A Visiting Student’s Perspective: University of Melbourne

Written by Edwin Kwong, a visiting Master’s Student from the University of Melbourne

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From the outside, CRHP didn’t look particularly impressive – it is a compound consisting of a few white concrete buildings, that didn’t look particularly state of the art. How then, I thought, does CRHP do all the amazing things that I’ve heard so much about so far, in such unassuming conditions? This question of mine would gradually be answered in parts during my time there.

As an aside, there is a popular line from an Australian song from the 90s: from little things, big things grow. Indeed, CRHP Jamkhed is a story of growth from humble beginnings, in the face of difficult circumstances. Most of the men and women in Jamkhed, and in the surrounding villages of Ahmednagar District, had very poor health statuses when CRHP was founded by Drs Raj and Mabelle Arole in 1970. For me to see, and be a small part of the incredible movement that CRHP has created and sustained in the four decades since, was amazing, especially considering that it began as only a dream of two young Indian doctors.

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But of course, none of us from our group of master’s students from the University of Melbourne knew much about that when we arrived in late November last year. Having just gotten off the little bus we had been in for the past 5 hours or so, in our drive from Pune, learning was the last thing on our minds! Yet, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air, that we’ve finally arrived at Jamkhed.

Throughout the 3 weeks that we spent at CRHP, we were exposed to a wide range of health and social issues that people in rural India face, and learnt about how the various staff members of CRHP deal with these issues. Whilst it would be interesting to write about these issues, and the strategies used to tackle them, I believe it is more important to focus on the individual stories of the great people at CRHP.

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Without people like Jayesh, Madu, Surekha, Yamunabai, or Ratna, and countless others, who dedicate themselves every day to realise the vision of CRHP, it would not be a success story, and certainly there would be no Jamkhed model for the rest of the world to follow. Their devotion and work ethic are admirable, and absolutely inspirational. Through the work of CRHP staff such as themselves, and the other Mobile Health Team members, Village Health Workers, Farmers’ Club members, school teachers, and hospital staff, they touch, and change the lives of countless individuals. And I’m sure that includes all of us from the University of Melbourne! However, it was perhaps the warm personalities of everyone that delighted us the most. Many of us can happily recall Surekha’s good humour and infectious laugh, Meena’s bright smile and care for all the children at the Joyful Learning pre-school, or Dr Shobha’s deep faith and commitment to CRHP.

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It was also initially surprising to have learnt so much about sustainable agricultural strategies and land management techniques, in a public health and development studies subject. Yet, I quickly realised that the relationship of the people with their land was crucially linked to the health of their communities. For us, the social determinants of health quickly jumped out of the textbook as an oft-repeated phrase, into our lives as a palpable reality. Having arable land meant that the people could have a secure income, source of food, and general economic stability, which had a strong positive association with good health.

Perhaps most importantly, we learnt the importance of listening in the form of community participation. Everything CRHP does is based on meaningful engagement with the community, to find out what their needs are, so that CRHP may serve them. As I came to the conclusion of our 3 weeks at Jamkhed, a question that was often on my mind was how I could apply what I’ve learnt at CRHP to my future studies, and career? And indeed, the principle of community participation lies at the heart of what I will take away from my time at CRHP. Regardless of if I am involved with the design of a health programme, or undertaking research, I am certain that community participation will play a key role in what I do. This way, I can ensure that my work will not merely be an exercise in vanity, but truly beneficial to those whom I work for.

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However, to return to my initial question, I learnt that the success of CRHP was not at all about how impressive its buildings are, but who dwells within them, for they are the foundation on which CRHP stands. The success of CRHP lies within every individual who work and support its vision daily.

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Overall, I am incredibly grateful to everyone at CRHP who so warmly and generously hosted us, and taught us; and I am also thankful for my classmates, who with their varied backgrounds and knowledge, provided an exciting as well as nurturing learning environment. Without it meaning to sound like a hyperbole, it has truly been an inspirational time at CRHP. I hope that I will be able to return one day to contribute to its work!

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