We arrived at the Kanya Vidyalaya Vajreshwari School (an all girls boarding school) with smiles on our faces, ready to start the morning helping in PRASAD’s school health camps, an initiative that enables children and teens in Tansa Valley to have access to good medical care. About once a week, members of the PRASAD staff travel to different schools in the area, providing students with a free general medical check-up and access to medication as needed.

Looking around, as I made my way to the exam room, I saw girls, many close to my age, talking and laughing with their friends, as they made their way from their last class of the morning, and prepared to get into line for their check-up.

arpita post7 img2 Hansee ke Bandhan (Bonds of Laughter)
arpita post7 img3 Hansee ke Bandhan (Bonds of Laughter)

The younger girls standing in line for their general medical check-ups

The PRASAD doctors welcomed the girls and invited them to sit for their check-up. The doctors wrote their prescriptions on their medical forms, which the girls brought outside, where other members of the PRASAD staff passed out their medicine. The students had a variety of ailments, such as skin problems, gastro-intestinal problems, burns and bruises.

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Two of the girls sitting for their check-ups, as the doctors update their medical forms

Moving away from the general exam room, and after speaking with many of the girls in line, I found myself outside, asking what I could do to help the PRASAD staff, who were passing out and explaining the medication (when and how to take it) to the girls who had just finished their medical check-ups.. They set me up at a station in front of them, and explained to me the instructions for each medication and how to distribute them correctly.

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Two of the staff members sorting between the piles of different kinds of medicines

I spent the next three hours sorting medication and explaining to the smiling and talkative teenagers how to use the different shampoos, pain relief creams, supplements, and prescription pills.

Two people analyzed the girls’ medicine forms, quickly put together a package of medication and handed it to me or another one of PRASAD’s staff. We would observe the assortment of medicine, and then call out the name of the girl indicated. They each came up to us, smiling in her school uniform, and listened patiently as we explained exactly when and how to take each of the items.

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Passing out medication to the girls in line

I was shocked at some of the things I discovered about the girls’ health. I learned that, after starting their period, 90% of the girls become severely anemic, for which we provided them with iron supplements.  95% of the girls have head lice, which, I found, is a common problem in all of rural India. We passed out a special shampoo and cream to all of the girls, as both a treatment and a prevention.

One of the most impressive things I found while I was doing this incredibly humbling work was how much the children, teenagers, and even the few adults, trusted PRASAD, and willingly took the medication without much hesitation. They held complete faith in PRASAD and what we were giving them.

arpita post7 img7 Hansee ke Bandhan (Bonds of Laughter)
arpita post7 img8 Hansee ke Bandhan (Bonds of Laughter)

Passing out and explaining the girls’ medication to them, as one takes an iron supplement

At one point, when the girls closer to my age were coming up, the line of girls started to become quite long, and I tried to go as fast as I could, only glancing at the forms briefly before reading out the name. Once, I came across a rather long name, and completely messed up the pronunciation of her name. Laughing, the girl I was trying to call came up, and her friend, right behind her in line made a joke about the way I had said her name, causing all three of us to start laughing. She took the shampoo and the iron supplement from my hand, smiled, still tickled at my efforts to read her name, and then walked away to make her way to her next class.

The connection that we all shared through a simple joke in that moment, however, stayed with me long after she had left, and made me think.

It’s crazy for me to imagine how similar, yet different my life is to these girls. I always come back to the fact that I’ve grown up in such a different environment from theirs, with absolutely different daily schedules, and a completely different future carved out for us. Yet, we connected so easily, laughing at the same jokes, smiling at one another, seeing the reflections of our own personalities in each other. I found this experience to be incredibly important, something I want to bring back home with me – this idea of looking for a bit of ourselves, something to connect with, in everyone we meet, no matter how different.

Helping out in the school health camp was an unforgettable experience for me – one I learned from and will always cherish. Thank you PRASAD!

Until next time,
Arpita