July 27, 2008
The Costs of Care-Ginger
Last week I did five more interviews at SEWA, so I now have a total of 15 done. Most of the women have been saying the same things about the difficulties of obtaining health care. Many of them put their children's health before their own, as they cannot afford look after both. They need eyeglasses and basic medicines, but often cannot even think about getting such things when they have to worry about food and rent.
I interviewed one woman, Rabia who had a truly tragic story. She told me that she was married 16 years ago to man who married her only because he was after her father's truck. Her husband had several extramarital affairs and even plotted to kill her. He tried to set her on fire, so she escaped and has not seen him since. She never had children of her own, but has an adopted daughter that was given to her when the girl's biological mother was very ill. Since coming to work for SEWA, Rabia has earned the ability to support herself and her daughter financially. She also said that she has gained much more confidence, and stopped wearing the burqa that she had felt compelled to hide behind. One year ago, Rabia was in a serious accident when she fell from a cycle rickshaw and fractured her spine. She spent several months in the hospital and now wears a back brace. The extended hospital stay was exorbitantly expensive, but her brother helped her pay for it. After five months in a private nursing home, Rabia was able to move to a government hospital and receive care free of charge because she has health insurance as a staff member of SEWA.
Unfortunately, most SEWA artisans are not staff members but are self-employed and thus do not qualify for government health insurance. I spoke to Runa Banerjee, the CEO of SEWA, who told me that it's sad not to have the women covered because they end up spending what little they earn on health care anyway. Runa estimates that in order to set up a proper insurance policy for all 7,000 SEWA artisans, SEWA would need to raise 87,000 USD. It's incredibly difficult for NGOs like SEWA to raise these kinds of funds. This would be for a policy that costs 500 rupees per artisan per year, which is only about 12 USD, but is still far too expensive for the workers. SEWA would be able to pay some of the cost, and the artisans themselves some, but there is still large outstanding cost that needs to come from somewhere.
I've also returned to the elementary school a couple of times. The first time we did an activity where I had the kids say their names and an English word that they like that begins with the same letter. As an example, I said "My name is Ginger and I like giraffes." I wrote the sentence in English and in Hindi (which I have finally learned to read, albeit slowly) on a piece of paper and drew a picture to go along with it. The kids used colored pencils to draw their own pictures, and many of them are quite artistic! It was nice to see them work together, helping out those who could not think of any English words that fit with the task. One boy, Vikram, was having trouble and other students shouted out, "vampire! van! vegetables!"
The second time I went to the school I went with Beth, a woman who is staying in my guest house. Beth was a teacher in the US for ten years and is now working on getting a grant to teach in India. She is currently working on a book making project with the same class I have been visiting. Yesterday the class worked both on writing their stories as well as binding the books. They picked out colorful cloth to put on the covers and worked on sewing the pages together. Beth's goal was to make sure the stories had beginnings, middles, and ends, rather than just strings of sentences. Most of them had been writings things like, "My best friend's name is Mounisha. She is very beautiful. Her favorite colour is red." So, as an example, Beth wrote a short story about the time one of our house mates rescued some puppies from drowning in the monsoon. After the example, several of the children started to think of events that had happened to them and their friends that they could write about.
The principal of the school also showed us that she had been teaching the girls how to do embroidery. She said the reason was that they could have a skill that might benefit them after they graduate from the school. Unfortunately, they can only teach the children through the 8th grade, so many of them will not have the opportunity to have a high school education. Most come from poor families who cannot afford to pay the fees to send them to a more advanced school. Many of the kids are extremely bright and it would be an awful shame for them to miss out on the chance to receive a secondary education. I want very badly to do what I can to help these children and the women of SEWA, but it seems that the real obstacle to improvement is in so many ways lack of money, something that I am not in a good position to help with.
On Tuesday I plan to go back to the school and help out more with the stories and perhaps do a brief grammar lesson. I also have several more Hindi grammar lessons to learn myself!
Posted by gcline at July 27, 2008 07:57 AM