One of my favorite weeks in India was spent in the first week of this month in Darjeeling for my site visit spent at Broadleaf Health and Education Alliance, Michael and Denna Matergia’s newly founded non-profit. It was no ordinary site visit, but had evolved into a small conference – my fellow fellows Mandy, Tracy, Nikita, Aliza, Ashley, Jess, and myself all making the trip up North to learn more about the health education initiatives that Broadleaf – and specifically it’s project CHIPP (Comprehensive Health and Hygiene Improvement Program) – are implementing throughout primary schools in the surrounding Darjeeling area. I expected to enjoy myself, but could never have anticipated how lovely, informative, and refreshing the week would prove to be. We stayed at an amazing place called Karmi Farms, where a huge deck overlooked a mountain valley and Himalayan foothills while the view from the back of the house gave occasional cloud-ringed glimpses of Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. One of the highlights of the week was Mandy’s birthday celebration, where everyone gathered in the kitchen to make absurd amounts of momos (a steamer stacked 5 layers high) and then proceeded to eat them all.
Mike had made sure the time was full of time in the field and fortunately, most of those fields could be hiked to. We would trek in the mornings to visit three different schools where CHIPP was being implemented and observed a variety of age groups being taught CHIPP curriculum, as well as de-worming and growth monitoring done as part of CHIPP. The schools were both public and private, including one located on a tea plantation.
CHIPP seems to be off to a fantastic start. At all of the schools, the children seemed to be understanding and enjoying the programming and the feedback from teachers and school administrators was glowing. Due to the impact that the programs have had on the children’s health practices, now parents are taking notice and have begun requesting classes of their own. Children were monitoring each other, reminding each other of the importance of hand washing, etc. The relay race was particularly great, as the lines of kids hurried to put on shower shoes, run and squat at the “toilet”, run and wash their hands, and get back to the starting line. It was great to see this kind of interactive learning, and the kids seemed to love it. The teachers at the schools seem to be fully on board and the health educators that CHIPP has employed seem zealous and super charismatic.
In addition to visiting Broadleaf’s field sites, we were able to have many discussions collectively regarding a wide range of topics – from rural health care to education and curriculum writing to the political history of Darjeeling – while we all rested our tired legs from the days work. I couldn’t have asked for a better week.