So our last day at Sambhavna, feeling sad to be leaving, there’s still so much to do and learn, though having said that we definitely have a sense of achievement: We made a quick virtual tour earlier this week, managed to compile all staff portraits and information, finished our ethics essay, and did further write ups on our stay, as well as get 6hours of film footage, oo and showered garden in the monsoon yesterday, phew. … Firstly some medical things. We did a mini survey while in Dr Wazeem’s clinic. It was quite interesting to see why patients weren’t taking their medicines. Here are the results: Reason for Non- compliance Tally Addiction Fear III Poor Education - Complicated drug regime -Difficult to explain how drugs work, so patient has little faith in them. II Nature of person – doesn’t like to take the medicines II Inconvenient – lives far away from the clinic and taxi costs II Contact with “quacks” – (non registered people practising medicine) They would encourage patients just to take their medicines and in the process line their pockets I Travelling away from Bhopal – can’t get medicines. I Out of the 40 or so patients 11 of those were non-compliant – this was a bad day for it though! Of particular concern was the issue with “quacks.” These hoax physicians set up clinics or surgeries which promise the patient a cure for their illness, in just a few short weeks; if they take the very expensive, often ineffective medicine. One patient had a problem with his knee joint. He went to a Quack, who told him he needed an X-ray, then a CT scan- which he payed for. He was then given some expensive medicine, that didn’t work, lastly he was told he would need an operation, for which a huge sum of money would be required. At this point he came to Sambhavna, and for free he was able to get instant relief from Ayuvedic medicines, so much so he was walking unaided in 3 days. Addiction fear was quite a big issue, many patient don’t want to end up dependant on the drugs, which is quite understandable. This is different with something like diabetes, however, where medication compliance is essential to reduce the long term risks of high blood sugar. Another area of interest we spent some time on was women’s health. There are a number of diseases that contamination with Methyl Isocynate seems to induce. We already mentioned endocrine disorders, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. In women’s health the endocrine disorder seen is Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. It create a hormone imbalance where patients suffer from infertility, an-ovulation (no egg maturity and release), obesity, diabetes and excess androgen (masculinizing hormone.) Clearly a very distressing disease, particularly the infertility which can causes great emotional and social unhappiness. The current gynaecologist is new to the clinic, but was struck by the large numbers of PCOS she was seeing. It seemed to be much higher the their usual prevalence of 5%, she is currently compiling a list of all her PCOS patients, so hopefully Sambhavna can learn more about why MIC exposure seems to be creating this. We learnt a little about Obstetric practice in India. We went to visit a government hospital and were quite shocked at the bareness and brutality of the obstetric ward. However, this is the better option for many women as the DAI (midwives) who work in the communities will not be well qualified. Furthermore they get payed by baby delivered, so when a baby is failing to progress, instead of sending for an ambulance to get to hospital, they will want to deliver the baby; alive, dead or damaged. India now actually has a scheme which gives a financial reward of Rs2000 (about 25-30pounds) if a women comes to hospital to give birth. This is to try and reduce child and maternal mortality. Despite all this there is a strong tradition of giving birth at home, and many women would be too afraid to go to Government hospitals, with their frightening reputation for death as well as charges. Moving on, we at last decided to face the culprit of the Bhopal disaster; the Union Carbide factory itself. It is truly as sinister as you might imagine. A twisted, eroded, contorted, structure; gas cylinders and metal cage frames collapsing slowly into the putrid dust. The smell, with a metallic taste in the back of your throat and the immediate nausea the site induced was a real shock. You could feel it from the adjacent colony we had been working in, but as you got onto the grounds it was over powering. We walked straight from our community project, passed one extra line of shacks, through a short, well trodden mud path and were there. A collapsed wall welcomed us in with no restrictions or hazard signs. There were two guards which actually live permanently on site, inside the buildings. As we visited they were hanging there washing up on top of a central building which seemed such a bizarre normality to witness in the midst of a catastrophe site. At the now blurred factory/community boundary families collected soil and water whilst goats grazed in and amongst the rusted tanks, stacks and silos. Another cruel joke gripped us when the community workers explained that the Hindi for this colony was “Beautiful” and as we dwelled on this children ran off, into the greenery that surrounds some of the site, to play. Heading back down a road which ran parallel with the factory boundary we came upon a young man pumping hard to get some water for cooking from a well. Stopping to smell the water, a chemical toxic aroma hit us, it was just unbelievable that the people here had to use this water. We’d earlier heard a story from a mother with a terrible dilemma. The clean water that is meant to be provided for the effected area had not been delivered in 8days. She therefore had to choose to either let her children die of dehydration or make them drink the toxic water. In a way the people are in denial about the toxic water, they just get on with life and enjoy themselves, they don’t want to have to think about being poisoned all the time! However as time goes on, the chemicals accumulate in their bodies and effect their health along with the future generations health. As the haunting silhouette of the factory skeleton continues to loom over them it seemed to show that despite the wonderful work at Sambhavna, the struggle for justice and a right to life in Bhopal is still an open wound, and DOW refuses the help the healing. Bhopal is fortunate in the unique situation at Sambhavna, and it has been a privilege to be involved for just a short period of time here. The trust provides a beacon of hope both here and to the rest of the world showing that not all humans innately step over each other in the name of profit. We’ve learnt about the rich, incredible culture in Bhopal along with the strong sense of history and identity all but forgotten under the ink blot of Union Carbide. A great many things have come from the ashes here or in the words of the empowering Women’s group Chingari trust “Flames not flowers”. Above all the community strength has been the key and 26 years on, under the guidance of individuals such as Sathyu Sarangi (The Sambhavna Managing Trustee) the focus on the fight for justice is unwavering. We can only hope as we stand in history as humans that this terrible wrong can be put right again. Our days have literally been too short to take all that there is to see here, but we hope we provide a glimpse of some of the magic.
Lotte and Joe xxx
Thankyou for sharing this experience with us. We’ll be cutting a small documentary about Bhopal once we’re back but we’d like to encourage you to have a look at these websites.