Today is Rotary's 105th anniversary (24th February) and also World Polio Day and therefore it is a particularly fitting day to be setting out to take part in a Polio Immunisation campaign.
After a fitful night's sleep (memo to self: next time come at least a day earlier in order to get over the jet lag before going on duty as a Rotarian), Team Sally (as we later were to call ourselves in honour of our press-ganged leader) assembled in the lobby to meet our guide and to get onto our bus.
Niraz had been assigned to us by the Delhi Polio Office to ensure that all went well and if it did not, to sort it out and also to act as an interpreter whilst we were away in Bereilly and Badaun (pronounced Bad-eye-un).
Although 260 kms away (and ignoring Mappoint which said the journey could be covered in 3 ½ hours), 6 hours were allowed on our official schedule for the trip. In the event it took 7 ¼ hours and we can best describe it as a rapid journey back in time as we left Delhi and its relative sophistication and passed through country side which became increasingly more primitive in terms of transport:
the ubiquitous tuctuc which can be seen in every town
a bogged down tractor pulling an overloaded trailer full of bricks
numerous old steamrollers (usually pink), it would seem that as they went out of use in the UK, they were shipped out to India;
a tricycle taxi;
a tricycle flat bed truck;
a mobile road side stall selling guava ;
a two ox-powered trailer
The shops and general appearance of the towns we went through showed growing poverty the further west we travelled:
this type of road side stalls are everywhere and most
look like shacks
and many of those in the towns are little better.
Badaun is an undistinguished town in a district of the same name in the state of Uttar Pradesh and is about 260 kms east of Delhi. The town seems not to feature in any
guidebook and hence prior to going there, the only information available to me was from the web which told me little other than that the area’s major agricultural products are wheat, paddy, sugarcane, guava and menthol.
One source of information about the area is the 2011 Indian Census which provides some interesting statistics about Badaun District which suggest significant deprivation:
- its population has grown by 20% in the last 10 years;
- the overall literacy rate is 53% (42% female)
- 17% of the population is under 6;
- there are 85 girls for every 100 boys;
- population density is 718 per km2
- the religious profile is 46% Muslim, 51% Hindu.
Badaun is important from a Polio perspective because it is at the crossroads of several highways and so experiences a high population movement from all over Northern India. It is classified as the fifth highest risk district in India mainly because of its transient population but also because the Ganges floods each year. The vaccination programme currently runs all year with at least 10 vaccination programmes for the whole UP district and because of the flooding, it is not unknown for vaccinators to have to walk through deep water carrying all of the tools of their trade on the heads to get to cut off villages – no excuse is accepted because everyone must be vaccinated. The last polio case in the area was in January 2010.
Rotary has a high profile in the area and Rotary finance supports many things including a comic about Polio,
(here are a couple of pages, Rotary is mentioned on Page 2), polio awareness campaigns, Tiffin Boxes in which vaccinators carry their lunch,
and the very small expenses payments given to vaccinators of 120 rupees per day (about £1.60). Many vaccinators are civil servants who are released from their duties during the vaccination period so that they can take part and others are volunteers who receive no pay other than the expenses allowance.
Although our Polio duties are in Badaun, it is deemed by Rotary that there are no suitable hotels in the town (and indeed we did not see any) so we are staying at the Swarn Towers Hotel in Bareilly (population 748,353) which is 52km away. Route mapping software optimistically says that this the drive from Delhi to Bareilly can be
covered in just over 3½ hours – I suspect the software has never driven on roads in India because express coaches currently take 7 hours as does the train. Hence, getting to Bareilly was an adventure in itself and in fact it took nearly 8 hours to get there.
Our lunch stop at a reasonably clean wayside café which
seemed to exist to serve passing Indian travellers was a first introduction to real Indian food and the prices one pays
outside of Delhi and also if one is treated as a local (because we had an Indian guide with us who ensured we were not taken advantage of) rather than a rich foreign tourist.
Lunch is eaten early in India hence 11 am found me eating a Stuffed Kulcha Aloo Onion Mix which was a sort of potato, onion and cheese pancake with a spicy sauce.
Pat had a Barji which was unlike any we had eaten in England – this one a deep fried empty ball of batter which one broke open and filled with a rather spicy dahl mixture
Both we very nice and cost 500 rupees in total including tea / water.
Our driver seemed to navigate without a map and hence we got lost sometime after we crossed the Ganges but
eventually the Hotel Swarn appeared
where we were
garlanded on arrival, and we met Shyamji Sharma who is the Polio Coordinator for Delhi and had been assigned to arrange our field work in the area. If you want to know more about the hotel, then the “less than positive but not really awful” grade of reports in TripAdvisor are fairly accurate.
We were told that we were scheduled to drive to Faridpur-Bareilly that evening to meet the Interact group of
Manas Sthali School Interact is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Bareilly. The Interact Club was holding its final meeting of the year and we were considered “honoured guests” and would be presenting graduation awards to those who were leaving the club and the school that year. Approximately half of the school are members of Interact (160 members) and one third were graduating – it seems that Interact membership automatically applies to anyone in the last three years of the school.
The school is a mixed co-educational boarding school (hence fee paying) for around 350 children aged from 7 through to 18 – much of the curriculum is taught in English. Having been admitted to the school by the shotgun brandishing doorman, we met the Headmistress and had our first taste of the formality and procedure which was to become an important part of our time here. It was rapidly evident that we were regarded as honoured guests and we
were welcomed with water then tea and biscuits. We had been warned that refusal of anything we were offered by anyone during our time here as Rotarians was not going to be regarded as polite, particularly if someone ho has nothing goes to the trouble of drawing water from their well, giving you tea or making you something to eat etc. It surprised us how truly pleased they were that we had come to India and it was repeatedly said to everyone we met that if we could take the trouble to come to India to help them out with Polio, then they had a duty to ensure that India was declared Polio Free.
The school was rather stark and bare by OfSTED standards and the children were obviously used to behaving correctly at all times and only speaking when spoken to. Despite this, the appearance of these strange people from England led to numerous faces peering around corners at us and cries of “hello” and great grins if we waved back.
The whole school had been assembled upstairs and after being offered a Tilaka
we were escorted to the front row of the library and the Interact meeting started
with a blessing to the Gods and the proceeded in much the
same format as interact meetings in the UK with reports from the various officers of the club. Then they announced that they had prepared some entertainment for us and there followed three set dances given by groups of students.
The first was a traditional Indian dance done by a group of girls to the theme of “My country is beautiful” which is a traditional Indian folk song
then a Gangland Style dance
then a traditional Punjabi dance done by a group of boys.
Our appointed team leader (Sally – President of Brue
Valley Rotary Club) was asked to present trophies to each of the 60 graduating students and then we were formally garlanded by members of the school, we presented club banners to
each other, we exchanged gifts (we were given rather beautiful shawls)
and we were invited to meet the
members of the club who seemed very interested in teaching us some Hindi phrases and also hearing our views on Indian cricket and whom I thought was the world’s best cricketer – in their view there was only one valid answer!
We had a quick tour of parts of the school which was very
stark, clean and tidy (above are the girls Dormitories) on the way down to supper during
which we were taught the one handed method (right hand)
of folding a chapatti and using it to eat Dahl and other dishes.
An interesting evening and a good introduction to the next few days.