Scrubbing a little harder – Lorraine’s New Year at Sambhavna

From: Lorraine’s blogspot – she’ll be posting regular updates from now on, covering everything from the development of Sambhavna’s satellite clinics and health camps in the communities to reports on the water situation and how the medicinal herb garden is growing…

A very Happy New Year to all of you, wherever in the world you may be.

It seems fitting that I should begin writing this on the 1st January 2011. The start of a new year, a new place, new people and many new experiences seems a good time to pick up this blog, although that may be a good excuse for some lengthly procrastination.  I did some traditional New Years Deep Cleaning today. It was all there, the dustpan the mop, the steel wool the dust and a tiny bit of a hangover from the night before. Also there, and not so traditional, at least for me anyway; was the Muslim call to prayer, the barking of 15 dogs at a passing goat, the call of  “Hello Miss” from the children from the opposite rooftop and the smell of samosas and chai from the street below. As you might have guessed I’m back in India. Is anyone really surprised?

As I cleaned the tops of cupboards and beat dust out of rugs, whilst reflecting on 2010 and the many wonderful experiences, opportunities and people it presented I became acutely aware of the smell of dirt, the feeling of grime on my hands and the fact that cleaning an 8-bedded dormitory with only me in it appeared to be far more work than I originally anticipated. Was I just getting old and lazy, definitely a likelihood, or could it have been the fact that nothing I was using to clean with contained ANY chemicals or synthetic products? Linseed oil on the mosquito netting, white vinegar on the windows and a concoction of natural soap melted in water as an all purpose cleaner. . .watch out Vanish, Flash and even Dr Bronner with your magical ‘natural’ soap (which I am, admittedly sill washing myself with) Sambhavna’s in town, and they’re doing a pretty incredible job, and not just at protecting my skin, lungs and clothes from chemicals that we, as a society, are conditioned to believe we need.

Sambhavna is a clinic in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh that provides allopathic and ayurvedic treatment, as well as yoga, panchakarma and an impressive community health programme to survivors of the 1984 gas leak. This gas leak, from a Union Carbide Pesticide plant built on top of a densely populated area was the biggest industrial disaster in history, killing over 8000 people in the first few days and over 23,000 in the years since. Around 100,000 people continue to suffer effects of gas exposure. The humanitarian catastrophe is ongoing thanks to the refusal of anybody responsible to clean up the factory site, meaning that the water supply for entire communities continues to be poisoned by tonnes of chemicals that are lying in the ground, 26 years after the initial leak.

Generations of people face a multitude of physical, psychological, psychiatric and developmental problems and it is at Sambhavna that they can find an element of relief. It is the only example of totally integrative care I have ever seen, where allopathic physicians work alongside massage therapists and yoga teachers. The aim is to treat people in a holistic manner, while allowing them to participate fully in their treatment, reducing the number of unnecessary pharmaceuticals people have traditionally been bombarded with and eliminating the top down approach that we are used to. This approach doesn’t just apply to treatment. The organisation is almost entirely non hierarchical. Yesterday I sat, somewhat bemused in the weekly meeting where all 60 members of staff get together to discuss. . .well anything. From the seemingly trivial to the bigger political campaign everything is discussed at length and I was humbled, surprised and inspired by the confidence that everyone from the cleaner to the consultant physician displayed. There definitely were heated moments but in general everyone was free to make their point, opinions were respected and the chair-people, who change weekly so that everyone has an opportunity, were organised and kept things running without being autocratic.

So, having spent a few days orientating myself to my new surroundings and trying to put names to faces I am starting to make plans. I hope to work with the community health workers, who appear to do a phenomenal job of educating the 60 or so community health volunteers in gas affected areas, which are mostly slum colonies. I’m not quite sure what its all going to involve yet but it seems my first job is to make some friends, in pigeon Hindi and try to convince the Community Health team that I’m not quite as suspicious as they seem to think !! I’m hoping that some good old Scottish charm and a bit of translation from Shenaz, the wonderful librarian/health promoter (and my only hope of ever understanding anything about the way things work here) will do that job. I also would really like to spend some time in the tranquility of the beautiful Ayurvedic garden where all the natural medicines are produced, learning about the variety of medicinal plants that grow and helping the friendly gardeners. I’ll let you know how that goes given that at the moment I can barely grow my fingernails never mind anything that is actually dependent on botanical ability!

I am hoping to raise £5000  for the Bhopal Medical Appeal who are doing a cracking job of raising funds for both Sambhavna and the Chingari Trust, which is run by some remarkable activist women and looks after mentally and physically disabled children. They don’t take any donations from corporate sources and they really need to funds to continue to do the work they are doing, and to expand in the ways they would like to. I’m already a good bit of the way there thanks to incredibly generous donations from friends and family – many thanks to all who have donated. The weblink is www.justgiving.com/lorryc so get clicking and help me out however you can.

Plug over, but seriously, the work that is happening here is truly inspirational. It’s important and it’s an example of the integrative and holistic approach to life that is so badly needed on our planet. The soap and cleaning products are just the very tip of the iceberg here. But the concept is the same throughout.

As I sit in my very clean but not sparkling room, and contemplate how satisfying it feels to have worked a little bit harder with a little bit less and to have avoided the chemical filled gack of the multi-nationals I feel blessed to be spending time here, among compassionate, motivated and educated people who really do have the well-being of their communities at heart, and who continue to fight every single day for justice, healthcare and global recognition for the survivors in Bhopal. I look forward to blogging more detailed information on the different aspects of life here and I’d love your feedback on what is interesting and what is not (assuming SOMEthing is!) For now Love and Om Shanti to all of you I’m off to roast some eggplants for dinner…

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We believe Dow & DuPont must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.