Taking Steps in the Footpath of Improvement

Northwestern Project RISHI returned to Charnia this past summer to implement new projects and improve upon old ones

In the summer of 2015, seven members of Project RISHI at Northwestern University worked with doctors, ASHA workers, and the brick laborers of Charnia to collect data concerning the hygiene and sanitation practices of villagers, organize a health camp, and establish relationships with local researchers and leaders.

One of our main projects was to survey households from various brickzones in Charnia with regards to their sanitation and hygiene. In particular, we wanted to better comprehend the availability and accessibility of facilities and resources, such as toilets and soap, as well as their hygiene regimen, especially that concerning womens’ menstrual cycle. Out of the 8 households we surveyed in Charnia, 7 reported access to consistent running water. All households said they had access to soap from local stores; however, it is more of a luxury to them than the necessity it is. While most brickzones had public toilets for use, a couple still did not, which indicates the varying conditions of the brickzones that are mainly dictated by the brickzone owner.

We also conducted surveys in surrounding villages with the accompaniment of a local ASHA worker. Our target for the survey was women, who are generally more willing to answer questions thoroughly, especially in the presence of the familiar ASHA worker. Most women have either spent most of their life in the village or have moved there after marriage. Our findings indicate that most women have regular menstrual cycles and use sanitary napkins. However, a few women still used cloth instead of sanitary napkins, mostly because of the financial burden of sanitary napkins. This problem could indicate the need for a sustainable alternative to buying sanitary napkins. Another major issue the women had was the dirtiness of the village, especially the roads, which are covered in defecation and trash.

Our other major project was our annual health camp which took place at our clinic in Charnia with the help of the Param Seva Trust and our contacts at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER). We were able to bring around half a dozen doctors who volunteered from morning to afternoon, ranging from general physicians to a doctor who specialized in women’s’ health to ophthalmologists. Over 200 villagers who came from near and far received a variety of common medications, such as pain killers, antacids, and vitamins.

Amidst conducting surveys and planning the health camp, we expanded upon old relationships and established new ones with local officials. We met the doctor in charge of our clinic, and made plans to have better communication throughout the year, allowing us access to records from the clinic. Additionally, the leader of the foundation with which we established the clinic gave us the opportunity to deliver a short presentation at the foundation’s school concerning the importance of education and health. Thanks to a contact of one of the trip members, we met the sarpanch, or head of the village, of Charnia. We were also introduced to a public health researcher from PGIMER who will be able to make regular checkups on the clinic and will be a great advisor on research projects. Overall, the trip was a fruitful one and will serve as the basis for many projects to come.

Written by Shreya Udani; Photos by Julia Yeam