Guest post: Jaimie Shaff is the Program Manager, Health and Nutrition for the Real Medicine Foundation India. RMF currently runs malnutrition eradication programs in over 600 villages throughout five districts of Western Madhya Pradesh, and supports HIV/AIDS Care, Support, Outreach and Treatment throughout two districts.
This birthday wish is made is honor of the kids we couldn’t save: Abishek, 4 years; Asa, 2 years; Vesta, 2 years; Guddu, 3 years; Guddu, 9 months; Unnamed, 1.5 months; Unnamed, birth; Gila, 5 years. May your little hearts and grown up souls rest in peace.
How $.07 Saved a Life.
Six months ago, my dear friend and volunteer Sophie Pisztora and I began a little fund. We were both new (I as Program Manager, Health and Nutrition for the Real Medicine Foundation and she as a volunteer for Jeevan Jyoti Health Service Society) and working our hardest to try to keep kids alive (naturally, we started at the peak time for malnutrition, malaria, and disease), but found that our best efforts were thwarted by the most serious of cases. Issues of psychosocial development, abandonment, and disease ran rampant and, after our first death, we quickly realized that we needed to be a little more creative.
The hospital we worked at in 2010 is a force to be reckoned with. The facilities are lacking, doctors minimal, and desire to actually do something to help “tribals” practically nonexistent. In absolute desperation, we “aid” workers (including Caitlin McQuilling, RMF’s Director of Programs) began to tap into our own funds and more or less, get creative. We began small, with at home production of therapeutic food (peanuts, milk powder, sugar, and oil), and bootlegged every “best practice” possible, from low-sodium ORS to RUTF.
In India, a little goes a long way, and our fund began with the 3Rs (approximately $.07) change we received when purchasing a bottle of water at the hospital canteen. Then we just started spending and spending, getting new medicines from pharmacies when the hospital refused to provide and going to the market to figure out how to con kids into eating high-calorie nutrient-dense foods. Suffice it to say, we definitely pushed the limits of “national protocol.” Fortunately, our moral ethics prevailed.
We named this fund the Vishal Fund, after a little boy named Vishal. He came in with severe acute malnutrition (SAM), refused to eat and requested his mother’s breast constantly—his mother was pregnant and no longer able to provide milk (one of the most common reasons for malnutrition is contributed to inadequate birth spacing), and was apathetic about his condition at best. The doctor at the time refused to administer NG tubes (part of World Health Organization protocol). We attempted a supplementary breastfeeding technique, but he was too smart for that. So, we spiked his roti with oil and tried to trick him into eating peanuts. When that failed, we just watched. He would eat chips and biscuits, but nothing else. So Sophie and I ran to the canteen, grabbed some biscuits, and spread a bunch of home-made RUTF on them. He did, in fact, eat. The first time we saw him eat we were overwhelmed with joy–and hope.
Unfortunately, Vishal wised up and stopped eating, but his grandmother (his most avid caregiver) got the gist. Two months after we had to discharge him and refer for higher treatment, Vishal returned smiling, walking, and fat. The grandmother had figured out how to trick the little bugger into eating, and eventually he stopped requesting his mother’s breast milk. He was finally the hyperactive 2 year old we had so hoped to see.
“I am not concerned that you have fallen. I’m concerned that you arise.”
-Sion Hospital Pediatric HIV/AIDS Department, Bombay
Taking life for granted
What we take for granted in the Western world is intangible out here. Healthcare is lacking, people willing to endure the rigors scarce, doctors scarcer (half the time we have to email the US to have doctors give us prescriptions and dosing advice), and even the best of us can only take it for so long. But this is the life of billions. I’m able to get on an airplane, fly home, and be surrounded by warmth and love and food. Shelter is never a question and if I’m sick, I know there are doctors available. My life is easy. Naturally, I felt the need to complicate it and decided to dedicate my life to rural “aid” provisioning.
Make a difference
The really fortunate thing is that change is possible. Most of these kids just need a little extra help, and while I’m here I intend to provide it. I may not be able to fix an entire country, but I can certainly impact the lives of a few. And so can you. I mean, Gandhi did say “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” So why not?
The Real Medicine Foundation in Madhya Pradesh does a lot of work with a lot of heart. It’s a fairly small organization, so I have 100% security that all funds donated will go directly where I want them to, and you’ll get your tax deduction!
As I move from country to country, job to job, I know that there will always be someone who needs just a little bit of help. In the larger scheme of things, I hope to help create sustainable programs that will one day influence international policy and change the face of development. In the realistic scheme of things, I want to do something gratifying for those around me (and myself) now.
I am unbelievably fortunate to have the ability and support necessary to run around the world and do what makes me happy. I know that not all have the ability to pick up and leave, and I offer you the ability to contribute to a cause far greater than yourself, myself, or any one for that matter. Maybe not now, tomorrow, or in the next few years, but if, one day, you have the ways or the means, please remember Vishal, and how a few cents spent at the canteen saved his life. I’ll probably still be running around somewhere, sending out emails and fighting for change. Look for the famous J-Shaff O+.
Donations can be made through the Real Medicine Foundation cause or on my Causes Birthday Wish.
For more information on Jaimie’s experiences in India, read this post on the RMF blog.
Photos compiled and used with permission from Sophie Pisztora, Terry Lo, Caitlin McQuilling, and Jaimie Shaff.