My parents and I were born and bred in Indian cities which meant that until recently I had never seen an Indian village. This never concerned me in the least until the night before my first Proof of Concept (POC) project with Comprehensive Rural Health Programme (CRHP) in Jamkhed, Maharashtra. I won’t say I had a panic attack the night before. I was well aware of the challenges and I knew that a Dimagi Senior Field Manager would be there to work with me during my first POC. Still, I definitely wondered if I could pull it off.
My first impressions of Jamkhed made think of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Maharashtra was in the middle of an intense drought and the entire landscape, which is apparently never particularly lush in the best of times, was red and caked. We saw people queuing up in front of water tankers, all of which had politicians’ faces splashed across them. In the middle of a blazing summer, I was gulping water by the gallons while people were probably rationing two buckets for cooking, cleaning, caring for livestock, and bathing, not to mention the failed crops. It’s appalling to see the complete disregard and lack of management of such a crucial resource, but it’s humbling to realise the extent of amenities we take (and should be able to take) for granted.
As far as first POCs go, working with CRHP to develop and implement a maternal and child health CommCare application was an unbeatable experience for me. Having studied Development in school, I had written extensively about participative development, engagement with communities, and implementing agencies. But to actually see it in practice was exciting and inspiring. It certainly felt like I spent most of my discussions with the CRHP team nodding vigorously in response to their observations and ideas. The two things that I’d say impressed me most about the CHRP team was their engagement with the Village Health Workers and their model of supporting communities until they were deemed to be self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency is determined based on certain health and sanitation indicators, but more importantly, on the community’s ability to get together and engage in collective bargaining with the local government. As an Indian, I often feel like we put up with too much and demand next to nothing from our government, so this aspect definitely resonated with me.
Hands down the most essential and interesting part of deploying POC projects for me is training the end users. This is the most interactive part of our job as Field Managers, and it is our introduction to the Frontline Workers that use CommCare. I won’t pretend that spending only a few days together gives us tremendous insight into the Frontline Workers’ worlds, but as Field Managers, we would be so much poorer without it. It is their feedback that shapes CommCare and the project on the ground. Additionally in a world where access to technology is so obviously gendered, seeing women of varying ages and circumstances appropriate this technology for their professional use is remarkable. This is probably a testament to the world we live in today, but I’ve realized that no matter how far some of the Frontline Workers seem to lag behind in training, a few weeks and some practice later, they are just as comfortable with the technology as the rest of their peers.
In addition to working directly with Frontline Workers, POCs have also given me the opportunity to explore a new environment, have new experiences, and meet people that I don’t often interact with. Thanks to CRHP, I got to milk a cow for the first time (having a Plan B is never a bad idea in life) and see a farm. And during my subsequent POC, in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, I was able to administer polio drops to a child.
To return to the topic of villages however, I am sure in more prosperous parts of the country they are green, peaceful, and serene and people lead happy healthy lives. The ones I have seen have been filthy, surrounded by sickness, disease, and poverty, and it makes me angry that we do so little. The stark inequalities are probably a part of India 101, but I do feel like I bristle a little more at every construction of a flyover, and at every advertisement of high end luxury products. People should definitely aspire to better lifestyles, but someone really needs to in improving primary healthcare throughout India. As Dimagi Field Managers we can do our bit by increasing access to technology that will hopefully empower the users and their communities. But there is such a long way to go.
Check out more photos of our Proof of Concept with CRHP.