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Desi Fulbright Scholar to work on Indian health project

Last updated on: September 14, 2005 21:32 IST

A 23-year-old American Fulbright Scholar studying at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, has decided to use the grant awarded to him to work for Pratham and Niramaya (Niramaya Health Foundation) Health Project in Mumbai, India. 

Pritesh Gandhi of Woodlands, Texas, one of the recipients of the prestigious scholarship for 2005-2006, will focus his research on the basic sanitation and hygiene principles during his 10-month stay in India.

Gandhi will carry out qualitative studies to examine the current level of knowledge preschool children have about feces disposal, washing hands and water collection. He will also examine a child's environment and community to assess factors that may be negatively influencing good sanitation efforts.

Pritesh GandhiUsing the data collected during extensive meetings with the community Gandhi will propose and implement a program in which basic sanitation and hygiene practices will be discussed and ultimately utilised amongst the families of the Pratham-educated preschoolers.

Pratham and Niramaya have created a buzz for their effectiveness in identifying, developing, and implementing projects and proposals. Unlike many other NGOs that operate with massive infrastructures and high costs, Pratham and Niramaya use community resources to tackle problems they identify.

"It is because of their reliance on the community, their interconnectedness among donors, and their dedication to their cause, that I chose to work within the Pratham network," Gandhi told rediff India Abroad. "Every NGO should operate under those premises, and, most surprisingly, they do not."

Founded in 1994 as a UNICEF initiative, Pratham is a grassroots non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the primary education, health and hygiene access of underprivileged children in India. Niramaya is an independent, secular, non-profit health organisation affiliated to Pratham, and supported by it.

Niramaya was formed when Pratham educators recognized that a comprehensive, low-cost health and hygiene program for all children attending Pratham schools, and the community in which they live, was crucial to the success and long-range impact of Pratham's educational initiatives. As a result, a team of expert physicians and health professionals from the US and India formed Niramaya.

Gandhi, who graduated from Tufts University, New Jersey, in May 2004, has enrolled in a special course called 'Water and sanitation needs in complex humanitarian emergencies', a course at Johns Hopkins' School of Public Health. He also spent a year studying development at the prestigious London School of Economics and subsequently worked in the slums of Cape Town, South Africa, where he conducted HIV/AIDS testing and post-test counseling.

Pratham officials in Houston said Gandhi feels he has sufficient experience to produce something worthwhile that would be beneficial for the community for whom he wants to work with. "Given Pritesh's experience in South Africa, he will have a lot to offer to Pratham-Nirmaya. On the other hand, given the success of the Pratham-Nirmaya initiative I am sure Pritesh will also gain from his experience there," Vijay Goradia, the founder and chairman of the board of directors of Pratham, told rediff India Abroad.

For Goradia no social cause is dearer than Pratham. 'I feel a certain amount of empathy towards providing education to kids in India,' he told this correspondent in an interview earlier this year. He said the many Indians who come to the US with master's degrees and PhDs can attribute a lot of their success here to towards the education they got in India.

'While everybody talks about the IIT graduates, there are millions of children who get little or no education and people do not like to talk about them. But if we do not something about it, then that divide is going to become wider and wider and going to cause many more problems for India in future. And that is why Pratham is important. It is the right cause,' he had said then.

Gandhi hopes to achieve two goals -- first, developing a mini-curriculum devoted to sanitation and hygiene to be implemented with help from the preschool teachers within the Pratham network. And second, if the need exists, educating a community leader on basic sanitation and hygiene practices, thus enabling him or her to be a point of information for residents.

"By the time I leave India, I hope to have implemented a curriculum through Pratham's existing network of over 5,000 community education teachers to teach the children about sanitation/ hygiene," he says.

"From my research in India, I hope to write a scholarly article to be presented in an academic journal. More importantly, however, is that I hope to utilise the already impressive framework (Pratham's) to reach the goal of good sanitary and hygienic practice among preschool age children.

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York