Day 4: Evening with PHFI

On our way back up the stairs and to our classroom, Bhupender and Aakash try to tell me something. They’re obviously distressed, and I curse myself again for not knowing the language. Finally, I gather that neither of their parents were able to come, and that they didn’t feel their effort was worth it. I realize that the presentation was more than about tobacco avoidance, but a chance to show off their skills to their parents, who probably rarely have time for them.

Resting my arms around their shoulders, I let them know that they’d made a huge mark by being leaders and presenting to all of the adults. It’s one of those consolations you can toss around and begrudgingly accept as an adult, but as a child, it simply doesn’t make up for a great sense of disappointment.
Humiliation and disappointment, I found, are two sentiments to avoid evoking in a child at all costs. Events that procure these feelings tend to stay in the minds of kids for the rest of their lives, marking their actions like scars. Although children have an incredibly ability to heal and soak up attention and happiness, they tend to have a low specific heat, as a nerd like me may analogize. They’re quick to become happy, but just as quick to become sad.
So, I pat them on the back and reiterate how important they were for the team and nudge them to lead the class into another round of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
School ends shortly, and after I’ve seen my kids off with a few hugs and high-fives, I make my way to the courtyard to meet up the SARSA team. The group gets involved with a discussion on the evening’s activities, but my mind is elsewhere. I find Sangeeta ma’am and let her know I’m ready. We’ll be seeing the Public Health Foundation of India in an hour or so, and I’m worried we’ll be late.
After a bit of a verbal tussle, I get a few of the group members to come along with me, so that we can take one of the jeeps to PHFI and, therefore, make it in time.
The office turns out to be on the other side of Delhi, but we make it in a good amount of time. Looking at the long hardwood table and glass doors leading into the conference room, I know right away that PHFI is part of this modern tip of India.
Dr. Arora and her team file in, and I jump right in to describing our project and purpose in India. About five minutes, I’m worried I’m taking up all of the time, that I’m repeating myself, and that I haven’t said anything of interest or substance, but continue until Hardik, Amanda, Sangeeta ma’am, and Joseph feel comfortable and the need to ask questions or describe their projects. Dr. Arora’s team and work is impressive. They’re running a massive longitudinal study evaluating the effectiveness of a peer leader based tobacco intervention program. With 16 schools, 8 public and 8 private, 8 in Chennai and 8 in Delhi, Dr. Arora summarized that they were seeing a great deal of success with their program. Their program avoids lecture based teaching and is completely collaborative and based in games and art.
In the next hour it becomes apparent that Dr. Arora is a boss.
The amount of work she’s accomplished in understanding obesity trends across socio-economic class, age, and gender is enviable.
At first, the rich were getting fatter and the poor were getting weaker, and then as commercialization and access to processed foods have risen, the poor have begun to catch up in terms of CVD, LDL, etc. With the rise of gym culture, the rich have begun to shed a few kilos. Her projects and conclusions are incredibly nuanced, but I leave the details for Hardik to absorb, since his project is on obesity.
Next up is Sangeeta ma’am. Dr. Arora and her share some ideas about implementing the program and the everyday problems they’ve faced with attendance, motivation in class, etc. In the end, we take a group picture and trail out. Overall, the meeting is great–I’m not sure if PHFI has gained anything from us, but we’ve certainly had a lot to take away with us. At the elevator, Sangeeta ma’am and I talk about meeting–the point wasn’t really to come to some grand conclusions, but to forge a new connection and network. In this line of work, Sangeeta ma’am tells me, you get bombarded by a million ideas, challenges, and helping hands, and since the venture is intrinsically flexible and open to development, she grabs anything and everything she can and puts it into her back pocket. Sometime or another, she may need to pull something out, but for the sake of the kids, she can’t afford to miss out on even the potential for an opportunity.