13 Nov
  • By Mary Cairns
  • Cause in

Fall 2016

As Christmas descends on us in just a few short days, I think about a world away in rural India, from where we returned in late November. I was most grateful to leave the election turmoil behind, and not be exposed to another sign or commercial, nor have access to the US news while there. Doing our work here proved much more satisfying and rewarding than getting stirred up about something we could do nothing about.  Bringing friends, fun, love and medical care to the students and villagers at Pardada Pardadi was a wonderful distraction!

Trip #8 was another incredible experience. There was a large crowd of PPES friends with us, including several US and Indian board members, as well as several doctors from Wayne State Medical School and 3 volunteers from Children’s Hospital in Phila.  There were also several Indian doctors, including our PPES doctors. My team left with a true sense of having made a real difference, as well as the recognition of how much work, and money, is needed to continue the work that has just begun.

During the first 3 days, medical camps were held in 2 villages, as well as the new  medical clinic at the school, which opened in March. Almost 1000 patients were seen, and 3000 prescriptions for drugs(to include tylenol, etc) were given to the people, from our pharmacy. The only way to truly understand what a medical camp is, is to experience it. Day 1 was on a dirt field with tents housing registration, triage, doctors and exam rooms.  Our students and staff did a great job providing organization and translators, as villager moved from station to station, being provided to have health issues attended to.  Our pharmacy now has over 70 medications and vitamins. Still, many patients needed meds we did not have.  Many suffer from chronic conditions that we could do nothing about. Day 2 was held at the school, where we had electricity for nebulizers and EKG’s for those who needed them.  The air quality was very poor, as it is getting cold, so villagers burn dung and wood to stay warm, which creates constant smoke in the air.

We were able to do HIV testing, something that has never been done before there, as a volunteer donated testing kits. Concern arose about testing people, as there is nothing that could be done if a person had a positive result. A small test study was done, with all tested turning up negative. A highlight of this trip and a moment that I shall never forget was a man who came on day #1, believing he had AIDS. He was tested and learned he did not.  Had we not brought the test kits, the man would have continued to live with the torment he was experiencing. We brought him peace.

Another man was brought in, by foot, writhing in pain, diagnosed by one of our docs with end stage lung cancer.  There were no IV pain meds available in the region, so the only thing that could be done was saline injections. I was with the patient and doctor and was moved to tears and heartbroken to feel so helpless and frustrated by the lack of medical care in this region. There are no hospitals, so the man went home to die, with no relief available for his pain. The clinic is in the infancy stage, so we have much work to do. Volunteers and funding is needed to continue to build this project, so please consider either……

There were so many sick and malnourished children and babies.  Most of the time I feel so helpless, but remember that we are growing, and changing making great changes.

I learned that Manisha’s grandmother died shortly after my last trip in the spring. I spoke about Manisha at my recent TEDx Talk. She is 13, has no parents, and was caring for her blind, deaf grandmother in a small room. Manisha is now alone, with family looking in on her. For the past 3 years,  I have been concerned about what will happen to her.

Onto the bright side. We brought 500 pounds of donations from the US and distributed over 2400 pair of panties, to all of the girls and workers at the school. To date, this makes over 8500 pair I’ve collected to hand out here. I’ve become known as the “panty lady”, with this fun and rewarding project. We also distributed toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, 50 pounds of pens and pencils and school supplies, craft projects, and more.

We held a carnival for all of the girls, thanks to the awesome volunteers from CHOP. We held one yesterday at one of the elementary schools( there are a total of 4 schools at PPES-preschool, 2 elementary and one class 6-12). It was so much fun, a great time with the girls and teachers so happy and appreciative.  We had lots of games( ring toss, bowling, duck pond, beanbag toss, sack race, 3 legged race, face painting, nail painting and lots and lots of prizes.  Today, we will do the other 3 schools. Such a great idea, bringing joy and happiness to all here!

Yesterday was spent cleaning out and organizing the medical clinic. There have been so many donations of supplies and medicines brought here over the past 3 years. We now have a place for everything, and worked for hours with the staff and girls in the clinic really organizing the pharmacy and supplies.  Lots of trash got thrown out, which always makes me happy. We have enough latex gloves for everyone in India to have a pair, so we are good to go there! Organization is not something that has been easy for the staff, so they are good to go, thanks to my team!

We are dealing with a big problem that began for the entire country on Tuesday. The government has done away with 500($7.69) and 1000($15) rupee notes, to rid the country of “black money”. I won’t go into that here, so Google it if you want to learn more. All banks and ATM’s were closed Tuesday, with no money available. Those notes must now be exchanged for 100 rupees($1.55), the largest denomination available now. We went to buy storage containers for the med clinic yesterday and could not use my money. Imagine that! We are now plotting as to when we can go to the bank and how long we will have to wait in line. The maximum amount of money now available, per person, per day is 4000 rupees($30US). In December, the 500 and 1000 rupee notes will be worthless.   And we think America has problems! After we leave the school we will head onto Agra and hope we can get money at the hotel.

On our drive to Agra, we passed many banks and ATM’s, all with long lines of people, waiting to get money. We learned that most had no money in them, but people were just waiting. Upon arrival at the Radisson in Agra, we asked for money, and were told they had none. Wow! What we did have was credit cards.

One of the things I absolutely love about India is that things always work out.  Always….Before leaving the school, I had a conversation with one of our teachers, who is not only fluent in English(making the conversation easy), but also has connections. He is from Delhi, and had originally come to the school to set up the call center. We began to talk about the money situation and he asked if I needed some. I gathered our large rupee notes from among my group and gave them to him. He came back later with smaller notes, providing us with more than most people had at that point. At the hotel, I decided to have a fortune teller read my fortune. As we began to talk about the money, he asked if I needed some. Between the 4 of us, we had $40 US left. He exchanged happily, as he wanted the US dollars. Our tour guide in Agra, who I have used seven times, offered to give me rupees that I could repay on my next trip.  That was something I didn’t feel comfortable doing!  We were just fine, making it back to the US without any issues.  This experience allowed me to reflect on how much we have, how we can make things happen, as opposed to the common man in India.

I love India, PPES, the girls and my people over there, and carry them constantly in my heart.  Can’t wait to go back again in October 2017.