Medical Assistance for the Untouchables in Dungeshwari, India
More than 150 people a day are being treated at the Jivaka Hospital. Residents are standing in line for medical treatment.
JTS stands for “Join Together Society.” It represents a community where warm-hearted people work together to help people in need, regardless of race, religion, nationality, gender, thought, or ideology.
JTS India has been conducting educational, medical, village development, and emergency relief projects for 15 villages near Dungeshwari Hills, where the Buddha practiced asceticism for six years. This is where the corpses were abandoned during the Buddha’s time. It is called “Dungeshwari,” which means “abandoned land”,’ and 80% of its residents are Untouchables. The caste system was abolished by law, and 30% of civil servants in India consist of those who were born Untouchables. However, the system still exists socially, so people only marry within their respective castes. Discrimination against the Untouchables is still common, so that instances of villagers of higher castes cutting off the water supply of the Untouchables because they don’t want to drink the same water as the Untouchables have occurred.
Dungeshwari is about 40 minutes by car from Gaya City. Unlike the crowded and noisy downtown, the 15 villages near the Dungeshwari Hills, where more than 10,000 people live, are leisurely and peaceful. Electricity lines were installed in these villages less than three years ago, and the power supply is unreliable, so the villagers still need to use gas lamps. Brick houses and two-story houses are rare. Most of the houses are made of clay and straw and inhabited by very large families.
The medical staff at Jivaka Hospital takes an old ambulance equipped with medicine to the villages twice a week to provide medical service.
The school was built to educate children.
The hospital at the school was opened due to the outbreak of cholera.
In 1994, the road to Dungeshwari Hills was lined with many residents of Dungeshwari who begged for a living. In the long line of beggars were many young children who came with their mothers or friends. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, the founder and chairman of Join Together Society (JTS) asked them, “Why don’t you go to school?” They answered, “I cannot go to school because there is no school.” When he asked them if they would study if there was a school and they all answered they wanted to study. In the beginning, He held outdoor classes in the shade of trees with the children who wanted to go to school. In Dungeshwari, the illiteracy rate was over 90% at the time. Like all parents around the world, the residents wanted their children to learn how to read and write. The residents donated the land, JTS donated the materials, and they built the school together. So in January 1995, the Sujata Academy (elementary and junior high school) officially opened.
In June of 1995, there was a cholera outbreak in Dungeshwari, so the school was temporarily closed and the JTS volunteers provided medical treatment to the villagers at the school with the help of the Indian government. Once the cholera outbreak was eradicated, the school resumed classes. Afterwards, the residents of Dungeshwari started to come to the school whenever they were sick, so eventually, the school started to provide medical services at one side of the school building. Jivaka Hospital, which opened in 2001 with support from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), provides a variety of health support services in addition to general medical services.
Every day at 8AM, one by one, people start to gather in front of the hospital. The clinic is operated by an allopathic medicine doctor and a homeopathic doctor. While allopathy is western medicine, homeopathy is similar to Korean herbal medicine, which uses natural substances as medicine. Homeopathic medicine is a popular treatment in Europe, and this treatment is very expensive in India. So, residents of other areas travel a long way, even 3 hours by train, to come to the clinic. While western medicine shows some immediate effects, homeopathic treatment takes 3 to 6 months to show results, but the latter method is more effective in fundamentally curing the illness.
Two local doctors volunteer for alternating shifts at Jivaka Hospital. The allopathic medicine doctor is not a registered physician, but he is the “local doctor” who is accepted as a medical doctor in India. Of course, there are limits to the treatments he can provide.
Mr. Kamiswar, who is in charge of western medicine treatment, previously taught the students at Sujata Academy, so he has been with JTS since its establishment. He provides medical care from basic wound dressing to simple operations such as treating the infected boils of patients. IV is very helpful for the elderly who faint or collapse during hot weather. Because the environment is not sanitary, there are many patients with fevers and stomach aches. They use water from the community well, but they cannot afford to boil the water they drink. In addition, many houses don’t have toilets, so maybe it’s only natural that so many people get stomach aches. Also, since electricity was installed in the village recently, there are many patients with burns caused by electricity.
The local doctor, who is not a registered doctor but is recognized by the locals, is measuring the blood pressure of the villagers.
Providing Free Medical Treatment for Residents Who Cannot Afford It
One day, a man with a burned chest and half of his thumb and index finger cut off came to the hospital. When a JTS volunteer first saw the wound, he was stunned. He thought to himself, “I think he should go to a big hospital. I don’t think we can do anything to help him since the only thing we can do here is to sterilize the wound and put some ointment.” However, Mr. Kamiswar calmly said, “It’s okay.” He answered “no problem” without any hesitation to the JTS volunteer’s question, “Can you do it? Doesn’t he have to go to a big hospital?” And he added, “He doesn’t have the money.” Of course, he could go to a government supported hospital where medical treatment is free, but he would have to spend money to travel there and wait endlessly for treatment. Consequently, the JTS volunteer believed that getting immediate treatment at Jivaka Hospital would be better.
