We started sponsoring Ruchita around World Diabetes Day 2014, after learning that children with diabetes in the developing world do not have affordable and sustainable access to insulin. Our reasons for deciding to become a sponsor are here. Sponsoring Ruchita has without doubt been a positive experience; we send her birthday gifts, exchange photographs and often wonder what she is doing. Without doubt, she is a member of our family. Whilst sponsorship is great, it only treats the poverty rather than curing it. Luckily, Ruchita is also provided with funding to attend school, which gives her hope for the future and helps to break the cycle of poverty.
This summer I celebrated my 40th birthday and I decided it was time to treat myself with a visit to India, somewhere I had always wanted to travel, although now I had a reason to go there. I wanted to meet Ruchita.
We had already been in India for two weeks by the time we arrived in Nagpur, so we were already accustomed somewhat to the heat. We arrived in Nagpur on a Tuesday afternoon, it was about 35c and very humid as the city was still awaiting the Monsoon to arrive. We headed to our hotel, part of a luxury Indian chain; a modern air conditioned facility that had been recommended to us. We could live here for several nights in comfort, high thread count cotton sheets, instant hot water, fluffy towels, flushing toilets, breakfast buffet, we even had a fridge in the room, which of course we needed to keep the insulin cool. We had an endless supply of quality toiletries, complimentary bottled water, complimentary snacks and of course the mini bar. It seemed a world away from the conditions just outside on the street, whereby people of the lowest social caste slept on tarpaulin, children lie naked on the train platform at night not even bothering to swat the flies feasting on their body, school children begging for not only food, but “schoo pen” as they know education is the way out of poverty for them.
I can not remember how I imagined The Dream Trust clinic to be prior to my visit. I knew from sending Ruchita gifts that the clinic is opposite a park called Dhantoli. I soon learnt that Dhantoli is the medical area of Nagpur, almost every building was a private specialist hospital, clinic, dentist, infertility clinic, treatment centre or pharmacy. Every clinic has a different speciality, some for medical specialities like gynaecology, cardiology, orthopaedics or neurology and others for specific conditions like arthritis, cancer or diabetes. In a country with no NHS, these small clinics serve India’s wealthy population who can afford to pay, the people who can afford the best care get the best doctors and the cleanest most modern facilities. However, at the far end of Dhantoli park is “Dream Trust” Diabetes clinic, where patients of all ages and with all types of diabetes come for treatment. Headed by Dr Sharad Pendsey and now assisted by his Son, Dr Sanket Pendsey, patients here are treated irrelevant of age, gender, caste (social class – read more about India’s Caste system here), or indeed their ability to pay. DREAM Trust was set up in response to Dr Pendsey losing two of his young patients in the 1990’s, Sudha and Kalpana. Kalpana’s parents had brought her to clinic in a comatose state, her parents had stopped giving her insulin as they simply could not afford it anymore after 3 years of struggling to pay for her care. Kalpana had enjoyed attending annual picnics on Dhantoli park with other diabetic children, sadly, she would never be able to do this again as she passed away at just 5 years old. Sudha was diagnosed at age 8, Dr Pendsey and his team fully educated Sudra’s parents about diabetes and the importance of using insulin daily. Sudha’s father confirmed his understanding of how insulin is essential for life when he asked what would happen if Sudha stopped taking insulin, Dr Pendsey’s reply was that the child would go into a coma and die. Sudha left clinic, but sadly, despite her parents understanding of Type 1 Diabetes, she was taken home to die as her parents intentionally stopped giving insulin as they could not pay for Sudha’s ongoing medical costs. The logic of poverty had overpowered the logic of life. Dr Pendsey and his wife Swati decided to set up a charitable trust, with the aim of providing care, assistance and rehabilitation for all who live with diabetes. This means diabetics are provided with free insulin, syringes, testing strips and a glucometer whilst entering an educational, vocational or entrepreneurial programme to ensure they can eventually fund their own medical care.
Since hearing about this clinic, I had wanted to visit and meet the devoted people who work tirelessly to ensure all who need insulin do indeed have it. I can not remember now how I imagined the clinic to look, but do remember that it was much busier and noisier than I expected. With no air conditioning clinic was very hot and sticky, there were no seats left in the waiting area, people were coming in and out and even queueing on the steps outside that lead to the door. Rooms inside are small, yet full of people. Very different to the clinic Oliver attends in the UK.
We were given a tour of the clinic and met all the staff who support the children. Many people were in the waiting area, this was the day we were to meet Ruchita, I was wondering if she was there and was trying to look out for her, to see if I could recognise her from the few photos we had received of her. We were obviously the centre of attention in this building, being the only westerners. I think some people there knew we were coming, others wanted to shake our hands and others wanted to touch our hair! We were taken into a room where we would meet Ruchita, I will never forget her lovely smile as she walked into the room, her eyes were sparking and she looked both happy and healthy. I was really shocked by how pretty she is in real life, she has high cheekbones, lovely long hair and it is clear she is developing into a young woman. In preparation for our visit, Ruchita had made us some cards and pictures to give as gifts. India celebrates friendship day every August, the effort that had gone into such card was impressive, lots of colouring in, writing in English (Ruchita speaks no English – it must have been very difficult for her to write in this language, I think she had written over someone elses writing) and lots of glitter! I opened the card, every penny of our sponsorship money and the effort that went into earning it was worth it, she had written the words “We can’t forget your help” in perfect English, perfect letter formation and perfect punctuation. We exchanged gifts, we gave Ruchita some adult colouring books and a nice pencil set as she is now 13 and it is difficult to know what to get her. It turned out to be the perfect gift, as when I asked her, she said (via an interpreter) that she wants to be an artist when she is older and she enjoys art at school. Oliver and Ruchita exchanged Rakhi bands, a Hindu tradition where females pay honour and give thanks to their brothers, this simple act indicated that Ruchita sees Oliver as a brother.
I was pleased that Ruchita appears to be a sociable young lady, she interacted well with staff and other diabetic children. It was clear that she had met some of these children before and would look forward to meeting them at her visit to clinic. Everyone in the diabetes community understands that peer support is essential, in India, this can be difficult because diabetes is not talked about. It is great that Ruchita is getting the support she needs, emotional support is one of the biggest factors to success, compliance with insulin routine and acceptance of this condition. Ruchita’s parents are also a lovely couple, they clearly have a lot of love for their daughter; parents too receive support at clinic, they get education and counselling to enable them to support their child.
I will talk about the rest of our clinic visit in other blogs, but as Ruchita left clinic that day, I wondered if or when I might see her again. As a family, we are committed to sponsoring her until she can support herself. The cost is £200 a year, or £16 a month, this is the cost of one cup of coffee or pint a week! This money goes even further, because as taxpayers, The Pendsey Trust can claim 25% gift aid on our donation, so the extra £50 covers her education. Once Ruchita reaches adulthood, we will pay for her to attend college, university or fund her to start a business. Our support ensures she can break the cycle of poverty. I look forward to visiting Ruchita when she is a successful young adult, with the help she is receiving from DREAM Trust, I know this day will come.
We can not help everyone with diabetes, but we certainly helped one. Thanks to the dedicated staff and volunteers at DREAM Trust, children with Type 1 Diabetes like Ruchita do not have to follow the same fate as Sudha and Kalpana. Diabetes is life long and life threatening, but it does not have to be a death sentence.
This World Diabetes Day, can you make the world of difference to a child living with Type 1 Diabetes?
Donations can be made to my campaign by clicking here. In my 40th year (OK technically 41st) I would like to send 40 children to school at a cost of £40 each.
Lets help the logic of life overpower the logic of poverty.