Cognizance Amidst the Clamor

by Divya Bhatia
July 2, 2013

Divya Bhatia '15 is a Starr Fellow working on Connect for Growth, a research project about childhood and maternal nutrition in India.

As monsoon rains welcome July into Gujarat, India, I find myself returning to my family's Baroda home from a week of living on a mango, guava, and lemon farm in Mota Fofalia, a rural village with an NGO (Shakti Krupa) that manages a school and community health center for the surrounding villages. While I was completely unsure and anxious as to what exactly I would be doing this summer when I left Brown for the semester, I really feel that my decision to come to Baroda and develop my project in this NGO and community was, in a way, meant to be. Much of the time, things are neither easy nor comfortable: power comes and goes as it wishes, roads can collapse with just a few inches of rain, administrative and weather hurdles can make work slow, medical records are unorganized and sometimes non-existent, and I constantly find myself in situations where I am the "foreigner" who knows little about the way things work here. Yet, each day I attain an abundance of valuable insight and knowledge from this community.

When I'm not living in the village, I commute by a bus that takes doctors, teachers, and nurses from Baroda to and from the village school and clinic each day. The 6am bus ride is anything but dull. No one sits quietly to read or listen to music; rather, everyone talks to each other as one big group, and when needed, help the bus wade its way though the waterlogged roads. India pulses with an energy different from anywhere else I've been: children screaming and playing, mothers insisting they "be careful" and "come inside," fruit and vegetable hawkers vocally advertising the freshest supply of produce, customers haggling with them, car and motorbike horns warning pedestrians and cows, ricksha engines blaring, radios playing both old and new tunes, birds singing along, cows mooing territorially, and dogs and monkeys yelping mischievously in the distance. All of this at once first seemed like chaotic clamor, but I know realize that all this "chaos" is India's way of staying connected with each other: with neighbors, with people who help them such as ricksha-drivers, and with the community at large. I think that now, I truly understand the meaning of community.

These daily interactions that teach me the true meaning of community are integral to my ability to help build community to improve child malnutrition in Mota Fofalia. Although the community health center operates a nutritional rehabilitation center for severely malnourished children, there is no consistent communication between the clinic and mothers of the children who have been treated at the clinic, resulting in preventable deaths and disabilities even after treatment. As we - two nurses from nearby villages and I - work to develop a community-based follow-up and counseling program for the villages, home visits to malnourished children to follow up on them allow me to understand why malnutrition is so prevalent and to ensure our follow-up and counseling program will be well-received by this community.

Meeting families also reminds me of why I am here in the first place. With my expectations of meeting the goals I set for this summer, along with overcoming obstacles that I meet along the way, I must be mindful of exactly why I am here, why I am doing what I am doing, and how the people of Mota Fofalia, especially mothers and families or severely malnourished children, feel about it. Being as cognizant as I can about why I am here proves to be both assuring and energizing.