I’ve only been at SEARCH for two weeks but there’s already a ton to update on! SEARCH = Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health. It’s a small NGO located in the eastern part of Maharashtra, the same state Mumbai is in. After flying to the nearest city, Nagpur, from Mumbai, I took a 3-4 hour journey by car to Gadchiroli, the tiny town Search is located near.
The rural-ness of the area really looks you right in the face, especially in my transition from Mumbai: immensely crowded city streets interspersed with upper-class gleaming stretches of malls gave way to the dusty roads of Nagpur, and until we got to Gadchiroli, the entire space in between was mostly one of rice fields… the landscape was so lush and green compared to the pervasive dry-season brown of Malawi, with the occasional collection of homes poking out of the green and the rare tiny town, perhaps containing a school or shops.
The Search campus is a few kilometers from the town of Gadchiroli, and contains office buildings, staff housing, rooms for training sessions, a mess hall, a prayer/meeting hall and a hospital. I think in all there are about 100 people living here. The campus has a very peaceful feel to it, with lots of trees providing shade and some relief from the steamy heat. Unlike the surrounding villages, Search has electricity and running water, though we still take bucket showers and wash clothes by hand. I share a house with two other mulge (girls) from Maharashtra who are working on psychology / mental health projects here, and patiently put up with my attempts to learn Hindi and Marathi 🙂 While many of the staff here speak Hindi in conversation, Marathi is the local language so it’s important to learn that too. There are some similarities between Hindi and Marathi (and they use the same graceful script) but enough differences to make them distinct. Both are such beautiful languages!!! I just love the way they sound as they roll off the tongue: phul (pronounced like “fool”) reflects the smoothness of a flower, kekarad the quick pinch of a crab. I can’t wait till I’m able to speak these more fluently.
The 10-15 interns around my age are an awesome group, conversations are like a non-stop joke! They’re from various parts of India, many from Maharashtra, so it’s just me and Juliane (who’s from Germany) who aren’t Indian. Everyone has been so warm and welcoming that it felt like coming home, embodying this quote:
“To every human being must ye be infinitely kind. Call none a stranger; think none to be your foe. Be ye as if all men were your close kin and honored friends.”
The campus, and particularly the hospital, is set up in a way that honors the customs of the people living in the surrounding villages. When Drs. Abhay and Rani Bang founded Search about 30 years ago, they talked with the local people about their perceptions of medical care. Turns out, most people didn’t want to go to a hospital if they were ill, for several reasons:
-The doctors and nurses usually wore white uniforms, which is the color of funeral shrouds. Why would you want someone treating you wearing the color of death? In response, Search staff don’t wear white.
-Hospitals are typically set up as one large building with a complex maze of hallways and rooms, and rooms were set aside only for patients—not their family members who accompanied them and didn’t want to have to trek all the way back home alone! In response, Search constructed little “huts” with room for the patients and their family members, and space for cooking.
-People normally sought healing by praying to gods, and hospitals had no temples, so how could people be healed? So Search built a temple for Ma Danteshwari, the goddess of the Gond tribe that most people here are part of. And the temple is not merely symbolic: the staff families ensure that the goddess has a fresh mala (flower garland) and even clean cloth robes. During festivals, offerings of fruit, flowers, incense and prasad (a sweet mixture given out after worship) are given, prayers are said and you go up and ring a bell inside the temple. Then someone blows a conch shell: bawooooooooo!