Tuesday, March 24, 2009

VGKK… a tribal venture!

Finally we did it!
This trip to B R Hills was pending since almost 2 months. Thanks to our Doc that he could organize this trip to VGKK (Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra) at B R Hills. On Jan 28th, after dropping one of our colleague at the airport, we met our Doc’s friend Dr. Prashanth who works for Karuna Trust health initiatives. Since he was going to attend a conference in Srilanka and we could not discuss with him much on that day. He recommended us to visit him once he is back from his conference and he invited us to VGKK, B R Hills where he takes care of some of the health programs. Since we had not seen B R Hills, we accepted his invitation without any second thought and we promised to organize for the same on his return from Srilanka.

Opportunity knocks only once! so we did not want to miss it. We kept planning for this trip since then and finally we had the dates and team fixed. It’s the same Kodachadrigaa’ team (Doc, TS, Srivatsa and I) again. Srivatsa’s ‘black panther’ (Ford Fusion), his ‘golden eye’ (Canon camera), guest house stay at VGKK… made us feel excited about our weekend event.

We started from Bangalore on Saturday morning at 8.00 Am and reached B R Hills at 11.30 Am. Tatte Idli at Bidadi, Srivatsa’s rally drive, Kannada songs, TS’s PJs, Doc’s marriage worries, were few of the highlights of the journey till we reached B R Hills. It is so true that communication gap exists everywhere; we were in a remote hill station and there was no communication sent to VGKK on our visit to book the guest house. After all the drama from the admin in-charge Mr. Arun at VGKK (though we had to make couple of calls to Dr. Prashanth), finally there was a positive sign that we would get the guest house. It was a bit of relief for us because our plan was to stay there overnight and learn about the place for 2 days. He also made one of his staff members Mr. Manjunath who works as a teacher to take us around the campus and introduce us to all the activities of VGKK.

Without getting into too much of details, I will just share the learning exercises we experienced during the trip. Hope there is some benefit to all those who read this blog as well.

1. VGKK… activities at its best
I must say these tribal people are lucky. 25 years back B R Hills was just a tribal village where people were seen only in pain. Thanks to Dr. Sudarshan, the founder of VGKK and its initiatives because of which we can see a Tribal hospital, roads, education environment and above all the earning capacity of the tribal citizens have been increased with the technology resource centre as a base.

As we walked into the campus, it was like we are entering in to totally a new world. There was a tribal hospital at the entrance. This hospital serves tribal people of many villages around B R Hills. Of course the services are free of cost. There are lot many initiatives like telemedicine, psychology counseling to understand mental patterns of villagers, in-patient, out-patient care, mobile services to the tribal settlements, laboratory, x-ray facilities etc.

And then the next set of buildings and beautiful cottages were for education. They have a tribal school which gives free education to the tribal children. It is a residential course and the children get to stay in the beautiful cottages. They have all types of facilities like canteen, sports, science labs, library and many more.

The whole campus is energy efficient. Solar energy is getting used to the maximum. And also a lot of low cost methodologies used in building structures and the campus development. I do not think whether I got such good facilities for my school education. But these tribal children are lucky enough to have access to the VGKK.

2. Honey…pickle… silk weaving…!
I am sure you will be wondering why I am saying these names. Well… these are the activities of the vocational training centre (VTC) at VGKK.

There are vocational trainings which are being executed in the campus which also gives commercial returns for sustainability. We met the head of the VTC Mr. Venkatesh who explained us on all the different trainings they offer to the tribal people depending on the demand for the skill. One such skill which was on demand during our visit was silk weaving. They have all the equipments and set up for the manual weaving and the silk threads are just rolling and rolling and rolling every day. Lucky those who are undergoing this training as they will have a skill for their livelihood once they are trained her for 6 months. There were quite a few people who were undergoing this training.

Also VTC, as commercial activities for its sustainability, has two small scale food processing units. One is honey making (Prakruthi Honey is the name) and the second is the pickle making unit. Since B R Hills is a tourist destination, these products will find a way out of these units. They sell them at a modest profitable price and share the profits among the entrepreneurs. All of us bought honey bottles.

Major challenge, the only challenge for all the vocational training institutions are that the marketing of goods. It is extremely difficult to sell the products produced by identifying the right market place. Export is the only option but it needs extensive financial support and branding mechanisms.

I wish them best of luck for their marketing and sustenance.

3. Dodda Sampige… God of nature!Our next visit was to a place called Dodda sampige. To visit this place, one should take the permission from the forest department (Range Forest Officer) as it is a place inside the wild forest range. Once they give permission, a forest guard will be with you until you complete the trip. So we did the same and we trekked 8 km to the Dodda Sampige tree. It was such an uplifting experience for all four of us as we liked the trek inside the forest very much. Even though we heard some wild animals roaring in the jungle, we were thrilled to be present there. There were many tribal children who came there just to beg for money. We started talking to them and they were feeling shy to talk to us and share their problems. When I asked about them going to a school, they said they have a school to go but none of the teachers are ready to come there and teach! What a tragedy! All they were chanting was “Kasa kodu” (meaning ‘give me money’).

