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The Good News from India

Christian Medical College, Vellore, India

At a time when the news is mostly bad and getting worse, it’s good to be reminded that there are good things happening in our world.

This morning, WhatsApp delivered the following dispatch from my wife. A radio producer, Tema is traveling in south India with her sister Sarah, niece Adelaide, and sister-in-law Laura, who is writing a book on her Scudder forebears, a family of Dutch Reformed medical missionaries whose work on the subcontinent began 200 years ago this year.

I’ve added a couple of links.

We are now in Vellore, the third largest city in Tamil Nadu and the place where Ida Scudder (known by all as Aunt Ida and utterly venerated) began her clinic. Filthy, noisy, fascinating. Because of the group’s connection to her we are getting VIP treatment and are seeing firsthand her legacy—the vast network of hospitals and clinics that have sprung up. Her picture is everywhere. Statues, etc.

Poor receive state of the art treatment subsidized by the rich. Students train here at the Christian Medical College, where we are staying—a lush and gorgeous campus made up of stone buildings reminiscent to me of Palestine in the 20’s and 30’s—for $400/year. Costs at the hospital are contained by having  an absolute minimum of administrators, all of whom are drs. All Americans should see this.

The hospitals are crammed with people waiting to be seen. 9000/day in Vellore. Something like that. They come with their families from all over the country, and world. Families feed their own if they are admitted.

Yesterday we toured two facilities in the  bruising heat. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so tired in my life afterward. Came home and slept for 2 hours and slept another 9 last night.

Today, though, we went high up into the hills to visit one of the tribal clinics. Absolutely amazing. Stunning drive ascending Edenlike terrain. At the top we first went to see the modest clinic, then went around the village mostly on  foot. Saw crops, many rudimentary wells, were served fresh coconut water out of coconuts whacked open in our presence, given flowers. Gorgeous people who believe only in Shiva, are animists.

The villagers are, via the Vellore medical institutions, being provided with means to support themselves—animals and crops—being taught how to save money, farm organically (they live in a wildlife sanctuary where mango and tamarind trees grow; incredibly clear air and cool breezes), and hold weekly community meetings, all only for the past year. Infant mortality is down, substance abuse is being treated, villagers are getting trained to be nurses.

Each family now has their own composting toilet, built by village members and, after a year and much work to persuade them to stop simply going in the  fields, there’s 100 percent participation.  Composted shit is used for fertilizer. God’s work, for sure.

I’m exceedingly glad to be doing this. Will always think about the world differently as a result.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

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