Hardeep Bhatha: Public Health Business Management
Mid-Year Public Progress Report
Hardeep Bhatha comes to Indicorps with post-graduate degree in International Project Managemnet. Hardeep brings her passion for social development to her partner organization Chaitanya as they collectively assemble an affordable health insurance project for women from rural areas.
Chaitanya & Community Background
Chaitanya is a development organization founded by Dr. Sudha Kothari to spread the Self Help Group (SHG) movement across Maharashtra. Chaitanya initially focused on microfinance to help women understand the importance of savings and credit. This has been a positive leap forward for the women in SHG’s, as it has assisted countless families in rising above the poverty line. Due to the success of Chaitanya’s microfinance activities, the organization has expanded to include income generation programs, livelihoods training, legal literacy, water sanitation, health awareness and capacity building for other organizations. Its current activities target women, men, youth and other organizations working in development.
I live in Rajgurunagar, a rural community that is undergoing tremendous urbanization. This community has people from all walks of life; from the upper middle class to impoverished migrant workers. I interact with all “classes” of the community and live and laugh each day with local villagers, migrant workers and trades people. A daily challenge for many of these people is survival. I meet families who barely have enough to eat on a day to day basis, yet make sure that I am well fed before I leave their home. I meet people who live in tin roof shacks, yet the warmth of their home feels like home to me. On the surface, their personalities do not reveal that they are experiencing hardships due to lack of basic necessities; yet they are. Getting to know them, staying with them in their homes and talking with them on a daily basis has shown me that they have needs, desires and dreams, but lack the means to fulfill them. They worry about their children’s futures and how they will pay for their education expenses. They worry about not having enough clean water each day or food to fill their stomachs. These daily challenges make life that much more difficult for them to survive.
The project that I am currently undertaking as an Indicorps Fellow is titled Public Health Business Management. The original project description stated that the role of the first two Indicorps Fellows is to create and oversee a health insurance scheme for the women of each SHG. A third Fellow would be responsible for creating a preventative health campaign. My responsibility was overseeing the business and financial aspects of the new insurance scheme. I conducted needs assessments, looking at financial capacities in an attempt to create services that will cater to the needs of the population. I have also been negotiating with hospitals and clinics about providing services at reduced prices. While the focus of the project has not changed over the past six months, the roles of the Fellows have evolved. For the first five months, all the Fellows were involved with the research and development of the health product. Currently the roles have split and there is one Fellow focusing on the business side of the community based health protection, while my role is to engage with the community to spread health information using creative communication methods such as street plays, wall paintings and games. Although the roles of the Fellows have switched from their original descriptions, we have each given our input on all aspects of the project and we are fully informed about one another’s activities.
The project benefits women and families who are part of the SHG network in Khed taluka. Through field research, it was found that families spend large amounts of money on healthcare. Much of the time the expenses could be lower or completely avoided. Due to the lack of access and awareness about health, villagers’ health expenses are extremely high. Once implemented, this project will provide major benefits to the target population. Families will experience financial benefits, as they will be spending less money on healthcare. In addition, they will also benefit by being a part of preventative health campaigns and services that are freely available to all members of the policy. This is a very holistic policy which addresses healthcare quality, access and prevention. This project has the potential to make major improvements in the health of villages all over Khed Taluka.
The part of the project that I am most proud of is the innovative way we address health needs. This project does not involve working with a private insurance company to provide access to healthcare. Instead we are creating a community pool of funds which the community itself manages to pay out healthcare bills. It is an innovative way to help villagers understand the concept of insurance and savings for health related expenses. It gets them thinking about the need for heath protection and allows them to understand why it is important to take care of their own health.
We are in the process of planning for implementation. Without the Indicorps Fellows presence, this project would not be a primary focus for Chaitanya, even though it is a dire need for the target population.
What I find valuable about my presence here has nothing to do with the project. I feel that I have learned so much from being in India, in the villages and interacting with people. I am able to engage with youth who are intrigued by the fact that I have left a comfortable life to come here and work in villages. They are fascinated by the experiences I have had in the villages. Although I no longer think it is a challenge to live the simple life and do as the villagers do, others are motivated by it. I feel that other youth look to me and see fearlessness. Although I would disagree, it seems to motivate them to learn more about their own communities and make positive changes in their own lives. This is invaluable to both me and others in the community.
