Jamkhed CRHP was founded in 1970 by Drs Raj and Mabelle Arole, and their daughter Shobha and her brother Ravi continue to work tirelessly as doctors, surgeons and directors of one of the most successful NGOs in the world. Mabelle and Raj both studied medicine in the United States, before returning to their home country to dedicate their lives to helping the "poorest of the poor."
"Ours is not an innovation in technology but rather, an innovation of the people within each community, to bring about social change and, thereby, uplift everyone from poverty and disease. This is especially true for a society such as India where caste and gender defines status and value. By educating the most stigmatized, we are able to see the power of the individual and give credit to her work and value despite her gender, caste, religion and illiteracy. She, in turn, is able to provide assistance to those of her caste and gender increasing their knowledge and access to vital and often life-saving healthcare information. Through health knowledge, the door is open to a broader array of social topics and taboos. By providing basic needs and health knowledge to communities they are able to witness the immediate impact of curative medicine but also preventive methods that are long-term and sustaining. Therefore, by starting from the bottom up, the CRHP approach reaches every member of the community creating a larger impact at the intersection of health, economics and human rights."
I was fortunate enough to travel as part of a training program organised through Melbourne University and the Nossal Institute. You can find more about the program here.
It was in Jamkhed that I had my first exposure to the value of Public Health and 10 years on, what I learnt in Jamkhed remains more pertinent and valuable to me than the doctorate and masters degrees.
CRHP taught me several key things about health, medicine and development:
- you cannot simply tell people to change, because they won't. You need to understand them, live amongst them, be accepted by them and work with them to enable them to change themselves
- empowering women is key to achieving health care and development goals. Women are instrumental in managing the health of families and communities, but they are also half the population - if you don't use them you are wasting half your resources.
- understand the community, the culture, the people. The caste system in rural India is still prominent, but there are other social barriers such as landowners and non-landowners, different religious groups and stimga toward people with chronic disease or disability. Finding ways to overcome these barriers, or break them down allows the communities to work together and be more empowered in change.
- the environment is a critical health determinant - meaning that without nutritious food, without water to drink, without housing and sanitation, people cannot be healthy. A farm growing the Drumstick tree was a special excursion for us, to demonstrate the importance of understanding the natural resources and also respecting the traditional knowledge of the people who have survived these harsh environments for thousands of years.
"The drumstick tree is a source of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, protein, iron and potassium. The tree is a good source for calcium and phosphorus. The Drumstick Tree is known to have the highest protein ratio of any plant. One tablespoon of leaf powder provides 14% of the protein, 40% of the calcium, 23% of the iron and most of the vitamin A as well as 8 amino acids per day for a young child. Six tablespoons of leaf powder will provide nearly all of a woman’s daily iron and calcium needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding."
In particular, one phrase resonated with me, and often comes to mind when I feel overwhelmed by the work I do - a community health worker explained that the success of CRHP has lain in the fact that they retain the focus to "light one candle at a time."
As of 2011, the CRHP has worked with 300 villages and over 500,000 people.