We reached the place in an hour from the place we started. And there was a group from Bangalore (group of 17 women) performing pooja to the 800 year old Sampige tree. Yes! Even we were surprised to learn that the tree was 800 year old. It had a huge base with huge trunk and over 800 years of its life, it had lost two of its branches. Only one was remaining but still it was very huge.

This tree is the god for a tribal group called Soligas. They worship this tree and they believe in nature. There was a person by name Ranganath Sharma who explained us on the belief Soligas had in the nature and the reason they used to worship this tree. It is a very old tradition. Since forest was the home for most of the tribes, they believed in nature a lot. For any event whether it is good or bad, they used to worship this tree. And for every event, they believed in planting a tree. Amazing isn’t it? I wonder how many trees we would plant in our lifetime and what will be the occasion?

We were thrilled to learn this capital idea of performing pooja to a tree and planting trees on every event they used to conduct. I guess only because of them, we have the thick and lively forests even now.

Can we all plant a tree every year? May be on our birthdays? Or any occasion? Think over!

4. A commitment or a sacrifice?
Since the whole trip was organized based on Dr. Prashanth’s recommendation, we thought of meeting him in Mysore on Sunday evening. We left B R Hills on Sunday afternoon and started our journey to Mysore. We reached Mysore very soon but because we had our Doc who knew Mysore very well from his college days, he took us round and round and round to reach the place which Prashanth wanted us to go. Finally our smart Doc, called his dear friend Prashanth and requested him to meet us at a place which is a known place for both of them. Finally we met the other doctor who took us to the M G Road of Mysore (Kalidasa street – even he is a bachelor; now you know why Kalidasa street for all 5 unmarried bachelors). He was apologetic to us because of his unscheduled work he could not be with us for 2 days.

We went into a café and ordered some snacks and started our discussion. The objective of the discussion was to explore the feasibilities for a long term health initiative for Chickballapur district where we have our NGO operations. Doc initiated the discussion by asking Prashanth on Karuna Trust’s activities and what Prashanth is actually focusing on. Prashanth gave us detailed report on his activities and his commitment to the community health initiatives. We were pleased to learn that he has such a wide knowledge on the community health and primary health activities. The whole NRHM (National Rural Health Mission) activities are in his brain cells. Hats-off to his commitment towards the needy community. The reason for me to say this is there are many doctors who are busy in their own world. Hardly a few devote their full available time to the community health assisting the poor. We have seen and pleaded so many of them to do half a day job in the village we are working but we did not succeed even once.

Prashanth detailed us on few of the new initiatives of NRHM and asked us to go through the NRHM initiatives which are displayed on its website. We have enough work now and we need to work on targets before we meet the Joint Director of Health at the Vidhana Soudha. Prashanth also offered us to take us to Dr. Sudarshan once. Before that we have enough homework to do.

The learning here was Prashanth’s commitment. I do not know whether it is a sacrifice but he is doing the right thing to do. All it takes is the ‘Social Quotient’ a person has in his heart. Bravo!

That was the end of our thrilling memorable 2-day breathtakingly beautiful trip to B R Hills. As always, we did get some good photography experience as well. Since Srivatsa was bored of our discussion with Prashanth, he drove his panther to Bangalore in 90 minutes. Wow!

Hope you all enjoyed reading our learning experiences! You are welcome to join us for more such events!



Prashanth Nuggehalli Srinivas said...

Wonderful reading the post....the perspective with which you have approached our work is wonderful to read....pleasure to have hosted you all, though we couldnt spend much time together! :)

T S said...

It was a great and productive trip with the same Kodachadrigaa..??team!! Lovely Drive in the Sexy forset..!! Hmmm.Thanks to all..

Thanks to Dr. Prashath and his team at VGKK.Its a model and example to all the able people to serve the needy around us..!!

So many good things we can learn from uncivilised tribes also..!!

Great Journey of life...Srikanth. Keep going.!!


Narasim said...

Dear Colleagues,

Doc Prashanth is a gem. He is one those rare people in the world who are using their professional talent to give a hand up to the less fortunate. Srikanth, thank you for letting me know his work. In fact, I am a bit envious of his noble work. May be, he will assist us in our work in Chikballapur. That way I can be of some use to him

It is great to learn details about the work VGKK is doing. Dr. Sudarshan is a noble soul. I have never met him. Anyone who sucks out snake poison from the leg of a dying man is a mahatma indeed.

In 2003 July Shannon wrote him to explore the feasibility of her doing volunteer work at VGKK for six months. She did not hear from anyone at VGKK. Anyway, she ended up working for six months at Dvanyaloka Institute in Mysore as a volunteer.

Your description of the work being done at VGKK is an uplifting experience. You made my day. May be, someday, we can replicate the work in Chikballapur.

By the way, who is that young man pretending to be a Gandhi? Gandhi never used a polished bicycle wheel as a spinning wheel. Gandhi was a simple person who used wooden wheels.

The photographs forwarded by Srikanth and Srivastha were terrific. It gave me a glimpse of the nice environment in and around GVKK. The large Dodda Sampige was a treat to behold. No wonder Soligas worship the tree.

It is thrilling to learn that aboriginal people plant a tree on every auspicious occasion. Wish the so called sophisticates of India did the same and made a contribution to quality of life. All of us have a good deal to learn from aboriginal people who predate Harappan Civilization (2,500 - 1,800 BCE), the First Great Civilization State of India.

I see that Doc Manju needs a compass to know his way around Mysore. Did he lose his compass? If so, how come he was so efficient in finding the Women's Residence on the Med School Campus?

Great blog. Learned a lot. Keep it coming.

Very sincerely yours,

(Kisan From Kandvar)

Sudhi said...

Nice blog...

I really liked the idea of planting trees on every event by tribal people. We need to learn a lot from them.

Dr.Prashant is doing a great work by rendering his service towards community.

Keep going...All The Best.


Narasim said...

Dear Srivathsa,

I owe you an apology for spelling your name Srivastha instead of Srivathsa.


Very sincerely yours,


Manjunath Byadigere said...

The first thing I remember about B R Hills is Jadeyappa!
During my internship rural training programme I had the honour of serving at B R Hills for a month.It was a rewarding experience for me.I preferred to go into the jungles on the mobile ambulance for health checkups.
Now...the old hospital has become a welding workshop and the new bigger hospital building has come up! Thats progress! Yes, but how progressed are we?....and how fast are we progressing?
Jadeyappa was a 20 year old soliga tribal (recently married), who was admitted in the hospital when I was posted as an intern at VGKK. He was suffering from Pericardial Effusion(fluid collected around the heart), probably of tuberculous origin.As, obviously, (VGKK had no high end technology and manpower,) he needed further investigations and evaluation to obtain further treatment, he was referred to Mysore. It was a case of life and death! In Mysore, if everything went to the plan, he could have been allright in 10-15 days!He and his parents refused to go to Mysore as they did not have the money nor the knowledge to go and survive in the external world!(Mysore, for them was a place which was in the external world!).We tried to do whatever was possible to help Jadeyappa and his family. They did'nt budge to our plea. They told us they would rather die in their birth place, than go somewhere else for treatment.Unfortunately, we could not help Jadeyappa as he soon succumbed to the deadly disease.
As i do not want to finish with a bad note, I will tell you another incident which will cheer you guys a bit!
One cold night I was woken at about 3am in the morning as there was an emergency case.As it was the colder period of the year, not many patients were expected at that time of the day.As I entered the hospital....I heard a woman breathing heavily, almost gasping.She was accompanied by her drunk husband who had beaten her when he came home late last night. She was immediately administered nebulisation, as she was a known patient with asthma.After the patient was stabilised I scolded the patients husband in harsh words telling him that his beating had precipitated the attack and it would have killed her if she was brought late to the hospital. He did not utter a word, and seemed apollogetic.I came back and went to sleep immediately.
The next morning, as I wondered how the patient had come to the hospital as no ambulance was sent out the last night, I was told that the patients husband had carried her for 4-5 kilometers in the jungle to reach the hospital!
Maybe thats what is called junglee love!
It was a great experience to go back to that place again.Apart from the meeting with Prashanth, the highlights of the trip, according to me, were the Black Panther drive through the jungle road( for which I was congratulated by the master driver,Srivathsa, himself!), the early morning photography session, Sriks crazy jump session, the K.Gudi drive and sunsetwalk, the 'trek' down the hill behind the temple and the constant chattering(sometimes they call it singing!) in the car by TS and Srik.
And obviously, we guys have a lot to learn from Narasim...for example why do I go round and round a place?!Narasim understands me better!.
Thanks for the whole team(Srivathsa, TS and Srikanth).
Thanks Prashanth...I have a lot to learn from you.
I only hope we will do something good for the people who deserve the right to progress.
Srikanth, great blog. As Narasim says,keep'em coming.
Think about Jadeyappa.

Narasim said...

Dear Doc,

Thank you very much indeed for posting the two moving stories of your work at VGKK. I did not even know that you spent some time there. Good for you.

The story about the woman being brought to the hospital by her substance abusing husband is a cautionary tale. We tend to make judgments about people without making the effort to learn their full personality. The husband, evidently, cared enough for his wife to carry her for several kms. A text book case of duty trumping inadequacy of self.

Once your exam commitment is completed, Please follow up on the recommendations made by Prashanth. Once you learn the details you can then explain to a non-medic like me and bring me up to speed. We all have a lot to learn from people like that.

Good to know that all four of you had a good time at VGKK and surroundings.

Very sincerely yours,


Raghu said...

''Kodachaadriga'' team is back again with one more stunning life experiece. It is very nice to see the healthy practices being followed by tribal people. Thanks for educating us on such practices. Photos are awesome.

Good blog. Keep going.....


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