My First Day with Pathfinder International: India – Blog Post #2

I finally arrived back from India! Being able to work with Pathfinder International: India and to travel through villages to speak with Mahadalit community members on the topic of early marriage and consequences for reproductive health was truly an amazing experience. I wish I had been able to upload my blogs while I was in India, but I had poor Wi-Fi access, so I’m uploading them all now! The following blog post was about my first day in the city of Patna, where one of Pathfinder International: India’s offices – the Bihar office – is located. Pathfinder International: India is one of many chapters of Pathfinder International, an international non-profit organization. I chose to work with Pathfinder International because I wanted to learn more about the health-related consequences of early marriage, and Pathfinder International specifically works to promote sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and rights at the community-level. Before I had arrived in Patna, I had already been speaking with Pathfinder over email for the past year, and was really excited to begin my research.


Monday, Monday 13th

I arrived in Patna on Monday the 13th, really nervous about meeting with Pathfinder. All I could think about was how I was a second-year undergraduate student who had just started to grasp the concepts of community-based participatory research (CBPR), public health, and the issue of early marriage, while my co-researchers at Pathfinder had been working on this topic at the ground-level for years! It was intimidating, to say the least. Furthermore, I had a plan in mind as to how I wanted to approach my work this summer:

  1. Meet with Pathfinder to better understand their mission, understand what they had already accomplished with their 1-year implementation project, and plan out the following week
  2. Visit the communities of interest to begin speaking with community members and forming a partnership with them
  3. Take some geospatial data on the communities
  4. Observe Pathfinder’s work.

But I wasn’t 100% sure how it would really play out and when/where I would have to reevaluate, think on my feet, seriously take into consideration the ethical sides of research (e.g. interviewing community members) – I could go on and on about what I was worried about. Also, all my family in India is either near Agra, Lucknow, Indore, or Mumbai. So I was in a completely new place with people I had never met before, and I couldn’t just blindly trust anyone.

When I arrived in Patna, my mom and I went to our room at the guesthouse and I called Arun Sir (the Project Manager for the Bihar office) to set up a meeting time for the afternoon. I am so happy that my mom came along because she is my translator, bodyguard, and stress-reliever. I am so thankful because even though I’m pretty fluent in Hindi, there were some things that she was able to communicate better to Pathfinder, really showing them how appreciative we were of them, how much we respected them and their work, and how much I really cared about this project. Plus, whenever I was stressing out about the project, she did a great job of really making me think about why I was there and calming me down.

At 5:30pm the same day, we went to the Pathfinder’s office and I was able to meet with Arun Sir and his colleagues. Everyone started off with simple introductions. They wanted to understand how well I spoke and understood Hindi because they said that there were many dialects spoken in the Mahadalit communities, such as Bhojpuri, Magahi, and Maithili, but the majority did understand Hindi pretty well. I also had the opportunity to better explain my project to them, telling them that I would really like to speak with community members to further understand the issue of early marriage and consequences for SRH, especially because there can be a difference between what is written in the literature and the ground-level realities. I said that I wanted to observe the different components of their implementation project (titled “Sashakt,” which means empowerment). One of Arun Sir’s colleagues was really trying to grill me on my project, asking me what theory I was studying. I told them that I was trying to test and implement the model of CBPR (from a sociological standpoint) and related that to why I wanted to work specifically with Pathfinder. I explained to them that I wanted to study the potential for collective capacity in these communities, which I felt is important in order to implement solutions related to improving SRH outcomes. This is in comparison to a third-party organization coming in and implementing their own solutions, without community members truly being invested. At the end of the day, I am a 20-year-old who would like to learn more and engage with adolescents by sitting down with them, asking questions, and really listening to what they have to say about these issues. Arun Sir and his colleagues agreed that this was the right approach.

Thereafter, they detailed me further on Sashakt. They told me that the caste they were working with – the Mahadalits – fall under all Dalits. They are the lowest caste in Bihar. Before Sashakt, Pathfinder ran a project known as PRACHAR (which I will discuss in more detail in my following blog posts). Arun Sir said that early marriage is a multifaceted issue and that Sashakt is different from PRACHAR in that they are currently trying to understand what barriers there are, how strong those barriers are, and what can be done to deal with them. I had already read their proposal on Sashakt, through which I had learned about their major goals:

  • Long-term Goal: Will work with Mahadalit youth, ages 15-24, located in the Saharsa, Purnea, and Katihar districts of Bihar, to improve SRH outcomes.
  • Short-term Goal #1: Will work with Mahadalit youth to improve their knowledge of family planning, or healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy (HTSP), and increase demand for contraceptive services.
  • Short-term Goal #2: Will implement community-based distribution of contraceptives, primarily through ASHAs and Vikas Mitras, and referral to various public health facilities, to ameliorate access to contraceptive services. *ASHAs are lay community healthcare workers that are part of India’s health system. They can be Mahadalit themselves – those are the ASHAs that Pathfinder has primarily focused on. For example, they conduct home visits, group discussions with women, help families open accounts to receive money (which they can receive for e.g. delivering a baby, getting a vasectomy or tubectomy), and traveling with women to hospitals to help them deliver. Vikas Mitras are members of the Mahadalit community who serve as a link between the government and the Mahadalit community to spread awareness of and increase access to government schemes specifically designed for Mahadalits. They can work on translating schemes related to education, farming, and other sectors, but this is the first time Vikas Mitras are working with health-related schemes.
  • Short-Term Goal #3: Will work in partnership with the government to enhance government capacity to provide and maintain behavioral change programs and contraceptive services for Mahadalits.

Overall, Arun Sir seemed really nice and very supportive. I was still a little overwhelmed and nervous about the upcoming weeks, but I left that day feeling pretty hopeful. Let’s see how the rest of the trip goes!

 

Comments

  1. I’m so excited to read about your trip to India! What was your favorite part of the trip? Is there anything you wish you had known before arriving in Patna? Which of your short term goals are you most looking forward to meeting?

  2. nagrawal01 says:

    Thanks so much for reading my posts! It’s so difficult to choose my favorite part of the trip because everything was truly incredible! If I had to choose, however, I would say my favorite part was being able to speak with some of the women in the communities and hearing their life experiences and beliefs with regards to early marriage. Being able to hear about these realities for the first time and being able to connect with them like that was an experience I have never had before and was unforgettable. As for what I wish I had known before arriving in Patna – I don’t think anything could have really prepared me more for the trip than what I had planned with my professor over the last two years. It really came down to me having my own experiences with this type of community-based research for the first time, and applying what I had learned to each part of the trip and any issue that arose while I was in the field. However, I do wish that I had known how safe Bihar was because before arriving, I was concerned for me and my mom’s safety. We had heard that there was a lot of violence in the state, so some areas were pretty dangerous. But while we were there, we never really felt that. As for the short-term goals, these are Pathfinder’s short-term goals for their 1-year implementation project, which will be completed by October 2016. They’ll know by then which objectives have been accomplished, and if any haven’t, how to improve Sashakt if it is extended for the next year through funding from the Packard foundation. I really hope that they help make the ASHAs and Vikas Mitras as effective as possible, because they are involved primarily with India’s health and local government system, respectively, and thus, affect the lives of the Mahadalits in multiple ways beyond Sashakt.