June 15, 2008

First Report

Hello everyone! Thanks for stopping by . . . this is my first post as I have been quite busy and have no had much time for going to the local internet cafe. I will try to sum up my experience thus far. I am in Munnar (in Kerala state) - it is beautiful here with lots of amazing views. It is a hilly area so the weather is usually cold. It is the rainy season here so almost everyday we see some rain. The village I am doing my fieldwork is called Kamblikandam. It is about an hour away from Munnar - this means a long commute to my project site everyday! But it's worth it because of the wonderful views around me.

The village people mostly speak Malayalam (a common South Indian language) - I speak limited Malayalam so this has been a termendous help in communitcating with the people here. The children and staff here always laugh at the way I talk as my Malayalam carries a heavy American accent and is very broken. But I am slowly improving.
The first few days were hard as I was learning to adjust to my new environment. This weekend, I had one of my classmates Heather who is working in Tamil Nadu visit me - that was a treat and refreshing to see a familiar face (and to speak only English, of course!).

The fieldwork at Kamblikandam is under the Compassion International organization - it is based in Colorado. It is primarily a sponsorship agency (sponsorship of children in some of the poorest areas in the world) but do numerous other work around the world. The work conducted is a Child Survival Program. It's purpose is to reduce infant mortality rates here in the village. The village is very poor and has many slum areas. I work in a team along with social workers, councelors, health educators, teachers, and sometimes a nurse. We do many house visits - which are my favorite! During the house visits, we walk uphill many kilometers - the first couple of days was difficult as my body was not used to the intense "workout". But now, I am enjoying it. The roads are muddy and rocky . . . my sandels wore out during the first week so I had to buy a new (more sturdy) pair. When it rains here, the roads are even harder to walk on as they get slippery. The house visits serve many purposes ranging from general house visits, counceling, visiting a sick child, follow-up visits, sponsorship visits (gather information of the home, household, living situation etc.).

Other than conducting house visits, I have taught English to 10 graders. That has been a treat! I have also been able to participate in teaching health education classes to the mothers in the village about topics ranging from parenting to how to avoid common illnesses to proper hygiene etc. There are also area meetings where a community of mothers gather to support each other - it is like a self-help group. I have been able to witness that and find it to be very encouraging - as the mothers help each other through problems and needs. There is usually one leader within each area meeting and this leader is one of the mothers from the community. So in that way, it is good to see mothers taking leadership and helping others in their community.

I have also been able to participate in growth monitoring of the children here. For this, I take the height and weight of the children and record it on a chart, then compare it with the standard set for each age group and sex - those who are deviating from the standard are monitored further.

I have learned much about serving the poor, overcoming cultural differences and language barriers, the struggles faced in a third world country and I daily count my blessings!

Well, that what I have been up to in a nutshell. I hope you enjoyed this post. Not sure when I will have a chance to write again. I am leaving here to go to Bombay to visit my grandmother in two weeks. I will try to write then but cannot promise anything.

Hope you are all enjoying MN summer!