Over the last few days, I've been visiting a project up in the East Side of India, about 12 hours drive north of Hyderabad. I flew into Hyderabad from Cochin on Saturday, arriving late in the evening. We were met at the airport by the guy who's heading the project up since the sudden death of his father two years ago, and then taken to the YMCA where we were to stay the night.
The next day brought with it an early start and a 4 hour train journey north. Hyderabad railway station is pretty different from the ones that I've seen in Kerala, but almost practically the same. It's very similar in design, however, one could not but feel as though the poverty was a little more acute. More beggars and a greater state of disrepair. The train arrived quickly, and due to the train having been booked by our hosts and not ourselves, we made our way comfortably into the AC Cabin.
One of the things that Gandhi mentions throughout his autobiography, is the railway system in India. Unfortunately not much of it appears to have changed since his time. One of the things he tried to do where possible, was to travel third class as a way of trying to a) educate the classes as to how to behave, and b) make a stand on their behalf to embarass the railway authorities into improving the disgraceful conditions and experience of third class carriage. Even last Saturday in Hyderabad there were people climbing into the train as it slowed down, but through windows as there wasn't enough space to try and get in through the door.
The journey up North brought with it many sights and differences from my limited experience of India in Kerala. The houses were more 'traditional' in that they were mud huts with thatched rooves, and the coconut trees were quite different, and far fewer. The air was also less humid, with a brighter outlook due to a lack of haze caused by said humidity. It was a very easy journey, and 4 hours after starting we disembarked and made our way to the home of one of our hosts.
This man was a Jain, and the whole religion fascinated me. I was now getting well through Gandhi's autobiography, and was able to immediately understand the priciniples of Ahimsa and the importance that they have in Jainism. The crux is that as we live, by nature we destroy life (himsa) - this could be anything from plants to ants. The principle is that by 'ahimsa,' Jains try and limit the amount of collateral damage in their lives. When people try to work out their 'Carbon footprint' - they're in effect just trying to balance our himsa with ahimsa.
After the pleasant stay in the house of the Jains (which in itself was more of a ashram community-style 'home), we moved on up to Bhadachalam. This is a place with a beautiful bridge leading into the town over a massive river, and then a big Hindu Monkey-God statue on the right. It's also a famous pilgrimage site for Hindus, though I didn't get to see much of the temple.
We stopped at the HQ of the charity we were staying with and due to it being All Souls Day, headed with the family to the Church of South India Cemetery for some kind of brief memorial service. It was quite a different experience from any religious service that I've been to back home, and we got to pay our respects to the founder of the charity.
The next day were were up early once again [pattern emerging here] and took a 5 hour journey up to a displaced persons camp in Chhattisgarh. The displaced persons camp currently takes 8,000 people, and is protected by the Indian Army and Police force. Checkpoints were set up along the pitted road service as protection against the naxalite terrorists. They're causing massive unrest in North-East India, and the government recently market them out as being the number one threat to internal security.
We got a boat over a river from this camp, which, despite the few inches of water lying at the bottom, was a very enjoyable and relaxing experience. To have to get a boat and put bags on your back to get to a place is something that I'm more than happy doing. There was a bit of romance involved with it for sure, and really helped add to the awareness of quite how remote we were travelling. The other side of the river we got on motorbikes and headed to the centre.
The centre itself caters for 291 children and is funded partly by a UK based 'friends of' charity, and then also by Compassion International. Having banded a few figures around without actually looking at the balance sheet, it seemed like Compassion International paid the day to day costs, whilst 'friends of' was more of a project-based supporter.. for example for new buildings, and higher capital expenditure. The partnership seemed to work really well, hence why it's evidently the model that Compassion use for other sites in East India.
There are obviously many other charities undertaking what is crucial work all over India, and it's great to see a fairly mature project which is running so well in the hands of Indian people. That's exactly the kind of model that we'd like to replicate here in Kerala, and all over other parts of India. The stumbling block thus far appears to be the gulf in payment between being a Doctor in India, and being a Doctor abroad. When 11 from a class of 12 doctors head abroad, there is a shortage of skills in the country, rather than necessarily a shortage of money. These doctors might be sending a percentage of their pay check back to support their families, but their skills are what is missed more than their financial contribution.
I just hope that in the coming years, we'll see more people returning to work closer to their homes, and prevent the skills deficit that is so clearly evident so far in the projects that I've seen. The intelligence and potential education system is there, and it's mainly due