June 25 2014

Expansion into Jharkhand, by Tarek Toubale

MAP for Annual Report

In India, Karuna-Shechen has operated as a humanitarian agency in the state of Bihar for the last twelve years. At the end of 2013, it was decided to expand our activities into other regions of India where our health expertise could help deprived populations.  The state of Jharkhand was chosen for the first phase of our expansion plan. In March 2014, our India country director Shamsul Akhtar and Chief Operating Officer Tarek Toubale made a trip to this impoverished state. In this article, Tarek Toubale explains how we will be expanding our activities  into Jharkhand in the second half of 2014.

Karuna-Shechen’s expansion  into Jharkhand, by Tarek Toubale

Tarek Toubale on his field visit to Jharkhand

Jharkhand, which resulted from a spinoff of the state of Bihar in November 2000, is characterized by a large tribal population (28% of the total population) and low human development indicators. 40% of the population lives below the poverty line and the state trails the rest of India on malnutrition, literacy, mortality and other key indicators.

The geography and the population mark clear differences with Bihar. The beautiful landscape is hilly with a very rich variety of trees and flora. The tribal population is composed of 18 groups with the Mundas, the Santhals and Oraons being the largest groups. Their village environment is usually pristine and their houses are decorated with artistic patterns characteristic of each tribe. The livelihood of the tribal population is centered around the forest, especially on the so called non timber products such as honey and lak. Lak is a microrganism produced on specific varieties  of trees mostly in India and fetches high prices on world markets as it is used in many products from electronics to chocolate.

Thanks to Shamsul’s historical contacts with tribal leaders, Community Based Organisations (CBOs)  and local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s)  in the district of East Singhbhum, we were able to visit about ten villages and carry open discussions with the villagers to assess their needs.

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India Country Director Shamshul Akhtar discussing health issues with village leaders

There is a stark contrast between the natural beauty of their environment and the terrible disease burden we witnessed. Anemia is a common issue particularly blatant with women because of a severe deficiency in vitamins, folate, and iron.  Malaria is rampant within the whole state and makes Jharkhand one of the most contributing state for the disease along with Orissa, Chattisgarph, West Bengal and Karnataka. During our visit, we even witnessed cases of leprosy. Of this last terrible disease, Jharkhand with 2% of India population harbors a horrific high rate of 10% of the cases.

While some villages are only 20km away from the industrial city of Jamshedpur, they lack totally in health coverage. A few local NGOs are providing some help but lack resources in doctors and drugs. One local doctor deserves a special notice for her long standing dedication to the poorest populations of Jharkhand: Doctor Jaya Moitra, a former NGO contact of Shamsul, attends camps in many villages and is active among various local NGOs, in some cases using her own personal resources to buy the needed drugs.  From our visit, it was clear that there is a pressing need for regular health camps with available drugs and minerals supplement.

Future Plans and Potential Partnerships 

The gradual strategy designed by the team in India is to replicate our successful program from Bihar with the immediate creation of one mobile health team with a qualified doctor, a nurse and a pharmacist. To gain access to and trust of the communities in need, Karuna will leverage existing local NGO relationships and establish partnerships when needed. Our areas of intervention will be Jamshedpur, Potka, Jadugora, Musabani and Ghatshila blocks of East Singhbhum district.

This should lead down the road to the same holistic community approach which has been adopted in Bihar with its over 30 programmatic components from education, women empowerment, solar, water, vocational training and livelihood. With this first step, Karuna-Shechen will bring a long term commitment to the “the land of the forests” as Jharkhand is often called in India.