Written by Lauren Sutherland, CRHP Experiential Course Participant and new Mabelle Arole Fellow
For the past three weeks, the best word that I could use to describe what we learned in our course at CRHP would be ‘community’. As we went from class to class learning about men’s and women’s groups, adolescent programs, VHWs, and the hospital, we repeatedly asked: “what makes CRHP possible?” Coming from a healthcare system that is costly and ineffective, a program that serves the rural poor with such quality care was baffling. The big difference that we saw between other systems and CRHP was that CRHP’s work is based on community needs, not their own.
One of the best examples of this was our second week of classes, which were mostly based on agriculture. We visited the Rajanikant Arole Demonstration Farm where we saw vermicompost, milked a cow, and heard the stories of women who worked there. We traveled to an agricultural university in Ahmednagar where we learned about medicinal plants and cow rearing. We heard from an organization that teaches effective agricultural and business strategies to farmers, to help them become more financially stable.
In a course on health, I was very surprised to be learning so much about farms. I expected to learn about communicable and non-communicable diseases and preventative care exclusively, but I quickly learned that these farm topics were inextricably tied to the health of these communities. When Raj and Mabelle Arole came to villages, they asked people what they needed, rather than imposing their own assessment of what was needed. While they thought that the communities would tell them that they needed healthier children, they told them that they needed healthier crops and livestock. Having a healthy farm meant that they could provide healthy food, soap, and economic stability which eventually prevented malnutrition, diarrhea, tuberculosis, and even suicide. They drastically improved the health in the villages all by asking what the community needed.
When the course came to a close, we stopped asking “how?” and started asking “what’s next?” For many of us, “next” involves some sort of research, whether it’s a PhD dissertation back in the US or an investigation here at CRHP. Our research gives us a new opportunity to work with communities. So often the research process starts and ends with researchers, as we look for topics that meet our interests and then justify the need as an afterthought. Instead, what I have learned from CRHP has challenged me to think more about how my research fits within the community. Rather than just choosing a topic, we can ask the community that we work with what they want to know more about. Members of the community can help design appropriate methods and measures, and when the data is collected, we can present the findings and further implications with the community, rather than exclusively with a journal or academic conference. We need to remember why we do research: to gain new knowledge that will help others. Working with communities rather than just in communities can ensure that our research helps the most people possible.
As I reflect on the importance of community, I am incredibly thankful for the wonderful community that we have here at CRHP. From my fellow classmates with their diverse interests and backgrounds to the community of staff who provided constant insight and compassion, I have felt consistently supported and challenged to think about health in a new way. Over the next year, I look forward to working with my new CRHP community.