Monday, July 11, 2011

Lauren Bartsch: Chandigarh, India

Lauren Bartsch is a master's student in Public Health at the University of Utah. She recently returned home from Chandigarh, India, with the Global Health in India study abroad program.

Lauren walking through the prayer wheels at the temple in Darmsala, home of the Dalai Lama

A few of the students at the Taj Mahal

Anyone who knows me, knows I have a deep passion for traveling, learning about other cultures and different ways of living… and India has been on my list of places to visit for sometime.  I fortunately had the great opportunity to travel to India this summer with the University of Utah’s Public Health program. We spent four weeks working in nine rural villages in the Fategarh Sahib district. We partnered with the MBCT, also known as Mehar Baba Charitable Trust and PGI-SPH (Post Graduate Institute, School of Public Health).  No real words can truly describe this life-changing experience I had. This is something that I will never forget, especially the things I learned from the amazing people I got to work with and meet. This study abroad is something I will truly cherish.

After three long plane rides and one train ride later we finally made it to Chandigarh (in the northeast area of India) where we spent the majority of our time. Each day we would drive about 45 minutes to the villages. Those car rides were some of the scariest car rides I have ever experienced. The traffic is nothing but crazy! It seems as though there are no rules when it comes to driving and it’s essential to use the horn while driving. I am pretty sure the horn is attached to the breaks. Once we finally weaved our way through traffic and made it to the villages each day, we collected water samples in the different villages testing for total coli form, e-coli and nitrate.  Not only did we collect water samples, we also mapped each village using a GPS. Both of those were great experiences because we had more of an opportunity to walk around the villages and were able to see the different ways people were living. I personally found it hard to hear that a fair number of the people living in the different villages were on government funded water and sometimes would only be allowed to get water from their house for one hour each day.  Just seeing and hearing that made me realize how much I take for granted back at home.

Hard at work testing the water

In conjunction with the other projects we also met with groups of young men and young women and they discussed their way of life. I only had the opportunity to sit in on a few of the discussions, but was amazed to hear the desire among girls for more education as well as the desire to tackle social ills such as drug use. They had also mentioned they want more organized activities for the youth.

One of the villages

The beautiful women in one of the villages

I truly had an amazing and life –changing experience while I was in India. However, there is something that I just can’t seem to grasp nor will I ever be able to understand the logic behind this cultural belief I am about to share. Just a fore warning…it’s a little graphic and if you are as sensitive as I am it will be hard to hear.  Before I say much more I just wanted to say… I understand that communities, cultures and beliefs are very important to people and it makes them who they are. People base their decisions off of what they believe in. I am a firm believer in the things I have been taught and the decisions I have made are based off of my beliefs and culture. However, I have a VERY hard time understanding that when a belief or culture treats another human being like they are the scum of the earth. I just don’t understand.

The rice fields....they were all over on our drive to the villages

This entire experience of hearing, learning and seeing the different ways of life was such an amazing and humbling experience. Truly no words will ever be able to describe the thoughts and feelings that went through me while I was in India. I am truly so impressed by the amazing and generous people of India. I will forever be indebted to them for their willingness to share with us a glimpse of their life. The people are truly amazing and I am so blessed for such an amazing opportunity I was able to have.

Darmsala, this is where the Dali Lama lives. It was beautiful!

All of the girls at the celebration dinner one of our last nights there

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