Part of my job as Coordinator for Leave UR Mark requires me to network with local NGOs and businesses to find new internship and volunteer opportunities for the foreigners who come to India through our organization. Through one of these work meetings, a few months ago, I met Charlie – an American settled in Bangalore and working for an NGO that supports rural artisans and crafts pertaining to Northern Karnataka. You can read more about Charlie’s work here, but in this post, I want to focus on a field visit we made to another incredible organization called Tribal Health Initiative (THI).
Located deep in the heart of rural Tamil Nadu, Tribal Health Initiative was started by a doctor couple in 1993. Recognizing that the population in this remote forested area of the Sittilingi Valley was mostly tribal and had little to no access to health care, Dr. Regi and his wife Dr. Lalitha decided to devote their time to building a small community hospital. They trained the tribals as nurses and other staff and their modest initiative has today grown to cater to a population of 80,000 people, visibly changing the health profile of the area. And as if that wasn’t enough, the two doctors didn’t stop there and have also initiated community health programs in 33 neighboring villages and continue to support various farming and craft initiatives aimed at improving the livelihoods of the tribals.
Charlie and I met Dr. Lalitha in Bangalore, while she was visiting the city for work. Intrigued by her drive and curious to see THI first-hand, we set off on a 2-day field visit to Sittilingi Valley. Charlie was looking to learn more and possibly partner with the branches of Tribal Health Initiative that supported organic cotton farming and tribal crafts; I was looking for more partner organizations that needed foreign interns and volunteers. Aside from these work motivations though, I think we were also just drawn in by Dr. Lalitha’s warmth and sincere spirit.
The journey to THI was long and exhausting, but it was worth every second of brutal sun and parched air that we subjected ourselves to. As we drove into the THI compound, we couldn’t help but feel an immediate sense of peace and serenity. The hospital itself was made up of a few quaint little buildings surrounded by trees and plants. Gardens adorned all the walkways and the compound opened out into surrounding fields. The architecture was simple but beautiful and it felt like a welcome escape from bustling Bangalore.
We stayed in dorms with other medical interns and ate meals freshly prepared with organic, home-grown vegetables and spices. Those living there seemed to lead such simple yet holistic lives. Everyone had a great deal of respect for Dr. Regi and Dr. Lalitha, and it was easy to see why. Talking to the couple, taking a tour of the hospital and surrounding area, we could truly feel the impact of their efforts.
THI was the first NGO I went to visit on field in India and I left feeling positive and inspired. I know that in this country, there are so many similar NGOs operating out of rural areas, and I really do hope I’ll get the chance to visit more. It’s always nice to see the good that people are doing out there on a grassroots level…When the daily news is filled with tales of corruption and human rights violations, it’s these experiences that seem to restore my faith in humanity.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take many pictures of the doctors or the hospital itself, but here are some images from my visit to THI…