Fulbright Scholar Bryant Shannon is currently working with FIMRC’s Project Kodaikanal in India. He took a few moments to fill us in on the current efforts to combat malnutrition in the crèches here. In addition, Bryant has also shared bits and pieces of his own impressions and experiences in Kodaikanal. We’re happy to share this with you today.
Project Kodaikanal, FIMRC’s newest site, continues to plow forward, expanding services to the community with many great ideas in the works. Since landing in India nearly three months ago, I have met fantastic people in the field and have been privileged to learn about the local culture and customs. Kodaikanal has that welcoming, small town feel, where it is common to bump into friends at the pastry shop and where everyone quickly knows your name. When working with people and following through on assignments, the common response is ‘tomorrow, tomorrow.’ Already in my time here, I have learned to adjust my expectations and have grown accustomed to the slower pace of life.
FIMRC sponsors the medical care and nutrition of four crèches in India. A crèche is similar to a preschool, but for extremely needy families. FIMRC supports many of the meals that the children (ages 2-6) receive, ensuring that they are getting the necessary vitamins and minerals for proper growth and development. One of the crèches is on the Indian coast, a vastly different setting from the hilltop town of Kodaikanal. This crèche is located in a community called Porayar, which is much warmer and far more humid than Kodaikanal. To add, the common medical ailments in Porayar vary significantly from those of Kodaikanal. I have had a chance to travel to Porayar since I came to India, and had a really great visit with the staff onsite. Like the staff in Kodaikanal, the staff in Porayar is very enthusiastic about FIMRC’s presence here and is happy to welcome future FIMRC volunteers and medical students choosing to rotate at FIMRC sites.
It is imperative that we evaluate all of our public health initiatives to make sure that they are effective in achieving our goals. With this in mind, Project Kodaikanal’s Field Operations Manager (FOM) and I have embarked upon the task of tracking the physical growth of the children to verify that the rate is comparable to their Indian peers. Each month, all of the children in our program have their height, weight, and arm circumference measured. We also are looking at the data from children that have been in the crèches since our conception in 2009 to see if Project Kodaikanal’s health initiatives have been working.
Another public health outreach project includes finishing up our Home Visits Survey. Crèche parents are randomly visited by the FOM, who completes a survey on each family’s living conditions. This information will hopefully allow FIMRC staff to be able to better serve the community, allowing for customizable programs. Additionally, we have been having monthly health education sessions. Last month’s topic was on prenatal care for mothers; crèche parents came, listened, and answered questions after the presentation to win chocolates.
I have had the privilege of witnessing a wonderful development within Project Kodaikanal while here: the addition of local physician Arun. Dr. Arun has volunteered his services to provide weekly checkups to the children of the crèches. He has already proven to be a valuable new partner and is happy to work with volunteers, allowing them to shadow him as he sees patients. It should be noted here as well that when children within our program are really ill, we send them to the local hospital, Kodaikanal Health and Medical Services (KHMS), for immediate medical attention.
Project Kodaikanal (including staff in both Kodaikanal and Porayar) is currently gearing up for the arrival of US medical students, who will rotate through the local hospitals in a few months. This will be a great opportunity to exchange knowledge about healthcare between Indian providers and US providers.
Bryant, FIMRC could not be happier to have someone like you working so closely with one of our projects. We thank you for devoting your time and efforts to Project Kodaikanal!