“God gives us humans everything we need to flourish, but God is not the one who’s supposed to divvy up the loot. That charge was laid upon us.” Paul Farmer
Walking around in India, I feel out of place. Not only am I white – the only other white person I’ve seen outside of advertisements has been Austin – but I am clearly well fed. This is apparent by both my width and height.
One of the first days at the hospital, Austin & I observed women receiving free pregnancy check-ups. So many women come for these checkups that hospital staff lay a blanket on the floor in the hallway for the women to sit on as they wait to be seen. Sitting on the floor rather than chairs is a fairly common occurrence in India where chairs, space to put them, and ways to transport them are scarce commodities.
Austin and I sat in chairs that lined the hallway that functioned as a waiting room and observed as the women came in and squeezed onto the rug. Once the staff was set up they invited us to come into the room where they would first weigh the women – this room is larger and less crowded than the examination room. As the women entered it was hard to believe that they were all pregnant. I can’t remember seeing a single woman who had a large belly like the one’s I’ve seen on pregnant women in America. Seeing the women’s actual weight made it even more clear how small (and underfed) these women were.
I’m used to measuring weight in pounds so seeing weights in kilograms (kgs) is already unsettling since it takes 2.2 kilograms to make 1 pound. Nevertheless, we only observed a range of weights from 30-50 kilograms or (66 to 110 pounds).
There’s an entire building of the Gram Seva Complex dedicated to Community Health and Outreach. In addition to going to check up on patients in their homes, organizing 160 microfinance groups, creating jobs through “handicrafts,” seeing patients in the office, helping feed and educate children in the community, members of this office also spend multiple days each week driving out to small satellite centers to give children checkups and provide them with vitamins and extra food if they’re malnourished.
After morning chanting and breathing exercises, two community health workers organize the supplies we’ll be taking: lots of iron supplements and a protein and vitamin enriched, high calorie flour. At 10:30 we climb into what looks like a small school bus painted white. Our drive along no fault (unlined) roads takes us to a one-roomed building filled with young children sitting on a rug on the floor. There is a similar building for every 1,000 villagers that the hospital cares for and each one has two of the villagers trained to help assist with the care Gram Seva provides (empowerment through employment). These two workers prepare a meal for the children before we arrive and help as we weigh the children in what looks like a swing attached to a scale to measure produce before they are seen by the physician Hiral Dave.
Hiral shows me the chart they use to see if the children are normal or malnourished level I, II or III. I had read in Gram Seva’s yearly report that when they started this program, malnourishment in the surrounding villages was 76% and that it has since decreased to 53%. Nevertheless, it was still difficult to see so much malnourishment in person. It was disheartening to see how thin many of the children’s and mothers’ arms are when I know that there’s food in America that’s being thrown away or eaten in excessive amounts.
Shopping for clothes
A young couple that live across the hall from us: Paresh a physician and Nirali who’s 5 months pregnant are the people we’ve explored the surrounding area the most with. They’ve taken us to a Buddhist temple at the top of a hill, to family’s houses or work offices, helped us get screen for our windows, kitchen supplies, and cell phones. On one of these outings to a nearby town we purchased Austin some short sleeve button up shirts to keep him cooler. The store we found was about 15 x 8 feet with a counter running the length of the store. There was no dressing room so Austin tried on different size shirts as we all stood in the small shop. It turns out that while in America Austin is definitely a “small” when it comes to shirt size, in India he’s a “large” or even “XL.” We both knew that I was definitely more well fed than most of the women we’d encountered, but we hadn’t really stopped and thought about the fact that Austin was indeed larger than most of the guys. The fact that he has large bicep muscles doesn’t just show that he has spent time working out, it also demonstrates that he has access to enough food to grow his muscles.
This also made us think about height. In America, I would be considered a tall girl, though there are definitely taller girls. However in India, we both tower over both women and men. Here, height seems as related to how much nourishment one received while growing up as genetics.