ICA Youth “LEAD” Program
ICA Youth “LEAD” Program
Dr. Prakash and Dr. Mandakini Amte’s dedication to build Lok Biradari Prakalp for Tribal community can be admired and understood through the depth of their sacrifices when you visit Hemalkasa. Starting work in a small hut without electricity for the first 20 years, winning tribal community’s faith in their treatment, performing surgeries under trees to gain confidence amazes when you see today’s well established community. To see generations of Amte family serving this community selflessly is a humble experience and inspires you to contribute to such a cause. Forever grateful to the Amte family for setting up examples for many generations to come!
I spent almost two months at Lok Biradari Prakalp during my gap year before starting medical school. Through ICA and the Desales I was connected with LBP leadership to develop a project based on their goals and drawing on my undergraduate training in public health. Under the LBP community health initiative, I worked with LBP staff to evaluate the nutritional status of the children in the ashramshala and to offer some recommendations to improve their health. Seeing the degree of community involvement and trust in the institution the Amtes and many others have built over time is truly inspiring! But even more impactful than what I learned professionally about low-resource healthcare delivery from the staff and from LBP's model, living at LBP and experiencing the challenges and also unparalleled joys of rural community life has been one of the highlights of my life.
My Marathi fluency was a huge asset in being able to communicate seamlessly with staff and children there, and to form lasting friendships! I found the accommodations to be very safe and clean, but would just humbly advise visitors to keep an open mind and a bit of a spirit of adventure to make the most of the experience! Even having lived in urban India for close to a year prior, my time in Hemalkasa was unlike anything I had experienced before, and it was truly a privilege to have the opportunity to live there and to try to contribute something nominal to LBP's inspiring mission! I am tremendously grateful for that opportunity, and have been able to carry many professional and personal lessons from my time at LBP into my medical training and continued work in low-resource healthcare research and advocacy!
The people of LBP clinic are kind, generous, and caring. They welcomed me with open arms, as they have with hundreds of other volunteers like me. I participated in the health clinic at Hemalkasa, assisting the staff physicians who were caring for the patients there. I saw pathology at Hemalkasa that I never saw during my years of medical training in the United States.
The people who seek care there are from local tribes. They live in secluded villages with little access to modern amenities. The LBP clinic has worked hard over the decades to build trust with these communities. We were able to join some of the ambulatory clinics that LBP hosted in and around these villages. Though the ride was bumpy, it was truly a special experience to see the way people lived in these communities to better understand their healthcare needs.
The team working at LBP are not only providing excellent medical care to the people in and around Hemalkasa, but they are constantly innovating to provide public health services to as many people as they can reach. Over the past few years, LBP has created satellite clinics, remote prenatal care programs, and many other such programs.
Spending time at LBP is sure to enrich your outlook on rural health, poverty, and service. I could not recommend the experience more highly.
Lok Biradari Prakalp is a three-part NGO, dedicated to the poor and tribal people within the forests and villages in walking distance. 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 research 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. Upon landing in India, I was incredibly 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 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 dependent on the efforts of others to get us to Hemalkasa.
Day 1: Travel and settling in
My sister and I reached our 5 AM flight on time thanks to the graciousness of my Uncle and Aunt. We walked out to the pickup area, and realized we had no way to contact our driver to Hemalkasa because our cell phone had no credit on it. Relieved to know our trip was off to an auspicious start, I started a search of the airport premises looking for a pay phone of sorts. My sister on the other hand, serendipitously met somebody she knew: Chanda Tai, a nurse from America my sister had previously worked with at Hemalkasa. Chanda Tai took us to her driver who got us in contact with our driver. On the close to 300-mile drive, our driver stopped twice to load the jeep with supplies and pick up four patients, which just goes to show, nothing is wasted at Hemalkasa, not even a ride from the airport.
Hemalkasa was a lot like I remember it. There were some tweaks: four new leopards, WI-FI, a new guesthouse, Bruno the dog. Though, the complex looked a lot like it did in 2005. On the journey, my sister had given me a little spiel on how things are done in Hemalkasa. Plus, this was not my first rodeo in India. So, I knew what to expect regarding what life was going to be like. We put our stuff down in our room and ventured over to the clinic to drop off the supplies we had brought with us and watch Dr. Dighant and Dr. Anagha Amte in action.
For those of us brought up in the health care system of America, the clinic at Hemalkasa may come as a shock. To gain the trust of the patients, the doctors dress as casually as possible. Despite the utmost attempts at sterility, the clinic does not seem as such (things like this are relative: many Americans require the super-sterile conditions in a hospital because a great deal of us are brought up in super-sterile environments). And with the sheer number of patients in the waiting room, one just must understand that the doctors are trying their hardest to fit everybody they can into their day. Regardless of daunting task ahead of them, the doctors give every patient in front of them their due. Nobody is barred from tests or medicine. Nobody is pushed through quickly to get through as many patients as possible.
