My first week was fascinating. The vibrant atmosphere, the energy and the constant state of motion truly encapsulate one’s mental state into what I would describe as a “hyper-state of awareness of your surroundings.” Basically, what I mean is that expect the unexpected. For example, as you are walking the streets to go buy an electrolyte packets to prevent yourself from dehydrating to a prune under the Indian sun, don’t be alarmed if you suddenly see a herd of stray cows wandering around the bustling suburbs of the busy Delhi streets. For me, that was one of the many culture shocks I had experienced. Usually, I have not seen stray farm animals in the same avenue as businessmen trying to go on the metro for their daily commute. That same sense of shock came to me when we began the observatory and analysis process of our internship. We went to several NGO’s that addressed issues regarding public health through the lens of poverty. We analyzed and studies issues of the caste system in Indian society and how it has played a significant role in the mass inequality that plagues the society today. We visited organizations such as SULABH International Headquarters which is the largest internationally recognized social service agency in India. The organization has played a truly significant role in helping address public health issues relating to poverty by developing technology for water treatment plants and facilities that eliminate human waste scavenging, traditionally done by India’s untouchable caste.
I was actually fascinated by the organization and its role in addressing an issue that is perhaps the root cause of many public health issues in society. Poverty. Throughout my undergraduate career and personal research, I had known with regards to the devastating effects of poverty on the well-being of the community, maintenance of human health and the mental health of those affected by their situation. However, my visit to SULABH and the homeless services NGO’s in Delhi indeed allowed me to understand the sheer magnitude of the issue. One of the homeless services NGO’s that my colleagues visited and I was a addictions center where people in Delhi would go to obtain clean needles or try to get clean from drugs. The center was overflowing with men who were addicts.
I saw people in frail health conditions, some who had just injected themselves with a fresh batch of an amphetamine cocktail and some who could barely stand or stay conscious due to they’re high. The scene was disturbing especially with regards to the minuscule size of the facility that tried to provide these people with the necessary healthcare they need. When I entered the office I had duck my head because the roof was too small, the walls were only two to three arm’s length wide, and the electricity was extremely inconsistent. The organization had been suffering from lack of funding for years and especially under the new government of Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as they have cut and shut down thousands of NGO’s across India. In our time there we got a chance to visit a small community near the area where the addicts lived, and we witnessed their living conditions. I remember seeing small children playing around areas where containers of amphetamines and substances I had never even heard of were spread across the land, with needles, rubbish, and filth occupying the premises. I remember seeing a man hunched over in the open space as he pulled out a needle and injected himself with a fresh batch of what my supervisor said was basically a cocktail of various opiates.
To put it mildly, I was appalled and shocked by the conditions I had witnessed. The most tragic scene that I remember was a young boy who was around eleven years of age sitting on the pavement. He was extremely underweight, his frail legs covered in ulcers, it was clear that his condition was fragile. I asked my coordinator what he was doing here, and he told me that the child was an addict as well. To say I was shocked is an understatement but, to be honest, I had experienced so much of it in such a short period of time, that I felt I unable to react anymore emotionally. I felt as if was desensitized by all that I had seen but in reality, I was humbled. I realized that my perception of poverty, public health, and mental health is going to be broadened to a level that I could have never imagined. In my next blog post, I will explain how the injustice of poverty has shaped my perception of what I want to do in my career.
So my question to you is…have you had a moment in your stretch experience where you may have felt humbled?