Feb 15, 2007
MISTI-India: Community Health Internship
Posted in: Academics & Research
[by Gilad Evrony '07]
I think it was around junior year that it occurred to me that although MIT is one of the best places in the world to learn how to solve problems, many of the world's most pressing problems were not at MIT. I backpacked through north India with a friend of mine in the summer before my junior year, and I was deeply affected when I saw how easily preventable diseases placed a tragic burden on society, particularly children. It put into perspective the cutting-edge research practiced at MIT. I struggled to understand what was the point of all the research at MIT, some of which I was involved with, if successful research from 50 years ago had still not reached most of the world's population. I realized that I had to venture far into the world, into developing countries, to seek an answer, and more importantly to do something about it.
I spoke with another close friend of mine about what I encountered after my first trip in India and he handed me Jeffrey Sachs' book The End of Poverty. (I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in development economics and global health.) Around that time I heard about the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI)-India program - a chance to go back to India! I met with Deepti Nijhawan and Professor Tuli Banerjee who run the MISTI-India program and told them that I was looking for an internship working in community health, something that the MISTI-India program did not usually offer. They were very helpful and found an opportunity to work with the Kushal Foundation, a non-profit organization providing free primary health care for children and prenatal women living in the slums of Bangalore and surrounding villages. I was hosted by Shama Karkal, Kushal's program director in Bangalore, and I was treated like a true member of the family. Being hosted by Shama and her wonderful family was one of the main reasons why my trip to India was so enjoyable as well as an incredible learning experience. I always had someone to ask about things I was curious about and didn't understand. I was immersed in Indian culture and traveled almost every other weekend in the regions surrounding Bangalore.
At Kushal I was involved in several projects, through which I experienced personal growth and learned from individuals from diverse cultures a greater sensitivity to the different ways people view health and medicine. I programmed in MS-Access a patient information system which integrates all of Kushal's socio-economic data (from thousands of family surveys) with medical records. It allows Kushal to assess the efficacy of its health interventions, to create reports on disease incidence and many other health indicators, and to generate notices for overdue immunizations and health checkups for malnourished children. The goal was to help Kushal achieve its mission of tracking the overall health of children with preventive as well as curative services. I also helped start an HIV-AIDS community awareness program in the Neelasandra slums. We met with several other NGO's working on HIV-AIDS prevention in Bangalore and I helped train Kushal's health workers. One memorable experience was patching the flimsy Internet connection that we had in the slum to watch a video of Bill Gates and Bill Clinton's speeches at the International AIDS conference that was taking place that week. I tried to impart to Kushal's health workers, members of the communities served by our health centers, that their work was part of a global effort to save millions of lives. We also started an HIV-AIDS community survey to assess the level of knowledge and awareness about the issue among people in the community. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I contacted international aid organizations, applied for grants, and networked with other local charitable hospitals to help fund Kushal's projects.
It was wonderful to experience globalization in full-force in Bangalore, from 'dosas' (a local food) wrapped in a newspaper advertising jobs in Google, to the Kushal Foundation itself that was founded by pioneers of Bangalore's IT industry. Bangalore was a great place to learn about the potential for economic development to trickle down to benefit lower classes, although at times the tremendous disparities were overwhelming. It was difficult seeing such a vast divide between people with means and people without in such close proximity in Bangalore. I understood this disparity better by continually questioning and learning the history, conditions, and circumstances that underlie the situation, assessing and developing potential ways of addressing them in regards to primary health care for children, and finally, working hard to improve and extend the services provided by Kushal to the poor. I became close friends with everyone at Kushal, who all shared these same motivations. This experience was a tremendously satisfying and meaningful experience - a chance to do good.
If you have any questions don't hesitate to post them in the comments! I'll be happy to talk more about my experience and international opportunities at MIT. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what MIT has to offer for international experiences and public service.
[L.R. Nagar - One of the areas Kushal serves]
[Opening day - Kushal healthcare center for children at Nellurpuram]