I blog for Change…

As I attempt to orient the windy and often treacherous roads that encapsulate life, here are some of my thoughts on the successes, failures and ultimately the hope and positivity in which I strive for a better world. I also hope that I can use this blog as a platform to elevate the social justice issues that are somewhat forgotten in the modern discourse of staying silent on issues that challenge.


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Focus on that which Unites Us.

I wanted to take the time out today to write about something that seems to be lacking in the modern day discourse which has brought hateful and xenophobic administrations to power worldwide. Fearfully instead of moving forward in the direction of an inclusive and equal world we seem to have taken some missteps and found ourselves on the opposite side of this. On the paradox we have unwittingly contributed to the creation of societies built on fear, discrimination and hate speech where the protection of the majority outweighs the oppression of minorities.

It is synonymous for humankind to fear the unknown. However it’s at the point when this fear spills over into hatred that we must take a step back and challenge our own beliefs. Surely, the antidote for addressing the unknown is knowledge, it’s equipping ourselves with the understanding of what we once we feared. On most occasions once this occurs we tend to not be so fearful anymore as ignorance dissipates and we open our hearts and minds up to the things that bring us together instead of those that tear us apart.

In saying this it seems to be evident that at the heart of all of this is an issue with our collective ethics. Fear mongering has all too often been the weapon wielded by harmful political figures to divide us in order to reap their own and party benefits in relation to power. Our existence is portrayed as being tied to a zero sum game in which there isn’t room for anything outside of homogeny. They have tried to mould us into beings without empathy, tolerance and kindness by attempting to pit us against each other.

The world that we live in today is nowhere near that ideal of free, just and inclusive. However, I urge you to remember that we are not helpless in this sense. We have the ability to wake up every day and challenge this rhetoric of prejudice, bigotry and intolerance. The key to this is to be found in matching out thoughts, speech and actions to our humanity. To remembering that the things that unite us outweigh those that are portrayed to divide us. That although we may be of different nationalities, gender, physical abilities, religions and ethnicities at the core we are all human beings. We all have something unique and wonderful to offer this world individually and collectively and these are to be treasured, as opposed to being feared, repressed and shamed.

Sx


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Life of a Development Worker – Accessible Healthcare in Kollapur

IMG_3791In early March I visited the city of Hyderabad, thereby marking my first time to the newly formed state of Telangana which had been recently carved out of its now neighbouring region of Andhra Pradesh. The visit was targeted at monitoring a project in which the Partner, LV Prasad (LVP) is a leading institute in the provision of quality and affordable eye health services. It may seem a secondary developmental issue upon first glance however the rate of cataracts, low vision and visual impairments in rural India remains strikingly high. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the leading causes of visual impairments globally are uncorrected refractive errors, unoperated cataracts and glaucoma. All 3 of these factors being preventable conditions and therefore in which the drive towards eliminating avoidable blindness is centred upon.

While speaking with the hospital staff at LVP I began to understand that the main reasons why these impairments are worsened in patients over time is their refusal to be screened and treated. It sounded like an unfathomable equation to me, I mean if as an individual your journey towards blindness could be prevented why wouldn’t you present for treatment? The answers to this are as complicated as they are deeply entrenched by which gendered dynamics, socio-economic restraints and tribal beliefs present as impediments towards good health and well-being.

I was further surprised to hear that these situations were not simply isolated to more rural and remote contexts but were also to be found in patients from middle income urban dwelling families. The case of a young woman in her 20’s was identified whereby she was diagnosed with low vision and was prescribed with glasses. It came to light that years later her vision had decreased and when questioned as to why this was the case her parents had explained that they had rejected the practice of this young woman wearing her glasses as they felt it would limit her marriage options. Thereby meaning that due to socially constructed ideas of stigma associated with compromising of ‘female beauty’, this woman’s health was being drastically compromised.

The situation seemed to intensify as we travelled out into more rural locations in Telangana where the intersectionality between gender, disability and ethnicity, in this case tribal beliefs make the pursuit of quality healthcare for women even more of a difficult endeavour.

The Kollapur Vision Centre is located around 3 hours south of Hyderabad towards the Karnataka border. Within this region the presence of tribal populations is quite high and therefore the fear of any kind of surgery usually inhibits people from the promotion of their well-being. When speaking with those who were waiting to be screened the barriers towards uptake of quality services began to come to light. The villagers present spoke of the logistical challenges associated with travelling to the centre and the time spent away from their vocations. This is even more pronounced when you begin to understand that most are day labourers and therefore will need to forfeit a day’s pay in order to access services. For women, there are questions around who will take care of their children whilst they are away. Most also explained that what little free funds they have outside fulfilling their basic needs are usually allocated to the promotion of their husbands health care and well being.

For LVP’s part they have worked extremely hard to mitigate against these barriers of access. Appointing locally sourced vision guardians has meant that fears have been quelled by trusted members of communities. The fact that most of these guardians are women has also addressed the gendered barriers of the uptake of services focusing on awareness raising for families so they understand that healthcare is a basic human right for all. The provision of transport to and from vision centres has also assisted with reducing the burden of cost for patients. In addition to this, LVP have a tiered system for payment whereby those who are able to contribute, provide what they can however around 70% of patients in rural locations are provided with free services and surgeries.

