So! Here I am, back in Ranchi about 9 days later. The land down the rabbit hole is not as frightening as I worried it might be. …Except for the snakes. But they are easy to avoid.
I spent the past week and a half getting to know the lovely staff at Jagriti Vihara (JV), the organization that is hosting me and that I am helping gather some data/ideas in advance of their opening a hospital there.
I am living in a small hostel room on JV’s very nice campus about 5 km from the village of McCluskieganj, which is also called Lapra.
It has its own kitchen and many nice buildings that have been used as schools and training centers in the past. It also now has, of course, a lovely small hospital, which was the product of years of fundraising and two years of construction.
It is quiet and peaceful. The air smells very clean and fresh after weeks spent in Indian cities, where the air is polluted and heavy with the stink of garbage, meat, sweat, exhaust. The campus is filled with many species of trees and birds, which my new friends will point to as we stroll about and try to teach me their names. Kaminee is a bush that grows by the kitchen and bursts with sweet-smelling white flowers in the evening; I saw hummingbirds thrumming across the flowers a few days ago. Ashoka trees have long, thin leaves, like stretched-tall willows. Sal trees are some of the tallest, and are the most sacred trees to the Adivasi, or tribal, people who dominate this area. And another tree whose name I can never remember drops countless orange red blossoms on the main path.
The heart of campus, along the main path leading to the old school, is occupied by a large mango orchard. Daduji (what everyone calls JV’s founder, though it’s not his full name but more a term of respect/endearment. He’s a wonderful 83-year-old man who has lived in Norway and Sweden and is constantly making corny jokes or telling me long stories and cautionary tales in between discussing the hospital) says villagers have come in the past and stolen the mangoes, so now a family from the nearby village of Jobhia stays in the orchard and guards the mangoes night and day.
JV is well-known by the villagers. Daduji bought the piece of land in 1975 and has been working on “rural development and awakening” (JV’s words) in this cluster of villages in the state of Jharkhand since then. Jharkhand used to be part of the state of Bihar; the two are the probably the poorest of India’s states. They are both rich with mineral resources, but due to mismanagement, political ineptitude, and years of lawlessness (the law and order situation has improved a lot, but 10 years ago big businessmen wouldn’t come here because they feared being kidnapped by the Maoists), the states have failed to develop and wealth has not trickled down to the vast majority of villagers.
So JV has built schools for villagers, run training programs to teach women weaving and helped them sell their fabrics, and they’ve even run programs about the importance of protecting the environment. And in the past, they’ve run health camps in the villages to give out malaria medicines and other needed treatments.
Now they’ve built a physical hospital and I’m here to help them gather data and ideas on what the hospital needs, by talking to local people, and how to plan for the long term. Work is going slowly, but it’s coming along. I’ve spent a long time talking to Daduji and have gotten to speak with both villagers and healthcare providers.
But in the meantime, I’ve also been getting to know and love the JV campus and the very kind people who live and work there. Pictures!: