“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
― Mother Teresa
It has been a month since I left the comfort of my home in Montenegro and moved to India for my internship with Operation ASHA. New Delhi’s streets buzzing with life and constant noise have penetrated my quiet world and woken me up from the monotony of day-to-day life. I became rather vigilant while faced with challenges that were foreign to me. I recall initial powerful, unsettling feeling that would take over me and would preface even the smallest task I solely had to do.
Last week I met people who experience such and worse unsettling feeling 100% of the time. Living in the slum at the corner of Delhi, people in Meethapur have shown to me that human’s ability to adapt is truly amazing. In the epicenter of the world’s failure to provide better life for disadvantaged, I have found myself standing still and taking in what was around me. In many ways the time there has stopped and real life-changing action has yet to start, but curiously life carried on: students were on their way back from school, shops were crowded with people and traffic was as hectic as usual. For them it was a typical day.
We were visiting MDR-TB patient who has been taking TB medication from OpASHA since 2012. Before meeting the patient I had no idea what to expect or what to do or say once we do meet. In fact, I knew I could not say much more than “Namaste” or “Thik hai” – none of which, I thought, could really sound comforting to a person with MDR-TB. By the time provider took us to the patient’s house the crowd on the streets declined and I was able to peek into the people’s homes. I saw shy and curious looks in the children’s eyes as we were walking down the street. Soon we stopped in front of the house of our patient. The house was in the basement of a building and right at the entrance there was a long pipe, which was leaking out the green contaminated water.
To enter the house we had to bend and jump down a tiny bit. I remember thinking how easily it would be for that green water to flow in during the monsoon weather. The flies were everywhere: on the floor, on the dishes, on the furniture. I thought to myself: What would it be like to spend one night here? For these people though, it was lifetime of living in same conditions. As we entered the room I saw a child lying on the bed and I thought to myself: “That’s our patient”. I was looking at the child and I was amazed to see how peacefully he played on the bed. Then in an instant, a woman passed by me.
She had a friendly smile on her face and welcoming eyes. In fact, she looked so healthy and strong and to my surprise – she was the patient we came to visit.
Her name is Anita. She is 30 years old and is a mother of three children – two sons and a girl. She got married illegally when she was 15 and had her first child a year later. When she was declared as a MDR-TB patient in 2012 her husband, who worked in export factory, showed no support and was treating her poorly. Illiterate and helpless, Anita could not even dare to show her misery or voice her issues. Living alone she shared the destiny of many women in this community. Yet, when I saw her, I could not read any of it from her face.
She started of as a regular TB patient. She took CAT I medicine at her villager for 6 months. She relapsed and had to go through another 8-9 months TB treatment in 2009 in Delhi. Once she was declared MDR her only hope was Operation ASHA. She left her home because of the safety of her children but like any mother, could not stay away from them and came back. MDR-TB is a two year long, painful treatment. Initially she responded fine to the medication but soon the side effects brought in a lot of pain. Once she tried committing suicide because the pain was becoming unbearable but the thought of her children’s future stopped her. Since then she has been taking the medication regularly and is feeling so much better. In another six months she will be cured. She hopes her story can motivate other TB patients to follow their treatment fully.
If there is something I will remember from this visit then it is certainly the kind reception we received in her modest home. Her humble acts of kindness have made me realize that despite her socio-economic situation, in my eyes she was far wealthier than many who have it all.
She echoes the sentiments of Dr Shelly Batra, President and Co-Founder, Operation ASHA, who firmly believes that kindness and compassion can do wonders, and give the extra ‘push’ to work done by well meaning individuals and organizations across the world.