A student’s summer project – To India and Back

MSc Control of Infectious Diseases student Ruth Zwizwai wrote a blog during her summer project. In this post Ruth shares the highlights of her trip to India…

“Where you go becomes part of you somehow.” – Anita Desai

This summer project has been challenging and rewarding in equal measures. From the planning stages prior to my departure to Mumbai, the Mumbai experience, to the field trip to Lucknow with the research team interviewing doctors, exploring New and Old Delhi and completing the Golden Triangle with fellow CID friend H.H, being offered and completing a short internship with Public Health Foundation of India, as well as being lucky to experience India with the kindest family who made me feel part of the family – it has been a rollercoaster! Though there were several highs there were also some challenges including difficulties with the project which changed from the original objectives and also at times feeling very overwhelmed by India.

Completing the project write up required  late nights and several moments where I thought I don’t know if this even going to be done on time however, the dissertation was printed, bounded and handed in with 30minutes to spare followed by a celebratory Prosecco-filled afternoon and an evening watching an Ebola documentary – naturally.

The best part of the project was getting the opportunity to go to the other side of the world to conduct the project data collection and also the opportunity to explore parts of India. To summarise my India experience I picked my three favourite experiences and pictures.

1) Project interviews in districts near Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh State) and Gurgaon (Haryana state)

My project changed to understanding healthcare seeking behaviours and knowledge of mothers who have children with diarrhoea through interviews with healthcare providers. For the first data collection I flew to Lucknow with my supervisor and spent 3 days conducting interviews when I could and collecting as much data as possible. This meant for this field trip and the rest of the project I got to galavant around India talking to doctors, some patients and public health officials. The interviews also gave me an opportunity to see the different range of healthcare providers in India from private clinics to government facilities and NGO clinics. I conducted interviews whilst sitting in small cubicle type rooms crowded with patients, curious by-standers and the rest of the research team. I also conducted interviews in spacious glitzy private clinics where I felt a bit underdressed. These facilities are worlds apart yet could be physically meters away from each other; I found this disparity everywhere in India.

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When we arrived at this clinic there was no one outside, we entered and everyone instantly surrounded my research team listening to the conversation with one of the doctors. As they he was not able to talk to us in that moment we left and were followed out by these curious gazes:

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“She doesn’t play anymore …she just lies there”. This grandmother had brought her grandchild to the clinic as she has had diarrhoeal illness for almost a week. The “pills” she had received from the village doctor had not worked, nor the ash from the traditional healer. She was therefore forced to borrow money to bring her grandchild to the clinic.

2) Completing the  golden triangle (Delhi- Jaipur-Agra)

Completing the Golden Triangle was my must do sightseeing goal  during my trip to India. Staying a metro ride from Delhi I had completed one step and luckily my fellow CID friend H.H came through India on her way back to the UK from her project based in Nepal. And so together we set off on a little adventure to Jaipur then Agra to complete the triangle. Our first leg Delhi to Jaipur began with a 4 hour early morning train (our first experience of the infamous Indian railway system) arriving in time for a day of sightseeing. The next day an early start again as we headed to the majestic Amber Fort and took an ethically ambiguous elephant ride up from the base of the fort to the top. This was followed by views of the floating palace and wondering around the vibrant markets of Jaipur. We took an early morning sleeper train to Agra.

Standing at the entrance of one of the wonders of the world you know exactly why it is called so, the Taj Mahal is grand yet simple and the most amazing white which almost sparkles against the skyline. Just simply stunning. After lunch at a nearby restaurant with rooftop views of the Taj Mahal, where we proceeded to get attacked by a monkey (the stick we were given to protect ourselves in case of this eventuality did not help, infect it aggravated the monkey), we were ready to leave Agra.

3) Wandering around Old Delhi and her Bazaars

The best part of Delhi hands down is Old Delhi; wandering through Old Delhi’s narrow crowded streets surrounding the Jama Masjid Mosque, you feel like you have been transported back in time. This was also the best place to sample Delhi’s street food “chaat”.

I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of visiting a new country and navigating my way through it and no doubt the experience has helped prepare me for my career goal: to help fight infectious diseases in developing countries (or as some may put it be an infectious disease cowgirl). Next step finding a job that will set me on this path… The game is on!

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