Spring 2014 IBD Team World Health Partners (Crystan Allan, Julie Barmeyer, Dan Hudes, Jeff Routh) is working with small village healthcare providers in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, India.
7667 miles and 8 flights later, the 2014 World Health Partners (WHP) IBD team arrived in Delhi, India to assess the organization’s financial sustainability. For three of us, this was our first time in India (Crystan had previously visited the Golden Triangle). While we had some expectations, we were really unsure what our experience would be like, but we were excited to embark on our “Adventure Level 5” consulting project!
During our three weeks here in India, we traveled hundreds of miles to reach small village providers in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Unlike the rigid and heavily regulated healthcare industry in the US, Indians rely extensively on the informal provider sector. WHP provides a platform to help ensure that the rural poor receive quality healthcare. WHP has had a long and fruitful relationship with IBD, so we were fortunate enough to leverage past projects during our research phase in Berkeley. For this year’s project, we focused on assessing areas where WHP could improve profitability for long-term financial sustainability. While we have high standards for ourselves, we felt an added pressure to provide quality recommendations that would help such a noble organization!
Our trip put us through a variety of emotions- we were surprised, excited, frustrated, pleased, delighted, terrified, and humbled. This was the trip of a lifetime and one blog cannot sum up how much this experience has impacted us. So, to help our readers understand our experience, we’ve created our Top Ten Memories from our time abroad:
Indian Traffic -On our first day in Delhi, one of our Indian classmates shared his thoughts on driving: “Lane driving is so boring”. Apparently, Northern Indians feel the same way because we experienced the Delhi Hustle throughout Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. After sitting in a traffic jam on a bridge for seven and a half hours, (caused by cars crossing to the opposite side of the road to overtake traffic in both directions) we will never complain about traffic on the Bay Bridge again.
Taking the plunge with street food in Uttar Pradesh – the guidebooks warned us to not eat street food; we did anyways. And it was some of the best food that we had on the trip. The savory samosas with spices that made our mouths sweat and the fresh lassi with raisins, nuts, and shredded coconut made our afternoon break between interviews all the more memorable. Dan can attest that it truly was the best lassi because he tried to find an even better version in each town we visited, but to no avail.
Appreciating California Weather – Temperatures hovered around 115 degrees Fahrenheit and air conditioning was non-existent in the villages. The entire team battled heat stroke with Emergen-C, electrolyte jelly beans, and hand fans given to us by our hosts. We were amazed by how the villagers took the heat in stride and their nonchalant exclamations that “If you think this is bad, you should see what it’s like during monsoon season”.
Seeing “Wicked” Problems Firsthand -this trip truly took us out of our comfort zone. While we comfortably read about the problems in developing countries, India’s rural population faces challenges that we couldn’t fully grasp until we saw them first hand:
– Widespread Malnutrition – one pregnant patient weighed only 32 kg (71 lbs) and poor prenatal care continues the cycle.
– Tuberculosis Epidemic – 40% of the population is infected with TB; but the long term, continual treatment is challenging to villagers who work long hours and have limited electricity during the day and no electricity at night.
– Seasonal Cycles of Diarrhea and Pneumonia – children and adults alike are impacted by the yearly diseases that the summer and monsoon season bring. The majority of the patients we interviewed and visited with had one of these ailments.
Trip to the Taj Mahal – through extensive SMS text planning (we forgot how long it takes to send a text using T9), we were able to meet up with Dora Chai and Charles Guo from another IBD team based in India to visit the Taj Mahal. Many landmarks are touristy and underwhelming, but the Taj was everything it was cracked up to be. Impressive, majestic, and magical.
Rock Star Status – as we ventured outside of the major cities, we quickly drew a crowd. Our fair skin, blonde hair, and height dropped jaws and inspired children and adults alike to gather around us to stare- everywhere we went people asked us to pose for pictures. We now have a new appreciation for celebrities who dream of anonymity!
Appreciation for Indian Hospitality – We visited a number of rural healthcare providers who have very little disposable income. Despite their financial status, every host offered us a shaded place to sit, beverages and/or their best snacks.
Indian Ingenuity – With a population of 1.25 billion people and limited resources, we saw several creative solutions to everyday problems. Need to get somewhere and the bus is full? No problem, climb on top and hang on! Wheelchair stuck on the rugged roads? No problem, use a half-wheelchair half-mountain bike! Everywhere we looked, we saw creative solutions to life’s everyday problems.
Embracing the Colors of India – everywhere we went, colors flooded the scene. Women donned colorful kurtas and saris, Tata trucks were painted bright colors, and even the food was a palette of colors. Whether the local people were working in the fields, celebrating a marriage, or attending a meeting, the streets are always alive with rich reds, deep purples and bright blues.
Lasting Friendships – when even a short weekend road trip can make the best of friends, three weeks of travel, work, and play in a foreign country will cement a group together, for better or for worse. We’ve seen each other at our most vulnerable and have grown from the experience together.
Our three weeks of IBD in India have been incredible – from relishing in the culture to being part of a business team in a foreign country, this has been one “school project” that we will never forget!