Sunday, August 09, 2009

mountains and spices

Greetings from India. As I write this I am preparing to leave the 40 degree heat of summer in Delhi for the relative cool of Kampala. It has been an amazing month and many thanks to all who have been supporting and working with me this visit.
First stop was the beautiful, remote and mountainous state of Mizoram.(Far North East of India between Bangladesh and Burma) Following ascoping visit a year ago I was back with a team of expert faculty (Dr Grahame Tosh from Southend, Dr Chitra Venkateswaran from Kochi and Dr Shoba Nair from Bangalore)at the invitation of Dr Jeremy Pautu from the Civil Hospital, Aisawl. They have started the first palliative care clinic in Mizoram and our visit was aimed to raise the profile of palliative care, support the development of strategic planning for palliative care and run a state wide training using the Palliative Care Toolkit. 2 weeks flew by with every day another amazing vista to feed our souls. We were able to meet with colleagues from hospitals, community groups, churches, an eminent theological college and government. The state health minister not only met with us but also inaugurated our training course. It was very encouraging to see how many took the concept of palliative care to heart and wanted to 'discover their voice' and the voice of those in need with no access to help. Comments from the 24 delegates included 'this was the best course I have attended' and 'this will help my practise from tomorrow'. They committed to taking their learning and experience into their workplaces and there were 2 hospitals committed to developing palliative care service in addition to the existing civil hospital clinic. Please remember these colleagues and friends as they grow and develop. We have prepared a draft strategic 5 year plan and there is much to think about and accomplish. We were also so touched by the strength of community and caring for others. There is a Mizo phrase 'tlawmangaihna' which translates as service to others and is a philosophy for Mizos every where. It is humbling to see so many signs of this sacrificial caring.

Back to Delhi and an overnight train to the far south of Uttar Pradesh. This state is home to 3% of the worlds population(180 million)60% of whom live below the poverty line. I was visiting a small rural hopsital in Lalitpur at the invitation of Dr Anne Tyle of EHA. Emmuanual Hospital Association is a non-governmental Christian network of 20 hospitals and 30 community projects accross the north of India and with a vision to reach the poorest in rural areas. They have recently committed to developing palliative care programmes and Lalitpur is planned for one of the first services. It was great to meet the dedicated team here and offer some encouragement and advice. I very much hope Cairdeas will be able to work in partnership to support this initiative.

Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh was my next visit; this time representing Pallium India as well as Cairdeas. There are very few palliative care services in UP but over the past couple of years there is a new energy and will to see a change. I visited one of India's foremost postgraduate institutes, the Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute, which has a palliative care programme running for only 2 months. Many colleagues showed an interest here and in the King George Medical College. In between I visited a dynamic Indian NGO, Cancer Aid Society which is leading the drive for oral morphine availability and met a senior official in the excise department. Lucknow is a beautiful and ancient city and hopefully will also become a training centre and focus for palliative care. The people of UP so need and deserve this help and support.

Seeing India throught the eyes of my niece Sophie and her friend Hazel was a real privilege. They are volunteering at ASHA; an amazing community empowerment project in the slums of Delhi. In between work we managed to travel on trains, cars, elephants and planes and to visit the pink city of Jaipur, the breathtaking Taj Mahal, the misty Himalayas and explore sweltering Delhi. My trip culminated in sharing with the girls and all at ASHA the celebration of 176 students from the slums gaining places at Delhi University and other institutions. An amazing achievement which speaks of the resilience and hard work of the students, the long term support from ASHA and the tremendous potential of India's human resources. The home minister of India and many other international guests celebrated the event. We wish all the students every blessing from Cairdeas.

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