I have always thought that the only effective way to learn something is by doing it. This is the reason why in June I started an internship at Udayan Care, an Indian NGO that works with orphan children and disadvantaged women. This ten week-long work experience seemed to be the perfect opportunity to gain insight into the nonprofit world while discovering my dream country: India. This country is the world’s biggest democracy and fourth largest economy, with a booming, world-class information technology sector. However, it is also home to more desperately poor people than all the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa combined.
My first day in Delhi was dramatic. The city hosts around 18 million people according to official data, but people affirm the number is higher. Try to imagine crowded crossroads, confused maze of streets, noisy horns (Indians love horns!), intense spices’ smell, colors of women’s typical dresses, smiles and head shaking all around you. You will probably just manage to depict a little piece of what Delhi is. I suddenly understood that Delhi would not allow me to be just an indifferent bystander. If I wanted to experience the real India, I should leave my mindset and mix myself in the crowd of thousands of people shouting, singing and smiling.
I would like to tell you two aspects of my Indian stay: the stimulating job I did at Udayan Care and the terrible moments when I had Dengue Fever. Very conflicting experiences as India is.
Regarding my internship ad Udayan Care, I was assigned a project about Foster Care in SAARC countries. Foster care is non-institutional alternative childcare that provide temporary care for children who have been deprived of their families for various reasons: from abandonment, to parents’ death or for natural disaster causes. The aim of foster care is to offer a nurturing and safe environment until the child’s own family becomes capable of providing proper care or until the child is placed in an adoptive family. There are many types of foster care models for each country based on different cultures and socio-economic environment.
The problem relating orphan children is serious and wide. South Asia is home to 652 million children, of which 41 million are estimated to be orphans. 3.3 million children live in institutions and 2.9 million children who have one/both parents alive still live in children’s homes. In South Asia the predominant solution practiced so far to fight this plague has been institutional care, which entails a high number of children living within the same structure. This method has been demonstrated to be often suboptimal because it is not always attentive to the deeper needs of a child for personal attention, affection and normal socialization. There is enough evidence globally to suggest that children in institutional care experience delayed physical, behavioral and cognitive development. For this reason, in the last few years, there has been an increasing shift of attention toward foster care.
In India for many years the practice of foster care has been regulated and sometimes implemented, however, previous attempts were not very effective and only few state governments have developed foster care programs. Recently, among the federal government a proposal of a new impulse regarding the implementation of foster care has been developed, prompting Udayan Care to embark on research in order to gain a deeper knowledge of this method and to produce a research highlighting the common practices among NGOs involved with Foster Care. The research paper will be published next year and it will give a great contribution to the diffusion of alternatives care practices.
Along this research project I also spent some time with the young girls hosted in Udayan Care houses, sharing with them some very joyful moments and having the possibility to connect my job with the reality I was researching on. And reality is always more impressive!
The other part of my experience was facing one leading infection in the tropics and subtropics: Dengue Fever.
Dengue is caused by the dengue virus transmitted by several types of mosquitoes. Vaccines have not yet been discovered and it claims around 390 million dengue infections per year (95% credible interval 284–528 million), of which 96 million manifest clinically. (WHO). It is known as “breakbone fever” and the symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and in fewer cases, the disease develops into the life-threatening dengue hemorrhagic fever, resulting in bleeding, low levels of blood platelets and other complications that can lead to death. In my case, the infection manifested all the symptoms and forced me to return back to Italy before my planned date.
I consider myself extremely lucky because, although being ill, I had the possibility to be cured in a top class hospital and to receive all the medications I needed. One of the frequent thought, while I was hospitalized, was towards the thousands of poor people who cannot afford proper treatments and had to face this very painful illness without any cure. I am honest saying that without analgesics, drip-feed and antibiotics I probably wouldn’t have been able to fight it, as it happened to many people in Delhi, where only in August more than 1800 people have been infected and 11 died.
It is the case of Aman Sharma, a child from Srinivaspuri, area of South Delhi, who died of dengue because three private hospitals refused to admit him citing unavailability of beds, as reported by his parents or the case of the seven-year-old Avinash Rout that died of dengue after being denied admission by five hospitals.
These tragic cases have led the government to take serious initiative to guarantee hospitals access and cures but the path toward equality in this country is still long. I lived a first-hand experience that made me understand that in our world there should not exist “Citizens of first and second class , some who has the right to treatment and those who those who do not have it ” (Gino Strada).