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Sep 27, 2017

#GROWCommunity17: Just a Few Meters Longer

Author: Ellie Esbrook

“Just a few meters longer” Prasant Jie said, as he looked off into the looping trail in the forest ahead of us. Prasant was from our partner organization, Social Organization for Voluntary Action (SOVA), and one of the main people who we discussed logistics with over the course of our three-week stay in Odisha, India. We were at Kapilas in Dhenkanal, a scenic temple nestled in lush green hills and short drive away from the SOVA campus. After many flights of stairs and some rocky terrain underneath our bare feet, the rest of the GROW interns and I were ready to turn around and head back to the temple where we began the hike, but Prasant’s enthusiasm kept us going forward. Prasant confided in us weeks later that he actually had no idea how much longer the trail was at the time.

His reassurance, while not necessarily supported by facts, was successful. If he hadn’t encouraged us to keep going, we would have never seen a shrine for Parvati peeking out of a bat ridden cave. We would have never felt the satisfaction of delving deep into the forest and hearing the stillness and serenity only profound silence can bring. In those moments, I didn’t care about my hurting feet or my racing pulse, because experiencing my surroundings took over.

I came to find that mantras similar to “just a few meters longer” helped me get outside of my comfort zone so I could immerse myself in the culture of Odisha and the experiences of SOVA staff members and trainees. We quickly became familiar with the dynamic between staff members, full of goofiness only good friends can share and excitement for the programming currently being done at SOVA. Meetings with staff members over chai were some of my favorite moments, because we got to hear important details about the program and their ideas for improvements. They described how some staff members went door-to door to recruit trainees, and talked about their goal of having a residential program so students from farther regions in Odisha could attend the training sessions. Their animation and conscientiousness made me feel assured that SOVA is an organization that stands for opportunity and equity just as much as we, at the GlobeMed at Rochester University chapter, do.

Within the first few days of the trip, we observed some of the classes of the medical assistantship training program that is central to our chapter’s partnership with SOVA, and it immediately became clear that the trainees were filled with drive and passion. Once they arrived by foot or by cycle, always clad in colorful outfits, they excitedly scurried up to the classroom often well before the class began. Without fail, they spent class time completely focused on the instructor’s lesson of the day, which ranged from learning about various relevant medications, to hand washing. Everyone was furiously scribbling the necessary notes and comparing notebooks to fill in important gaps in learning.

But once class was over, it was striking to see the similarities between SOVA trainees and us, GROW interns. They are young women with a passion for health, and are studying to apply that passion in the future. When we were together, we all exuded a youthful, optimistic energy, the kind of energy that fuelled impromptu dance parties and a desire to improve ourselves and our communities. The trainees showed us how to check each others’ pulses and we showed them how our camera worked, and little by little we grew an unspoken bond that came to light during little moments over the three weeks, always with big hugs and even bigger smiles.

Navigating the world as a young women has similarities wherever you go. We face inequality, both implicit and obvious, but once we are given the right opportunities and continue to work hard for “just a few meters longer,” so much is possible. For me, it is my education at University of Rochester that allows me to do this. For many of the trainees, it is the Medical Assistantship Training Program run by SOVA.

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