Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Journey Before the Journey

Did you know that you need an India Visa to stay in India for more than 30 days? I did not know until two weeks before my trip and the process can take 1-3 weeks. Whoops! On such short notice, the situation led my father to do extensive research, while my mother and I attended a self-defense course. When explaining my travel plans, I have been told, “be safe” many times and I plan to do just that. The course was helpful in increasing confidence and developing some useful life-long skills. Preparing for this trip has been a team effort from the many people I have spoken with and my family.

After about seven hours of visa work (2 hours the night before to fill out the form and 5 hours to figure-out how to pay for it, make sure it was perfect and place it in the mail) on a Monday, I have never been happier or more relieved to see my passport with new stickers 8 days after I mailed it! Thank goodness I do not have to change my flight.

Did you know how hard it is find a decent pair of pants in the Seattle area that will be comfortable in 100 degree weather? I have probably spent more time searching for this than any other item. Well, the single pair of pants I found shall have to do.* They are white and it will be an adventure to see what color they become. I hope to find better pants in India, where such pants are actually sold. I also ordered a pair of shoes that do not exist. Luckily, the equipment difficulties only require some perseverance and flexibility to over-come.

Preparing for this trip has been quite the journey; I hardly imagine what my journey in Chennai, India and the southern region will actually be like. I am interning with a social venture called Ayzh ( that focuses on maternal and infant health. Their hallmark product is a clean birth kit that provides women and healthcare workers all the components recommended by the World Health Organization for a safe and hygienic birth, using culturally appealing materials. They are currently developing a supplemental product of a newborn kit. The kit aims to provide mothers with thermal care, sanitation/infection. ­­In my introduction and prevention and breast feeding components to take care of their newborn. The products Ayzh are developing are important because India has one of the highest infant mortality rates.

During my introduction and preliminary research, I have learned many women consider it inauspicious to prepare for their baby by purchasing supplies before the baby is born. The financial risk is quite high for many and it has become culturally expected.  Many women wrap their newborn in dirty cloth or towels because it is their only resource available, but such materials increase the risk of infection. Ayzh’s newborn kit, led by Sanjukta, aims to help change maladaptive behaviors by providing the appropriate basic supplies and using appropriate communication avenues. My task as an intern will be to explore avenues that behavior can be changed by testing prototypes of the current kit.

I am somewhat daunted by my task, because behavior is very complex. Why would the words of a healthcare professional carry more weight than the new mom’s mother or mother-in-law? Why should the new mother do anything different than her own mother, when whatever she did obviously worked? The social and relational aspect of providing newborn care is more convenient and resonates at a deeper level for a new mother than the busy, somewhat impersonal healthcare professional.

Although I come to India with good intentions, I recognize I have a lot of challenges and learning ahead. I will meet and interact with many people with different backgrounds than I. I will learn about a new culture and healthcare system. I will learn some Hindi or other Indian languages. I will learn more about Hinduism and Islam. Given my learning journey ahead, I hope that my good intentions will actually align with my impact.

Speaking of learning and novel experiences, this is my first blog. Please let me know if you have any suggestions in terms of content, language, style, etc. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask! If you develop any suggestions based on what I am doing, please feel free to share! I think your perspective based on your own experiences is important too! You can comment or email me at I welcome all feedback!


Note: The project I described about the newborn kit development is what I currently plan to do, however, I may fulfill what role is needed once I arrive. I expect what I imagine myself doing and what I will actually be doing will be quite different. How much it will deviate? I don’t know. Probably more than I expect and I look forward to finding out.

*Update: I found a second pair of pants! Yay, REI!

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