Thursday, July 28, 2011

HIV Research

Right, so I've realized that I haven't given much of an update on my research project since I've been here: So far it has been a really good experience.
For those of you who don't know I am researching how HIV effects women and their children in the villages around Coimbatore. I am interviewing several women to see what challenges they have in their lives and how their lives have changed since they have found out they were HIV positive. I initially just wanted to study how it effected the individual "woman" but I quickly learned that HIV is a disease that doesn't just effect one person, it effects the entire family. Coming into this I knew in general that their lives would probably be made more difficult, but I wasn't aware of how much.
For example, many of the women are widows or their husbands also have the disease and are unable to work. As a result she is the main provider for her family. So the monthly income is generally around 2000 rupees a month, which equates to more or less $40. Just to give you an idea of how much that is worth here, their monthly rent, is also about 1000 rupees a month. So in order to pay everything they get extra money by sending their kids to work or doing extra jobs on the side, or if they've told their family and their family is supportive sometimes they can get support from them. As I've spoken with the women they've said that one of the most challenging things is that in order to maintain a reasonable health they need to be on ART medication. But this requires strict adherence to a schedule of taking it twice daily with a healthy meal before each dosage. These women do not have the money to eat a healthy meal before each dosage, which can give them side affects and make them sick. So really, they need the ART in order to be able to work and provide for their family, because they are the only ones that are able to do so. But they are not able to meet some of the necessary requirements to take ART effectively. So this can cause the women to get sick, which will cause them to miss work and make even less money. It is a very viscous cycle.
Have you ever been sick and not have energy to work? This past week I haven't been feeling very well and I was reminded of how hard it is to work when I don't have proper health. I couldn't imagine feeling like that regularly. And generally when you have HIV, you more easily get infections, illness, etc.etc. etc. depending on the state of your immune system.
So something that I think would be good for those who are HIV positive would be some sort of educational course, that would allow them to learn how to eat healthy while on a low budget. Of course assistance with buying food would be a great help too, but the problem with outside funds is that the only last for so long,whereas if they know what kind of food will give them more energy and nutrients they can help themselves for longer on a lower budget.
Anyway, this is just one aspect that I've been finding so far in my research. I'll try to write more at a later time.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Shanti Ashram

Ok, so during my time in India I have been volunteering with an NGO called Shanti Ashram. It's pretty much the coolest place EVER. The Ashram was started about 25 years ago as a grassroots organization that has many different community interventions like teaching women how to sew so they can get better jobs, HIV care and support for those who are infected or affected by HIV, anemia screening, inter-religious teachings and peace, etc. etc. It's founded on Gandhi's principle of Sarvodaya, which means the progress of all. Basically it's a movement that Gandhi started to try to better society as a whole by having members of society help others so that they all can progress and live in peace. The programs are really interesting and I've really enjoyed helping out and trying to make a difference. Every day is something new and I generally usually learn something new about Gandhi and his teachings of peace. I'll have to write about that in another blog. Its something that we never really learn in the US but is considered very important in this part of India.

We get to go to a lot of small villages for the programs, which is always an adventure. As soon as I step out of the car all the kids instantly look at me. I pretty much stick out like a sore thumb around here. I find that I get a variety of reactions: some start yelling the few English words they know "What is your name?" and "Hi, how are you?", some just stare me down--they are not ashamed of looking at you for a looong time--and others cry. The last one has happened a surprising amount.

Hahaha...there is this cute little boy that lives in the house next to us and he gets soooo scared whenever he comes within 5 feet of us. He will smile and be shy in the arms of his family members, but the moment they try to bring him closer to us he screams, so basically I scare the children. I've been here for about a month now and he is just getting used to us. The other day he even shook my hand for about point 2 seconds before bolting in the opposite direction which was a huge sucess! I honestly think that the kids here are probably the cutest I've ever seen. They have big brown eyes and the school girls where their hair inbraids with red ribbon and flowers, and the boys wear shorts and a red tie. Every day the mother of the house where we are staying, Jeeva, holds an after school program at her school. Just imagine 30ish kids on your front porch every day, never a dull moment. So every night I sit out there and try to do homework or help the kids with their English homework. The other day they wanted us to play games with them so I taught them "Thumb War"....big mistake. I've seriously played that game like 100 times within the last week. I always win, but the kids are getting better. I knew it was a hit when I was standing at a bus stand and a kid i'd never met before came up to me and said, "Auntie...war". So if anyone wants to challenge me when I get back, I'm ready. They in turn have taught me how to play their version of "down by the banks" (the hand game). Basically instead of having to take your hand out of the circle, when it lands on you you have to grab your neigbor's ear with that hand. I have no idea why but that's what they do. It actually makes for a more exiting game. Anyway, those are some of my adventures as of lately. Until next time!

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Hey Everyone,

So, I tried to get some good pictures of the buses here. This is the best that I got. If you look closely you can see how full it is. Stay tuned until next time!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Oh the Joys of Traveling

Ok, so part of my goal is to give you all a glimpse into Indian culture and my time here. If you want more than a glimpse you will have to come here and enjoy India in all it's glory! I'm gonna start off with the local transportation. With a population of 1,155,347,700-ish people with more than 60% living in rural areas, transportation is a big issue..and apparently has improved immensely over the years.
So everyday I have to take the local transportation to and from Shanti Ashram and it is an adventure every time! To be honest I'm not a huge fan, but I'm getting used to it, on a good day it takes about 50 minutes, on a bad day 2 hours. Basically we fit as many people as humanly possible onto a bus. It's actually quite amusing that at the front of the bus it says that the max capacity is 88...we get at least double that on a daily basis. Just when you think that there is not any room left the bus stops to pick up 10 more women. The women are in the front and the men are in the back, and they get on the bus through different entries. To be honest i think the women are much more ruthless than the men, especially the school girls and the old ladies. You would think that these sweet little old ladies were fragile...wrong! They throw elbows like nobody's business. Also, people generally don't form lines/obey the "American rules" of waiting in line. I'm trying to understand the cultural aspect of this...but I haven't come up with anything yet. Until then my blocking out skills from basketball are very useful.
That being said, people are VERY honest and willing to help. For example, it's proper bus manners to hold somebody else's bag if they are standing and you are sitting. People also take other people's money to hand to the bus assistant and give them back their change. I've even had people open my bag, pull out my money and then put it back for me when I was standing couldn't reach it. This is a very positive part of Indian culture that you don't see very often today especially in the US. Also, it is expected that EVERYONE pays when they get on the bus. Everyone wants to pay the assistant and will be sure to do it before getting off the bus. If it weren't for this aspect of honesty I don't think that bus assistant would ever be able to charge everyone because there are so many people on the bus. I don't think I've ever really been worried about someone stealing from me. I'm always careful of course, because there are different types of people in every culture. But i have been cheerfully surprised by how honest people seem to be here.
I try to blend in but unfortunately I stick out like a sore thumb. Whenever I go places I become very aware at the fact that people are staring at me.Hahaha.....there is a cute little boy in the neighborhood where we live and he is completely afraid of us. His older sisters try to hold him and bring him to touch us but he absolutely will not do it. He will stare wide-eyed until he gets about 2 feet away from us and then he starts crying. I guess we look VERY different even in Salwars.
Anyway, these are some of my experiences. Until next time!