How the Times Have Changed… Personal Musings

I cannot believe that it has been so long since I have been on the ground here, in India, with our HHI team. It feels like time travel, as if I was just here setting things up for the first time in Chennai, trying to figure out what exactly HHI would do and learning all the little cultural bits that would come to guide my behavior here, such as do not sit on the steps with my legs crossed while waiting for a meeting with the male photographer who I wanted to document our work.

Here is a little story of just one of my many cultural bumbles… It turned out that a woman sitting on steps is a sign of a prostitute, and that it is considered improper, again the trait of a loose woman to not have both feet on the ground, which mine were not given that my legs were crossed. And to fully cap off my little cultural gaffe into a huge and embarrassing mess, have me sit on that step from 4pm, when we were scheduled to meet, until 7:30pm when he finally showed up… and my hours of waiting in the sweltering and soggy heat have landed a beer in my hand, which is not acceptable for women and is just not done, at least in public! So there I sat in my blissful ignorance and exhausted impatience — on the steps (as a prostitute) with my feet not both on the ground (signaling a loose woman), and beer in hand when he finally arrives. He looked at me in absolute horror and refused to approach me! Ahhhhh…. those were good times!

Fast forward now almost five years and find me again in India, but in a very different situation all together. I am here, in the eastern state of Orissa, spending a week with HHI’s Trainers who have come from around the country to share in a conference all about being HHI Trainers.

These women recently hosted a researcher who spent almost a month with them, learning about how HHI operates and what they do to so quickly and powerfully change local attitudes and behaviors and thus dramatically improve child health. We now have guests from UNICEF, UNDP and a whole host of local to international non-profits (NGOs), all who show up to try to figure out what exactly HHI is doing and how they may apply it in their own communities/states or even countries.

The times have changed for sure, HHI has proven itself to be a powerful force for social change and the world has begun to take notice. Back to the present day. This week we have gathered, HHI Trainers from around the country, and myself, HHI’s founder/director. We are sharing lessons from the field, such as how one of our trainer’s creatively makes puppets out of newspaper and how she uses these puppets in her trainings to impart health messages. And another trainer shares about how she teaches about women’s hygiene and self-care in her trainings. Everyone is enthused, everyone has new information to share, and we took the weekend to travel to a nearby village to all work together, with 33+ new mothers and grandmothers to try out the new information and skills.

The results were beautiful, from very young mothers to tiny old grandmothers, all flocked to attend our trainings. They learned about how to improve their children’s health and their own via adjusting or better understanding issues such as breastfeeding, hygiene, and sanitation, as well as about “baby cues” how infants communicate before they have language and how they can recognize and respond to these messages. And, all of these lessons are taken with a healthy dose of play, games, songs, and dance, which is not at all typical of training methodology here.

We have come far, we and now more than 40,000 women and children are benefiting from our journey, and the future looks brighter for all. And, I no longer sit on the steps waiting for my meetings…. so many lessons for all of us!