With all this in mind the difficulties around the prevention of avoidable impairments in this context remain. However, as the project takes hold and awareness is raised, the health seeking behaviour of communities is bound to change for the better.

Sx


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Life of a Development Worker – The Fight for Education in Bolchugre

IMG_3687From the moment I started planning for my 1st monitoring visit to the North East of India, I knew it would be something very special and entirely unique. This region of the country spans across a mountainous and remote terrain which is linked to the Indian mainland only through a 14km strip of territory belonging to West Bengal. Prior to embarking on my journey I was reminded about the varied circumstance of those residing in this area with differences ranging across linguistics, religion, ethnicity and traditional beliefs. You can therefore imagine the curiosity and fervour in which I embarked on this trip which was heightened as soon as I landed in Guwahati, the capital of Assam.

After disembarking at the airport I started a 5 hour car journey which took me across the Assamese border into the neighbouring state of Meghalaya. As I gazed out the window I was taken aback by a horizon dotted with hills and mountains towering down in all of their glory on the neighbouring communities. I watched as uniformed children wound down the mountains via treacherous steps and paths to gain access to transportation taking them to nearby schools. Even within the relatively urban context of this area I became acutely aware of the difficulties these children face in simply accessing their educational institutes. If this was the case on the outskirts of the city, I wondered what the situation would be of children in more remote areas attempting to practice their universal right of accessing an education. My question would be answered in the coming days.

On the 3rd day of our visit, I was taken to an extremely remote location which winded steeply uphill and crossed rivers and streams. The journey would take us to a local school established by the Montfort Brothers as an outreach educational post to neighbouring local communities. It was explained to me that this was the only functioning school in this region in which teachers sourced from the neighbouring city, 45 mins away, travelled in and out every day in order to keep the school functioning. The teachers then explained to me that during the rainy season the stream they have to cross in order to gain access to the school burgeons to the point of inaccessibility. Therefore to get to their students, they need to form human chains and wade through waist high water. The treachery of this pursuit did not escape me even in spite of the ease in which these young women recounted their story.

The school itself, located in Bolchugre operates on a hot and dusty strip of land without electricity, running water or any toilet facilities. Upon speaking to the students there I learnt the only form of access they have to the school is by foot and the majority of them spend about 4-5 hours walking one way to simply get to the school. What surprised me the most after hearing this is that in spite of the difficult conditions these children face in their pursuit of accessing an education, attendance remains high each and every day. As if their will to learn pushes them through the tiring and oppressive conditions of steep ascents uphill and across dangerous terrain.

For me as a development worker, I come across these stories on each visit I make. However, the sheer determination of these pursuits is never lost on me. Every time I hear one of these harrowing accounts I think back to my own life and those of my friends and family around me who are lucky enough to live in a Global North country in which an education is a given. I think about just how much we take the access to this for granted and how burdensome we attribute this pursuit to at times. Juxtapositioned against the will, determination and drive these children have, it seems utterly absurd that we take our rights and ease of access for granted.

As I watched the children leave school for the day I was reminded about how strong the human spirit is and how valuable an opportunity to an education represents in any context it finds itself in.

Sx

 


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A Dedication.. on this momentous of days.

I devised a piece last year exactly on this day in which I wrote of the ongoing fight for equality within this rigid gender discriminating, warped version of reality that we live in. I spoke of the ever apparent limitations that are externally exerted onto women’s lives and the abhorrence of gaps in pay and lack of decision making capacity and agency that continue to plague us as womankind. The sad thing is that 1 year later, all the above remains the same and the struggle goes on. However, this year on this ever so important Internal Women’s Day I choose to focus on something else, today I pay homage to hope.

It’s been a difficult few months to the say least. The incoming American administration’s clamp down on basic human rights and more specifically women’s rights has been as painful as it has been debilitating to watch. Additions to this circumstance include the Russian judiciary decision to decriminalise domestic violence, plus countless incidents of violence and intimidation of women reported around the world. It would have been easy to simply lay down and give up the fight, to conform to misguided ideals which limit the freedom and expression of women the world over. But instead the opposite has come to fruition.

As we mark this day we pay homage to the countless women’s rights marches that are about to occur. We remember all the warriors who have come before us and paved the path for the struggle towards equality that we continue to this day. We recall the women who are trapped in cycles of poverty, homes affected by gender based violence and those who are excluded from attending school based simply on their gender. We keep these women in our hearts and fight alongside them by using the agency, voice and influence we are gifted with as educated women in ‘developed’ countries. We never forget the intersectionality that exists within the struggle by acknowledging that the battles faced by women with disabilities and those from ethnic minorities is different than others and tends to compound their oppression.

However, we retain all of this in our hearts and minds by falling back on the hope for the change and the ongoing fight that is all of our responsibility. Until the day that gender equality is achieved, violence against women is abolished and freedom attributed to everyone not based on gendered lines comes about we continue our march. Onwards towards justice and equality.

Sx