My week in the field definitely had an impact on me personally. I had visited India once before and came away thinking that the sole change needed was for people to have greater economic gain. But my recent visit with Opportunity and Healing Fields changed that view.
Coming from England and travelling over the past few months in New Zealand and Australia, hid what I believe is a huge issue affecting many people living in poverty: health. But my recent eye-opening experience in India showed me just how much basic health needs are taken for granted. Prior to this visit I did not see how detrimental the lack of health was to these communities or how critical health is when it comes to preventing poverty.
Spending a week visiting communities in the rural areas of north India helped me see that women— with little previous education or experience—can, with only a year of health education training, solve multiple health problems and help their communities become stronger.
Firstly, the women are given both health education and entrepreneurial training. This means they can provide health advice to their local community, but also provide and sell basic health products—like sanitary napkins and toilet cleaner—that help reduce health issues arising from such things as lack of hygiene.
The additional benefit I saw from this was how it gave women more say in their family life. As money earners and respected women in their communities, the women had a greater purpose.
Secondly, it means that through these women, local communities now have access to key products like hand wash and sanitary products, as well as the knowledge on how and why to use them. The communities are now better equipped for protection against common diseases like diarrhoea. Without the education aspect, the local community saw no need to ‘waste’ their money on products they didn’t see a need for.
Lastly, teaching these women to work at a local level means their health knowledge can be easily passed through their community while creating better health practices for generations to come. Munni was one such woman. Munni is a health leader in Buxar. She said that diarrhoea had gone down massively within her own family following her training and that she has been teaching her daughter about sanitation and hygiene from a young age. Hearing how much all of these women love teaching and genuinely enjoy what they are doing was very inspirational for me.
Although all of the women I met had this impact, Munni was one of three women that stood out. The others were Fulkulmari and Imirty. Spending time speaking to them, hearing all their stories about how they have helped and how proud they are, really showed the benefits of these programmes.
Fulkulmari was at first sceptical about spending time and money on the training programme. But she finished the programme with a completely different mindset – one that convinced her to invest more time and money to do further training to become a Basic Care Provider – someone trained to provide not only health education, but also emergency response.
Fulkulmari, a trained health leader, holding a photo of the x-ray of a 10-year-old's broken thighs. Fulkumari used splints to support his broken bones before taking him to hospital, drawing on her health training. Photo: Siri Wrigley and Jemma Holden
One story Fulkulmari told me was honestly incredible. A few days before this meeting, Fulkulmari helped a 10-year-old boy who had been involved in a biking accident. He had broken both his thighs and one arm. Fulkulmari used splints to support his thighs and arm and she then took him to hospital. The reason why this story was so memorable was that firstly, the training given to these women is so little compared to medical training given to those in England but yet the impact they can have is incredible. Most of this is due to their dedication to the programme which needs to be seen to be believed. Secondly, the little resources they have is extremely challenging, yet they make do.
Overall, I really just want to say the impact of the health education should not be downplayed. Better health leads to better livelihoods, greater economic gain (firstly direct gains to these women, but also having less amount of time being sick from preventable diseases and more time being able to work). Lastly the sustainability of it all: teaching locals about health and then seeing this spread throughout many families and communities. This means less outside help will be needed on the smaller health issues and more time focussing on wider more long-term problems.
Siri Wrigley volunteered with Opportunity International in March 2019.