Immersion Stories: Radha Pala
As a student of nursing awaiting graduation, I undertook the Drishtee immersion program. It gave a unique opportunity to apply skills taught during my degree in a community-based setting, with the added benefit of connecting more with my parent’s homeland, India.
During three weeks living in a Rajasthani village, I explored many aspect of the community, with much inter-relating with the village’s health and wellbeing. We spent time with the local anganwadi, a type of pre-school operating all over rural India. This is where I was fortunate to meet Usha ji, an amazing, inspiring woman passionate about education, early childhood health hygiene and positive community development in general. We quickly bonded and during the program I was able to spend a few days with her, gaining experience of the angawadi system and deeper insight into Usha ji’s daily routine, challenges faced and her perspective as a woman living and working in the village.
We developed a shared understanding, with my side reflected by the empathy perspective below. On my final day in the village I visited Usha ji specifically to share this understanding. I felt incredibly nervous in anticipation of this moment. What if I had misunderstood? What if it was all based on biased observations, filled with stereotypes and judgements? Despite this apprehension, I knew I’d followed a true path towards developing this empathy perspective and I knew deep down it was crucial to share back my learning. This experience of sharing with Usha ji was special, the most touching moment between the two of us. In our final moments together, away from all the stresses of her daily life, while I was leaving this small town that I called home for the last three weeks, she turned to me a said in Hindi, “Radha, always continue your learning, never give up”. To this day, I will never forget this moment and has given me the hope to continue and mature as a Nurse.
The following is my understanding of Usha ji’s perspective. While it seems filled with frustration, perhaps coming from her drive and passion for positive change, it reflects her professional frustrations but not for life in general. From our time together I can attest that one of the most inspiring aspects was her positive demeanour and forward-looking approach to life. She seems to find amazing strength in her passion, something everyone can aspire to!
Usha ji’s perspective of motivation and daily struggle for positive change in her community
A mental list of the things I had to do today consumed my mind as the sun peered through the grey misty clouds, the bright lights ensured that it was time to rise and begin the day that was. I propped myself out of bed weary of my current health situation, yet ready for another day.
As I walked down the cement stairs, the coolness of the cement sent shivers down my legs making apparent the pain in my heal. I walked towards the kitchen where the pots and pans lay from the previous night, bearing the suns beams. I began preparing the days meals, beginning with breakfast in time for my girls before they continue with their studies.
I hear the footsteps of my daughters as they make their way down the stairs, along with my husband and my mother-in law following behind. Once my duties were done in the kitchen I made my way upstairs, cleaning every nook and cranny as I go. It’s all part of my daily household routine.
It was finally time to get myself ready, I wore a favourite if slightly jaded saree for the day, combed my hair and set out for the preschool. I walked a few kilometres, slowed by my injured foot, until a lone rider driving past seeing my limp offered me a ride to the preschool.
As I entered the gates, peered around the bend to see a mere 5 children walking towards the preschool and Rukhmani ji walking close behind. A sense of disappointment filled my soul, given only a fraction of the 43 registered students came today, an indication that the day would be long and less focused than I had hoped.
Coming from a neighbouring village, transferring here a few years ago to be closer to my maternal household, I reminisce the laughter and joy that filled the playground from my past. The enthusiasm of the children brought me so much joy and empowered me to keep teaching even after marriage.
I continued on with my day only to find 2 of the students leaving the premises of the preschool, I curiously watched them as the prodded along towards their home. After the school hours had finished, I made my way to that very same home, hoping to find their parents. I walked towards an elderly lady, the children’s grandmother politely asking why her kids don’t ever participate in school, only to be frowned upon and scolded on for approaching her, her words became distant vocals of “ they are not my responsibility’. These kids need an education, I say under my breath.
A deep frustration fills all of me, no matter how many times I speak about the importance of an education and the value of hygiene… nothing seems to change. All I want is for these children to live up to their potential. There needs to be a higher power, I say to myself considering no one around would listen. I walk away noticing the vast amount of children running around and their parents no where in sight.
If only they understood the effect of family planning, I notice a difference within these societies, many of the more educated families tend to have fewer children, whereas less educated people have more children. If only they understood, I say to myself.
Making my way home, I come across farmers heading home from the fields, mothers making their way home after a visit to the store, almost everyone takes the opportunity to fill me with their gripes about unrelated issues. Too many issues, most I cannot control. Yet, ensuring education of our youngest members of society too often goes in one ear and out the other.
As I reach home I continue my household chores, make the evening meal and, most importantly, ensure my girls are studying. Seeing their development renews me with new energy to share this wisdom, as to the power of girl’s education, with my community. With the remains of my energy I return to my paperwork for the day before heading to bed. Feeling deeply satisfied with my service to the community and hopeful for tomorrow.