Guest post by @jodisagorin
Stuck behind a herd of cows, I peered out of the van doubling as an ambulance at the women working in the fields. I was visiting a rural village outside of Mathura, India. It was my first day in the field doing research for my project for my internship with Drishtee.
First, a little about Drishtee: Drishtee is a social enterprise focused exclusively on rural India. Drishtee was born from the passionate belief in professional solutions, and my colleagues here personify this passion for change-making. People at the base of the pyramid are difficult to reach, so Drishtee established a low cost supply chain to bring valuable goods and services to the most isolated rural villages. They are blazing the path for future rural suppliers, affecting positive social change and economic growth wherever they go.
So, back to my first day bumping and winding my way to a rural Indian village. I was heading towards a health camp with Doctor Virtike who specializes in women and children’s health. We passed cows and more cows, children running naked in the streets, a school house, women carrying bundles of wheat and rice harvest, and many curious people staring from inside their homes. Every time I entered a new village, curious children and then their parents would come out of their homes to try to figure me out… and to offer me a whole lot of chai! I drew quite a crowd from the moment I stepped out of the van.
I sat in the health camp as women and girls came in, one after another, saris covering their faces and accompanied by their mother-in-laws or someone older in the family. The men stayed outside. One girl came in and was visibly sick, her head hung low and she looked like she would fall if you gave her the slightest touch. She sat quietly while her mother in law explained her condition. She had a temperature of 102 degrees. She had been this way for an entire month.
(It is important to note that my experiences in these villages should not be mistaken for a broad generalization of all of rural India. These are just my findings from personal experience in one specific place.)
After further testing, it was found that she had contracted Malaria from the influx of mosquitoes after a recent flood. She was taken outside and provided treatment, paying a small fee for the cost of the medicines. Part of Drishtee’s model is that paying a small amount for health services increases the perceived value of health and, ironically, encourages women to come back for more checkups.
Doctor Virtike was incredible. She took time in testing and getting to know each patient. The women are usually ashamed at being seen by a doctor, viewing medicine and health care as unnecessary. There is a huge cultural taboo surrounding maternal health and women’s health issues. Doctor V not only has to diagnose the patients with basic tools, but then has to spend time counseling them so that they accept treatment. It is a frustrating and disheartening thing to watch. Woman after woman, girl after girl, would shake her head when given access to cures from everything from malnutrition during pregnancy to infections. The only thing saving the situation was Doctor V’s counseling and persuasion.
She explained to me that most of the girls get married at 15 and have multiple children by 19. Being 19 myself, the thought of being a mother at my age shook me to my core. She went on to explain that even from birth, girls are marginalized. The boys are the family’s legacy, while the girls will eventually be married off. They are someone else’s property. Her health suffers because of this neglect. Families don’t want to spend money on healthcare. They also have a very low self-worth. They are very shy, even in an all female environment and cover themselves. Doctor V had to repeatedly ask them to sit down or lay on the examining table instead of standing or lying on the floor to be less conspicuous that they were the ones being treated.
Drishtee’s aim is to turn these women into protagonists of their own destiny, into rural entrepreneurs. By embarking on a long road towards changing attitudes about health and women, Drishtee is starting a process that will result in women having the means to have a voice. They need to be empowered in three ways: emotionally, financially, and physically. Drishtee is aiming towards empowering these women financially by providing them income through entrepreneurship and physically, by providing access to healthcare.
I am proud to be a part of such an incredible family of change makers, even if it is only for a short while during this internship. I have learned so much here already and it has only been 10 days. I can’t even imagine what I will walk away with after my internship with Drishtee is over. For now, I will enjoy the organized chaos of India. Namaste.
Jodi Sagorin is an adventurer, college student, traveler, explorer, and aspiring change-maker. She is currently interning for a social business, Drishtee, in India. She writes about living on your own terms, kicking ass, adventures and travel on her site If You Never Did, You Should.