbulence over the Pacific Ocean. Upon landing in India, I was very careful not to draw any more attention than necessary. For the contents of my bags included among the usual clothing and gifts, needles, syringes, and scalpel blades Receptos had donated for their use at Hemalkasa. Not wanting to be mistaken for a drug smuggler or member of an international crime syndicate, I proceeded through customs speaking in as much Marathi as I could and avoiding having to explain what I was carrying.
My sister and I spent a lot of the two days we spent in Pune with family trying to plan our trip to Hemalkasa. We bought our largely overpriced plane tickets to and from Nagpur at the last minute. Panicked for a bit, for we could not get in contact with Anagha to plan a ride from Nagpur. And had a last minute packing exhibition because our supplies outweighed the domestic limits of India. In the end, we had booked a 5AM flight from Pune to Nagpur. But were still completely dependant on the efforts of others to get us to Hemalkasa.
Map of Maharashtra, India: Hemalkasa in lower right corner
Forests in the surrounding area of Hemalkasa. It’s hard to imagine what life was like when Lok Biradari Prakalp first started…
My sister Meghana, demonstrating the photogenic gene that runs in my family
Outside of the Lok Biradari Prakalp medical facility, only a portion shown
Portion of the Lok Biradari Prakalp Animal Orphanage
Portion of the school on site at Lok Biradari Prakalp