My sister and I sat in a corner of the clinic for the afternoon; talking between each other trying to decipher the combination of Marathi and English medical acronyms. The doctors took time out to show us interesting cases, or specific signs and symptoms that led them to their diagnosis. When the clinic finally closed, Anagha and Dighant took us on a tour of the hospital and a bike ride of the surrounding forest and river. I personally am not known for my loquacious nature, so I mostly listened to the three doctors (my sister, Anagha, and Dighant) talk doctor speak and enjoyed just being out in nature. Aside from the road, much of the area surrounding Hemalkasa remains undeveloped, and it was a welcome escape from my normal San Diego routine.
In January 2020, we had the privilege of spending three days in Hemalkasa. It was a very humbling experience for both of us. Road journey from Nagpur to Hemalkasa was long and took seven hours by a private taxi. Road conditions for the first 4-5 hours are quite good, but the last two hour stretch is through a forest area and the road is narrow. Since we were encouraged to reach Hemalkasa by 5 PM, we left Nagpur after having a heavy breakfast earlier in the day. During the second half of the journey, while driving through the rural area, there were very limited choices for decent places, to have lunch. The good part was that the driver was very familiar with that area, so he took us to a place, which served rice-plate. The place was family run and simple but clean.
Once we entered the premise of Lok Biradari Prakalpa (LBP), it was a complete change of scene, compared to the surroundings. This place is very well planned, clean and most of the buildings are white in color. Inside the compound there is a school, hospital, hostel, rooms for guests, and Amte home is right in the Center of everything.
We found that the rooms were simple and clean. Each room had 2-4 beds. Some had attached baths. All of them had western style toilets. Each bed had a frame with mosquito nets. While we were there, we did not have to use the net. Hot water (Solar heater) is readily available in the mornings for bath/shower. Outside the rooms in the corridor, there is a water filter with a cooler. So clean drinking water is readily available. It also has a drying line to hang your clothes (out of sight), if you wish to wash your clothes. There is a common kitchen which serves 3 simple yet tasty meals every day. All the school children, staff, visitors and Amte family, eat the same food. Front hall is used by Staff, Amte family and visitors. Another attached hall in the back is used by all the students.
The self-help system that they have instituted in the dining area and its seamless execution is very impressive. As one walks in for breakfast/lunch or dinner, one can pick up a clean steel plate, spoon and glass for water, serve food for self and have a meal. Simple and nourishing meals that are offered include roti, daal, rice, raita/salad, cooked vegetables. This abundance is shared with generosity and one can eat as much as one wants. After eating everyone is expected to wash utensils and keep it on the rack to dry. Kids in the residential school, from 3rd grade onwards start helping in various roles such as cutting vegetables, sweeping the area etc. It is a very structured community living arrangement, where older kids will help younger groups to wash their clothes or bathe.
During 3 days we met people visiting from all over Maharashtra. Amte family and everyone at LBP, are very approachable and friendly. We were in awe to see three generations of Amte family living in simplicity, eating the same food that everyone else eats, and their kids going to the same residential school at the Prakalpa.
Our room was closer to the girls' hostel. In the evening after school, as we walked around the track, it was a joy to see kids playing cricket or some other outdoors games. Around dusk, girls gather to sing many prayers, bhajans and songs they have learnt, in the compound of Girls’ hostel. It was such a pleasant and mesmerizing feeling , to experience that .
During our stay we visited the day school Sasdhana Vidyalay, at Nelgunda. At prakalpa, we had an opportunity to meet with Grade 11 and 12 students one evening. Next day one of us (Anita) taught music, a song and an English lesson to 2nd graders, while Shirish observed the math class for 8th grade. We also did a session with 11th and 12th graders during their English class. We answered lots of questions kids had.had. Most of them have not seen the outside world and are undecided about their future plans. Compared to kids in the US or from any city in India, these kids seem very innocent!
This visit left us feeling very energized even after returning to the US. Amte families’ pioneering efforts are paving the way for a brighter future for many tribal children. It will be a great place to go and volunteer your time in the clinic or working with students.
My time at SEWA Rural was truly transformative. A shy high schooler who was struggling to find herself, I entered this experience with apprehension; Would I like it in this new environment? How would I communicate with patrons? Being an outsider, would I be accepted in the community? In a moment of determination and resolution, I pushed these fears aside and signed up for the program. Two short months later I found myself walking into the gates of the Society for Education, Welfare and Action, Rural in Jhagadiya, India. I was immediately greeted and shown around, and I felt that extra care was taken to ensure I felt welcome. After the first few days of orientation, I had gained a better sense of the community upliftment programs such as the Sharda Mahila Vikas Society for the economic empowerment of women, the Comprehensive Eye Care Project for the health of the rural population, and the Vivekananda Grahmin Tekniki Kendra, an apprenticeship program for adolescents. I elected to split my time between the main hospital, in outpatient and surgical wards, and field visits. Both experiences gave me unique insights into the locals’ lives and their relationship with the SEWA Rural team. Six weeks seemed too short a visit and after my sophomore year of university, I made a second trip to the nonprofit organization. What drew me in was the fact that such a high functioning and sophisticated organization could feel so much like a family. While the SEWA Rural staff worked diligently to treat the community, both medicinally and through community upliftment, they ensured that each patient was treated with humility and respect regardless of their socioeconomic status. My experience abroad was valuable and rewarding and I would highly recommend it to anyone that has the opportunity.