13 Nov
  • By Mary Cairns
  • Cause in

October 31, 2017

Each time I return to rural India, I am quick to remember why I’ve continued to go back since 2010. This trip was my 9th, so trips to PPES are somewhat of a homecoming.  The progress that continues to occur at the school assures me that the efforts of all involved produce positive effects in the lives of our 1400 girls, all first-generation learners, in one of the poorest regions of rural India.  Girls education is something we take for granted, yet it remains a privilege for girls in rural India.  85% of the village girls have yet to receive this opportunity!  It still amazes me that I fell in love with a place in a far corner of the earth, working with girls who are becoming empowered through education, and changing their future, as well as the next generation.

Quality health care was non-existent in this region until Prana Health Center opened in March, 2016. This clinic provides medical care for our students, staff and women and children of the village.  This wonderful facility was made possible through the support of US donors.  The clinic employees a nurse, 2 student assistants and 2 doctors(1 day a week each), medical supplies and a well stocked pharmacy.

In 2012, having medical care available to our girls was all just one of my dreams. I have been committed to building the health and hygiene program since 2012, and never imagined how this program would grow to where it is now.  From our first health center which opened in October 2012 until now, the progress has been astonishing.  Through the years, the heartbreak, tears, joys and rewards have been many.  I keep going back because I know we are making a difference.

During this trip, the health center, was bustling with sick and injured students and villagers.  I often wonder what would happen if the clinic didn’t exist, which is the case for every other school in the region. It is so gratifying to see our staff working to care for our girls, staff and villagers, and to have medications to cure the illness, and supplies to care for the wounded.

There have been so many “never will I forget moments” over the years, as I witness situations that would be unimaginable here in the US.  On day one, Archana, 17, who works in the canteen, where food is sold to school employees, came in to see if the doctor could do anything to improve her vision. She has just one eye, as she lost one due to an infection, and she can’t see well out of the other eye.  Her story? So familiar there….she has never attended school, and her father died of alcoholism.   The doctor asked if I wanted to see her remove her glass eye. In awe of her situation, I asked if we could get her glasses to improve her vision in the one good eye. She cried, I cried, we hugged, and she walked out with a great gift- the gift of hope. She also learned that someone cared enough to help her. Two days and 480 rupees($7.41) later, Archana came to work with her new glasses, a huge smile on her face, and the ability to see.  It was at that moment that I remembered why I do what I do. This was the best $7.41 I have spent all year!

Girls come to school sick, as staying home means they will have work.  The clinic was busy with many girls, with high fevers of 101 to 104. We can’t call parents to pick them up, as mothers are working the fields. The school hasn’t been effective in convincing them to stay home when they are sick. The concept of being contagious doesn’t seem to mean much, a reason why health and hygiene education is essential at the school and in the village. We now have 4 sick beds in the clinic, which were filled much of the week. Stitches, medicine, rest, rabies shots, and tender loving care were provided throughout the week.

I looked forward to meeting Neha, who is becoming blind from a genetic disorder that has already blinded her brother. She came in to meet with the doctor and myself.  I am working to get her into a school for the blind in Delhi, as there are no resources at the school or village, to improve the quality of her life. Her father was called to the school to discuss pursuing this option.  Then, as I walked by a classroom, I noticed Kajal, who had something noticeably wrong with her eye.  She came with me to see the doctor, and I learned that she was blinded 2 years ago after she broke open a stick, with a poison that sprayed, blinding her.  There was nothing her family could afford to do for her, so her eye is now blind, and brown.  We are sending her to a Delhi eye hospital for a consult to determine options for her.  Without Prana Health Center, there would be no resources or options for these children. The stories just go on and on, often unimaginable and heartbreaking……

Wild monkeys pose a threat and a real issue to the villagers. They are aggressive and biting the children, which require them to receive rabies shots.  Two of our girls, ages 4 and 12, are currently undergoing this treatment.  The 4 year old was attacked getting off the school bus.  If they were not at school, more than likely, they would not have access to the shots, and nature would take its course.  The Hindu religion does not allow killing, so they haven’t figured out a way to control the population. They roam the village, the school yard, jump from trees, and bite, especially if someone has food in their hands.  Imagine this? Two years ago, there was a shortage of rabies shots available from the government, so the people didn’t have an option for the shots.

It is heartening to see how our girls are benefitting from the health care available at PPES.  They have access to doctors and hospitals in Bulandshar and Delhi, if their conditions can’t be treated locally. They are receiving annual physicals and eye exams. They have a place to be cared for and rest if they are sick.  They can have wounds cleaned and stitched, and heal without infections. We now have an electronic medical records system, which allows all students records to be accessible for review by US doctors, who make recommendations for treatment. We have a pharmacy with 200 medications that are provided for free to our girls, and at a reduced cost for staff and villagers.  Health and hygiene education focus on improving the quality of life and educating girls about reproductive health.  Village education focuses on improving sanitation, which will help reduce diseases such as malaria, typhoid, hepatitis and dengue.

We need volunteers with medical or public health backgrounds, who are looking for an incredible opportunity, which will change your life. Having taken many volunteers with me over the past 4 years, I have witnessed the deep gratification people experience in this little rural village in this remote corner of India. There is much work to be done, so please, consider the opportunity. Promise you won’t regret it!    Mary Cairns  marycairns1956@hotmail.com