With treatment, the patient’s fingers began to heal a little by little, and his open wound was not visible anymore. While treating the chest burns, the patient had to withstand the pain of having dead skin cells peel away. During the treatment, he didn’t make a single sound, and the only way he expressed his pain was pressing his face to his knee. The JTS staff could not forget the wife’s expressionless face, holding her husband’s hands in silence. This patient had to walk over the hill with his wife every day to receive medical treatment at Jivaka Hospital for almost two months. It would not have taken so long if he had been treated in South Korea.Jivaka Hospital opens at 8:30AM, and it is crowded with many people until lunch. In Dungeshwari, people are very much affected by the weather. When the weather suddenly becomes warmer or colder, people are more likely to come down with high fevers, stomachaches, eye diseases, vomiting, or dizziness. Sometimes during farming season or rainy days, less than 100 people come, but on average, 160 to 170 people visit the hospital every day.
Twice a week, the hospital staff packs medicine into an old ambulance and travel to villages past the mountains along the winding roads as well as relatively close villages. They travel to other villages to treat the elderly and young children who cannot come to the hospital because it takes about an hour on foot. When the ambulance arrives, the children in the neighborhood crowd around the ambulance. When the ambulance passes by, the children laugh and follow, waving their hands and shouting “Bye-bye.” However, when the staff approaches them, they suddenly become shy. When the staff says “Namaste (Greeting)” with a smile, they laugh and gather around. The children also help unload the ambulance and follow the staff around.
While showing children a video about hygiene education, the staff begins to set up a mobile clinic. When the medical team spreads out a simple desk and prepares a box of pills, people start gathering. There are many mothers who are carrying their babies or holding their children’s hands. Elderly people who walk slowly with their bent bodies and other people who don’t have any particular health problems all come out. Whenever the mobile clinic is set up, it transforms into a makeshift hospital.
JTS Conducts Projects to Reduce the High Infant Mortality Rate and Low-birth Weight
The Local People are Thankful to JTS for All the Help They Were Given Since Childhood
Because of the high infant mortality rate in Dungeshwari, in 2010 JTS started a project to provide nutrition to babies with low-birth weights. This year, 510 infants from 0 to 3 years old in 15 villages were given a nutritional package after undergoing medical examination. JTS went to the village and weighed children who are afraid of the scale, soothing them with biscuits. Depending on the nutritional condition of the child’s diet, JTS provides vitamins, 4 kg of rice, 2 kg of soy, biscuits, oil, and other necessary food items once a month. The number of times each child receives the nutritional package can vary from once to as many as six times.
In rare cases, two or three children in one household receive nutritional support at the same time. When the child’s family is large, the food provided may be consumed by the family members and the only things that the child consumes may be the vitamin syrup, but it will still be helpful to the health of the child. All nutributional packages are distributed at the hospital, and the medical staff gives hygiene education and other health information about diseases such as cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis when necessary.
JTS began to provide nutritional support to pregnant women in the hopes that the percentage of children with low birth weights would be lowered if pregnant women received care before birth. Because of early marriages, mothers who give birth can be as young as 17 years old.
When young girls whose bodies are not fully developed get pregnant, their health may be compromised which in turn affects the health of their children. The pregnant women don’t go to the doctor for checkups, so it is hard to find out the exact stage of their pregnancy, but JTS provides them with calcium and iron supplements and grain according to an estimate of how far along they are in their pregnancy. JTS gives the mothers soap and detergent, which they need after childbirth and also provides baby formula when necessary.
Weekly nutrition support for tuberculosis patients and monthly support for pregnant women and low-birth weight infants are contributing to the better health of the people in Dungeshwari. The number of tuberculosis patients is decreasing, and the percentage of low birth weight babies is also getting lower. The situation in the area is much better compared to 10 to 20 years ago. However, poor people in Dungeshwari are still hungry, and they cannot afford to go to the hospital when they are sick because they do not have enough money.
Anywhere in the world, children will laugh and look like angels, but the children in the villages of Dungeshwari seem even more so like angels. The voices of the children saying “Namaste (Greeting)”, which is heard all over the town, warms everyone’s hearts. Indian staff members patiently try to comprehend Korean staff members’ poor Hindi. It cannot be easy to work with frequently changing Korean volunteers, but they seem to enjoy volunteering. Currently, there are about 40 Indians who work for the Sujata school, hospital, and town development. Most have been involved since kindergarten, have been supported for college tuition fees, and now play an important role in supporting the village after graduation.
Two years ago, Indian staff have replaced the Korean staff as team leaders. They make plans and carry them out. Because of these people who are thankful for the help they received when they were young and are now willing volunteer their time to help others, JTS is able to move forward. The Korean JTS volunteers are thankful to be able to work with them, and they hope that the hungry are able to eat, the sick are able to receive treatment, and the children of Dungeshwari are able to receive education and grow up to become people who help the less fortunate in the world.
Jivaka Hospital is providing babies whose mothers have died in childbirth with powdered milk.
Jivaka Hospital’s staff and author of the article (in the middle of back row).