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Monday, August 30, 2010

Farewell Amar Jyoti

On our last day at Amar Jyoti, Dr. Tuli organized a meeting with some of the staff members to talk and share ideas about what we felt healthcare should be and how different (or similar) things are in Canada. It was a great way to wrap up our visit to AJ, but also our stay in India as a whole. We talked about our goals as students and what we gained from this global health experience. It was wonderful for us to see how far Amar Jyoti had come and how it continued to grow and serve its community. While we were unable to organize this, IHI 2011 may enjoy a day trip to Amar Jyoti’s second chapter in Gwalior.
Your generous support of the India Health Initiative enabled us to provide Amar Jyoti with a donation of $1000 CAD. This money will be put towards the building of a Creativity Room for the students of the integrated school.

A Tour of Amar Jyoti!

During our short stay at Amar Jyoti, we learned about the plethora of services it provides and got to know some of its amazing staff members. In the Medical Building, we spent time in the prosthetics department, the physiotherapy department, the medical outpatient clinic, and the colourful occupational therapy department. Amar Jyoti has a school for physiotherapy and its PT students help to run the department on site, which serves a number of outpatients from the community as well as some of the students who attend the integrated school. AJ also provides training programs for special education teaching. On a given afternoon, the occupational therapy department was usually full of children being guided through exercises and games by their parents, the occupational therapist, and her student. The room is an inviting place for children and adults alike. While most of the people they treat are children with congenital physical limitations, they also treat adults with acquired disabilities such as following a stroke. The OT showed us some of the ways in which they counsel their clients, including how to make the home a safer place and how to modify everyday tools, such as cutlery, to make them easier to use.

In the medical outpatient department, we followed different physicians each day, from an assortment of specialties, who volunteered their time to see patients in the drop-in clinic. The facility has longstanding relationships with private and public hospitals in the area and makes referrals regularly. They have an operating room, a pathology lab and an imaging department on site. They serve as a great primary point of care for people in the community who are unable to or fearful of visiting larger hospitals.

Across from the medical building, on the other site of the basketball court and playground, is the Integrated School. This place completely embodies the idea of fully inclusive education. Not only is the building physically accessible to all (there is no floor that isn’t accessible by ramps and the floors are texturized to help guide their blind students), but the students learn in a way that embraces their individual talents and promotes equality and mutual respect. We observed a classroom full of children who were both deaf and blind as they learned ways to communicate; we saw mature students attend classes in the computer lab; we also saw students with varying levels of physical ability learn and play alongside one another.

We were given a real treat when the students of the school put on a special show just for us! It was an integrated dance number full of flips and tricks that the team performed on the TV show India’s Got Talent (just like the one in the US). Once the music started and they began their performance, smiling throughout, it did not matter which child had or did not have a physical disability. The students danced together and it was an absolute delight to watch!

Amar Jyoti also helps to empower adults in the community through its several vocational training programs. They have an aesthetician course, a textiles and bag-making department, a jewellery making shop, a carpentry department, IT training, and a bakery. Sometimes, when a child at the integrated school shows an interest in learning a particular trade, they can be found spending some time at the departments, practicing the skills hands-on.

As our visit neared its end, we were so thankful to Dr. Uma Tuli, the founder of Amar Jyoti, and all of the other staff members at AJ that made us feel so welcome and taught us all about their work. They also exposed us to some things off campus, like organizing a visit to a massive new private hospital and sending us out for a day of shopping at the famous Delhi Haat outdoor bazaar that featured souvenirs from every state in India.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Amar Jyoti's legacy

Right after passing through the gates of Amar Jyoti, it becomes evident that this truly is a barrier-free facility. The rehabilitation centre and integrated school has an incredible history and is built upon a vision of inclusiveness and empowering people with disabilities. During our short stay here, we learned a great deal about the many projects carried out on its grounds.

First, check out this video on Amar Jyoti's mission, its several achievements, and its plans for the future:

More travels!

Upon arriving in the north, we immediately began traveling and visiting some of India’s most famous attractions. Our first stop: Agra and the legendary Taj Mahal. Our first view of the massive white marble ‘temple of love’ was nothing less than postcard-worthy! As we toured the Taj and the historic Agra Fort, we learned all about the Mughal empire responsible for erecting these landmarks. Following our first long day of sightseeing, we boarded an overnight train to our next destination: Varanasi. Here we explored some of the religious traditions of India, first visiting the temples, ruins, and museums of Sarnath, which is said to be the place where Buddha delivered his first sermon.
What the ancient city of Varanasi is most famous for is the river Ganges – one of three holy rivers in Hinduism. All along the river’s bank are temples and steps (called ghats) that lead to the water and that attract countless pilgrims every day. Everywhere and at every hour, there were rituals and prayer ceremonies carried out along the Ganges. It was truly a place like no other! On our last day in the region, we took an early morning boat ride on the river, watching the hundreds of people doing morning laundry, conducting yoga classes, meditating or praying, or holding traditional cremation funerals along the shore.

Another overnight train took us to the nation’s capital for the final leg of our stay in India. Amar Jyoti in New Delhi is our third and final NGO placement and we are all looking forward to learning about this amazing organization and sharing our experiences with you all!

One last trip in the South...

Before heading North, we had the opportunity to spend some more time sightseeing in Kerala - this time in the gorgeous Thekkady region. There, even the heavy rains couldn’t distract us from the amazing landscape: mountains covered in lush forests and scattered with waterfalls; rubber and tea plantations lining the mountain roads; towering jackfruit trees everywhere; and wonderful shopping towns full of spice shops and ayurvedic spas. The four of us went on an elephant ride, followed by a walking spice tour where we learned about the native Kerala plants that work wonders in the kitchen and in the ayurvedic medicine cabinet. We also treated ourselves to massages, hearty (and spicy!) Kerala cuisine, and some shopping.

On our last day, we had the privilege of touring one of the largest ayurvedic medicine factories in the region called Sahyadri. It was amazing to see their massive collection of dried ingredients, all grown in the Kerala region, and to learn about how the products made from these materials have been used for centuries to target specific health concerns.

We were then off to the Cochin airport to board our flight to New Delhi, saying farewell to the southern region of India where we had spent the last four incredible weeks.