Amrita John, CHLP Fellow
I was all set to pursue my postgraduate studies in public health, and I had some spare time in hand, so I decided to work or intern in an NGO for some experience. It was by sheer luck that I stumbled upon SOCHARA’s website; as I read through their vision and mission, I was impressed. I then read about the community health learning programme and about joining as a flexi intern. I applied, gave the interview and voila I was in class with some other 14 amazing fellows from all over India. It was undoubtedly the best experience I have had till now. Amazing fellows and even more amazing facilitators!!
The initial one month was a collective session with lectures and training for the field. Even though I am from the health field, there was a lot of new information I got through these sessions on topics like health policy, globalization, National Rural Health Mission and patents. The most important thing that I take back from SOCHARA is the importance of community development i.e. to achieve health we need to have holistic development and not just focus on health. The whole month was very enlightening and laid down a solid foundation for my future.
For my field placement I went to Tribal Health Initiative, Sittlingi, Tamil Nadu. This was started by Dr. Regi and Dr. Lalitha in 1992 and has a hospital in a tribal village in an interior part of Tamil Nadu. They just proved whatever I learnt in the sessions at SOCHARA-the importance of wholesome community development for improvement in health. I visited about 21 villages and talked to many people in the community trying to understand their lives and their problems. I met traditional healers, snakebite healers, and traditional birth attendants; these people I have read about only in books. I went to the primary health centres (PHCs) and schools in the villages. It was a beautiful experience and helped me to appreciate village life better. I have to say this even though I have worked in a rural village earlier; it is a different kind of exposure that we get when we work ‘IN” the community and “WITH” them. I cannot thank Dr. Ravi and Prema akka enough for guiding me. Dr. Regi and Dr. Lalitha have been inspirational: they have actually inspired me to move forward and do what I love, and am passionate about instead of worrying about how I am going to do it and what would be the result.
As I now sit in my Master of Public Health (MPH) classes (doing my now) and look back, I really miss SOCHARA. The way classes are held in SOCHARA with more of discussions and dialogues is more interesting than the lectures in college. The recap session was my favourite where everyone gave their insights on the previous days sessions. These sessions opened our minds to new views that we would have never thought by ourselves, especially because we come from different places and different educational backgrounds. For some of us, it was the first time that we were visiting different NGOs, government institutions like anganwadis and Primary Health Centres (PHC) where we got to see things first-hand we study about in prescribed textbooks. Even the regular screening of video documentaries was very inspiring. I vividly remember the simulation games; it has left an amazing picture of the lives of different kinds of people face throughout their life. Of course, the facilitator –fellow relation is so relaxed that we can approach them any time, and feel free to ask them any questions and doubts we have.
Although I wish, research methodology was taught in more detail since I was just a graduate and could not easily grasp it on my own. I have spent only three months at SOCHARA; however, if given a chance I would love to come back as a fellow for the whole one year programme.