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GOING EAST

  • Written by Maria (Marysia) Strzemieczna
  • Published in Travel
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My name is Marysia and I was born and raised up in Warsaw - the capital city of Poland, the country in eastern part of Europe. I graduated in nursing and sociology and used to work in one big hospital in Poland in the neurosurgical ward. When I came to India for the first time in 2012 to work as a volunteer nurse and see the world outside of Europe, I thought it would be once-in-a-lifetime experience and an interesting break in my career. I expected that I would come back shortly to Poland and my life would not change much; maybe I will only have more interesting stories to tell my future children. And probably it would be so, if I had not gone to Arunachal Pradesh.

I barely had idea about Arunachal before I came to help in Primary Health Center of Choepheling Tibetan Refugee Camp situated at Miao. I stayed in the Tibetan community for three months sharing everyday problems with the people who lived there: working as a nurse and teacher, participating in prayers and celebrations. I was fascinated by the life of local tribal people who live in Miao and nearby villages. I was amazed at scenic beauty of the surrounding nature –the clean water in the river, endless jungle and the smell of the fields. The varieties of tribes, cultures, different life styles and stories, aroused in me willingness to know about this society and people who live there. It felt proud to get opportunity to be a witness of this fascinating world. I felt my whole life time wouldn't be enough to understand it, especially with the cultural and language barrier that I was constrained with. Same time I felt something like how people treat each other and how they like to spend their time - are very similar between Arunachal and my country. Though, I really love my life, family and friends in Poland very much, I couldn't stop thinking about going back to Arunachal.

Few times it happened that some people asked me, "Hey, what is this about? Do you have some boyfriend there in Arunachal, or what?" Yeah, that would make it much easier to explain why I keep coming to Miao.The truth is that I myself don't know the exact reason, but I started to plan my life in a way that let me keep coming back. Maybe it is true that the reason of that is affection; some kind of feeling for this land and people.

As a nurse and social worker, I want to work for health and development of the communities. My stay in Arunachal made me aware of many problems that people of this area have to deal with; such as difficulties in road communication, long distance to the medical facilities and lack of medical professionals. Being a foreigner and new in community, it's difficult to design good program for help, but I believe, sharing knowledge and experience is the best way to develop and change. I tried different activities to find out which of them would be most beneficial for society. I finished Community Based Health and Development Course in CRHP Jamkhed (Maharashtra). I started also to cooperate with Seva Kendra Arunachal East - the NGO working in eastern part of state. People from Seva Kendra helped me with their experience and knowledge about local communities.

One of the problems that I tried to work on during my last visit in Arunachal (2014) was promotion of basic activities which we can do for our health like washing hand with soap. Washing hand may sound boring, like one of most common and less spectacular thing, but for me it is fascinating subject. Every year 3.5 million children under 5 years old age dies from acute respiratory infections and diarrhea. According to UNICEf 1.2 million of them could be saved by handwashing with soap alone. In my country too, lack of proper hand washing is one of the causes of deaths - many patients suffer from hospital-acquired infection due to germs transmitted by nurses’ and doctors’ hands.

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Of course there is soap, water and disinfectant in the hospitals. But how do we persuade for hand washing those who do not have access to these facilities? I started to search for some ideas that could be helpful for promoting hygiene and found the website (www.tippytap.org) where it was described about the tippy taps. I thought that is something worth trying in Arunachal.

Tippy taps are very simple facilities, made from bamboo, string and water container. It is indeed a very simple construction that could be made very quickly even by children. It makes washing hands much easier than by using a bucket or a mug. It is hygienic because the persons using tippy tap use their feet, not hands to pump the water. It also saves the water as only 50 ml is enough to make hands clean. That means that 5 liters of water would be enough for 100 people to wash their hands! The cost of one tippy tap is around 50 INR (30 INR containers, 10 INR soap and 10 INR string).

I really believe that this kind of solution can be really helpful in Arunachal where most of schools have no possibility of washing hands, even before eating. Schools are the perfect place for spreading infections among children, who later at home can transmit dangerous germs to their younger siblings. But fortunately schools are also perfect place for spreading knowledge and skills, which students can also bring to their homes.

In 2014, I visited 12 schools in Arunachal with this program where I tried to teach how to build and use tippy taps. Usually my program was quite welcomed - at least teachers and students pretended to like this idea. But I'm also aware that there is a possibility of not maintaining tippy taps everywhere. I noticed that engaging teachers was crucial for program success because in the end it's them who stay in schools and have real influence for everyday behavior of students. I was truly happy to see that teachers in some schools were really interested and got involved in the tippy taps project. This makes me feel that their involvement will play a great role to maintain tippy taps in the schools at least for some time.

This year, I would like to come back for few months to continue my projects. If I get the Visa and the necessary permits, I plan to spend some weeks in the autumn and early winter in Arunachal and be back home for Christmas. I am aware, I cannot stop on one idea of tippy taps, hence the search is on for other ways to improve my projects and that is currently been done by observing and listening to the people. And this gets me a chance to know and understand the fascinating Arunachal better.

( The Writer is a nurse and social worker from Poland)

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