Sunday, June 21, 2015

Week 1: Welcome to India!

Hello! I will begin with a day-to-day basis overview of my activities (for those of you who would like to skim J) and then dive into some of my unexpected challenges and interesting experiences.

Tuesday, June 16th – After arriving in Chennai, I briefly visited the Ayzh office and met with Rehana, the operations manager. She was incredibly welcoming and kind as she told me to call her any time and arranged for me to stay in the women’s Hostel in Chennai later in the month. Then, I traveled to Bangalore because my project mentor, Sanjukta, lives there.

Wednesday, June 17th – I spent the day learning more details of my project. Sanjukta went over the Ayzh’s development as a social venture and how the Newborn Kit got started. The Newborn Kit won a challenge sponsored by IDEO (, which means IDEO is helping support the project with some finances and a small design team. The design team was in India from May 31st to June 11th to learn more about the project context. They are currently working on developing prototypes based on their visit and we will have a Skype meeting with them this Wednesday.

Thursday, June 18th – Sanjukta gave me an overview of the healthcare systems in India. She described hierarchy based on population density and how it is supposed to work in theory. We met with the translator, who will be traveling and working with me when I travel to the primary health center in Chamarajanagar. In the afternoon, we went to the government hospital in Bangalore, which was shockingly different from what I am used to (no hand sanitizer, no monitors, no doctor’s appointments – people arrive and wait).

Friday, June 19th – Sanjukta, her friend Usha, and I traveled to a primary health center in Chamarajanagar District. I talked with some of the nurses, mothers and ASHAs ( ) there. Because we had traveled so far, we decided to visit some of the temples and river as well. Rural India is stunning!

Working with Sanjukta:
Sanjukta’s warm, bubbly, caring nature is very welcoming! She set up in a hotel in a nice area in Bangalore and gave me an Indian phone card. She is easy to laugh, incredibly patient and quite flexible.  Working with her has been very fun for me! She has a lot of experience working for social ventures and human centered design and I feel fortunate to learn from her this summer.   

Despite the large amount of work required to prepare for the International Design Summit (IDDS) that Ayzh is hosting (, Sanjukta has put a lot of time into introducing me to the project and Bangalore. By traveling around the city with her, I have learned more about transportation (taxis and auto-rickshaws), the culture and the city, which has helped me feel more comfortable and confident.

District Hospital Visit: (Bangalore)
There were families sitting on the ground in the hallways and grounds of the district hospital. Apparently people do not make appointments with doctors, but just show up with the expectation to wait, which is essentially what we did. We walked around the hospital to go to the delivery room and track some doctors down.

At the district hospital, I was surprised by the lack of basic equipment, such as a heart rate monitor. Has no one designed for this sort of medical setup? Considering that doctors and nurses currently don’t use them, would it be used if it was developed? When I picture medical practice, I imagine a lot of equipment and it amazed me that medicine can even be practiced somewhat successfully without such equipment. In the labor and delivery room, where all normal births happen, the doctors were not wearing a face mask or shield and they worked. To see a labor and delivery room in the US, I would need to sign confidentiality forms and receive the patient’s permission.  As a visitor just walking into the labor and delivery room, I felt weird because I worried about imposing on the patient’s privacy. When we walked around the hospital and into the ICUs, I became conscious of my presence and lack of my own sanitation. Where is the hand sanitizer that I automatically reach for when I enter any patient area or room? I worried about contributing to the high infection rates and poor sanitation. Considering the high number of hospital-associated infections, I cannot even imagine the rate at this district hospital. My experience was more different than what I imagined. I was surprised that some ICU units were not full. I bet more people need care than are receiving it.  

Primary Health Center Visit: (Chamarajanagar District)
Talking with the women in the primary health center in Chamarajanagar (a beautiful area of rural India) was very challenging because I was unsure how to ask questions in a way to get the information I wanted. When I asked a new mother about how she felt about being a mother, she apparently stated “good” through the translator, one of Sanjukta’s friends. I realized asking such abstract, general questions would not help me get the detailed, nuanced information I wanted. Communication was challenging.

When I asked a nurse what she did not like and what she liked about her job, I was surprised by her response, “I don’t have a favorite or least favorite part. I just do whatever is given to me”. Her “do whatever is given to me” attitude suggests an indifference to her work probably because of burn-out. She works very hard, yet she does not seem to question or think about why she is doing what she is doing. I asked the question again because I was certain what she was telling me wasn't true. I can understand her through my lens as a student doing the work given to me in my classes, but (most of the time) I do the work with the belief that my work is valuable in some sense and is part of a larger process towards achieving some valuable goal. I wanted to understand the nurse better. I wonder what purpose this nurse finds in her work and her life. It seems my understanding is inhibited by my western, privileged assumption that everyone thinks about what they are doing and why they are doing it to develop their sense of purpose for the work they do. 

Little Challenges I did not Expect:
Traveling alone in India has been an adjustment because most of the drivers speak little English and I have no idea where anything is. I am adapting by writing down the addresses of places that I want to go and examining the map of the city on my phone as I travel. I have also recognized a couple times where I paid more than necessary for my ride because of my white skin. I now say, “turn on your meter” when I first get into the auto-rickshaw.

I tried to do a little shopping for the first time and I realized how awkward I feel in stores. In one small store, the sales person followed me around about three steps away, as if I need to be baby-sat while shopping. I felt uncomfortable because I like my space when shopping. I was unsuccessful in my first shopping mission, but my experience has gotten better.

Overall, my first week was incredibly interesting and stimulating. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! :) Tomorrow, I will be traveling to Chennai by train with Sanjukta to work at the Ayzh office and help prepare for IDDS. 

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