Project Implementation Progress and Future Plans
This project has made significant progress in the last couple of months. Due to the innovative health protection idea, it took a lot of convincing to ensure everyone was willing to try out a new form of health protection. Once everyone agreed to move forward, we have been able to go ahead with negotiations with our partner organization. We have also been able to begin a health protection awareness campaign, where we are using creative and fun methods to educate the community on the importance of health protection and the benefits they will receive from it. Once a product has been finalized, the health campaign will be restructured to include the details of the policy.
Personal progress has been tremendous throughout this journey; far more than anything I could have dreamed. Outside of this project, I have been able to connect with the people I am collaborating with. It is something that I did not focus on in previous employment positions. However being an Indicorps Fellow has allowed me to understand the value of other people and how important they are to the project.
This project has involved the community on many different levels. The community has stated its needs and desires regarding healthcare and has been actively involved in spreading awareness about health insurance. Street plays are being conducted in each village and the cast mobilizes local youth from within the community. Each and every street play conducted is composed of local members of the community to ensure that the information stays within the community. The youth can become points of contact within villages to further answer questions.
I will use the momentum from the past six months to further the progress of the project. I think I have adapted well to the environment which will allow me to overcome future obstacles that come in my path. My passion for people and development has also grown tremendously over the past six months and this will fuel the progress of this project. I have the energy to succeed and I think the people I am surrounded by on a daily basis will motivate me to push harder to make the project a success.
I am confident that this project will be up and running by the end of the Fellowship. One goal is to ensure the long term sustainability of the project. This will require a successful transfer of knowledge and skills to the community over the next few months. For this project to continue it requires full-time attention from staff and an effective sharing of the lessons we have learned. I also want to ensure that those involved with this project (locally) are motivated to learn more about their health and take the necessary steps to ensure that they stay healthy.
Coming to Indicorps, I was ignorant of the mission and values of the organization. I came into this program with a strong interest in the project and in the developing world. recently completed a post-graduate program in International Project Management and I was looking for an internship that would allow me to apply my skills in the developing world. Additionally, I was fascinated by others’ stories and experiences in other countries, and was seeking an adventure in life. I had a romanticized view of development work. I thought that Indicorps would be able to provide me with the experience I had dreamt of.
However, my thoughts and opinions about being an Indicorps Fellow have drastically changed since I began this Fellowship. My romanticized view of development was never fulfilled and I have instead been put into challenging, physically exhausting, and sometimes dangerous yet thought-provoking situations. I began this Fellowship with thoughts of project results, whereas now I am focusing on relationship building within communities. This experience has allowed me to see the value of other human beings. I am no longer looking at numbers on reports to dictate the success or failure of a project. Instead, I am looking to hear personal stories from the people themselves. I don’t see the world as reports, books or numbers; instead I see the faces behind those reports, books and numbers. I see this shaping the way I live the rest of my life as I’ve realized the importance of human relations; something I feel that was lacking in my life.
There are times where feelings of hopelessness can bring down my spirit due to the challenging environment that I am living in. I have seen a lot of harsh realities here. These challenging situations make it difficult to stay positive and be hopeful of seeing improvements in people’s lives. Staying positive in such cruel situations is a huge challenge, but the space of the Fellowship has allowed me to vent my frustrations and receive feedback on how I can overcome challenges. Being able to discuss my frustrations and challenges at any time of day has been an incredible source of support. Having the support of dedicated staff, alumni, and other fellows has allowed me to stay positive through the worst of times.
While I am currently unsure of the direction my life will take at the end of this Fellowship, I do know that I want to continue engaging with people at the very grassroots level; whether this will happen in India, Canada or elsewhere is yet to be determined. Being an Indicorps Fellow has confirmed my desire to continue working with people that are in the most need. I realize that I have a lot to learn from the people who are so often neglected from mainstream society. My greatest education in life has come from the people that I have been engaging and living alongside on a day to day basis here in India. I think there is a two way learning process that needs to happen between the advantaged and disadvantaged, and only then can we truly understand each other as human beings. If I had not done this Fellowship, I would have continued being engaged with people in the social sector, however I would not place as much value on my experiences and interactions with people. This year has allowed me to look past projects, management and numerical results and instead treat humans as humans. As important as projects are, it is even more important to remember that those subjects are people, just like you and me. Being an Indicorps Fellow has not only taught me how to adapt to harsh environments and remain positive even in the most difficult times, but also to connect with people on a day to day basis. This has been the greatest learning experience in my life and it will be a lifelong endeavor to continue connecting with everyone I cross paths with.
Hardeep Bhatha, August 2009 Indicorps Fellow