Wednesday, June 27, 2007

From Durham to Delhi

Me (left) aside fellow Duke student (Nandini Palaniappa) and NGO staff as we assist in community outreach during our visit to Sahara this past December. Our trip was so eye-opening that I am now back for the summer with five other Duke undergrads to further help the orginization.

My name is Aneesh Kapur and I’m a rising Junior at Duke. Back at school I’m majoring in Public Policy, minoring in Biology, and planning to go to Medical School. Currently, however, I am here in New Delhi, India with five other Duke undergraduates working to help improve conditions for individuals living in the lowest tiers of society.

We are volunteering with Sahara (, a New Delhi based NGO which offers support to a variety of marginalized populations throughout India. Born in a country with extreme overpopulation problems and an extremely steep gap between the rich and the poor, none of Sahara’s clients are given a second chance in society. One mistake – or even more common, birth as a certain individual or into a certain family – pre-writes one’s destiny.

Sahara’s clients include child and adult Drug Users, Transgenders (TGs), and women and children living in extreme poverty. And while one characteristic, usually even an uncontrollable one, dooms these individuals into the worst of living conditions, their condition can hardly be defined by a single characteristic.

These are not a) people living at risk of HIV/AIDS, or b) people living in poverty, or c) illiterates, they are all of the above. Our work here, and that of Sahara, could be described as reducing harm for drug users, preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS, providing access to basic health care, combating illiteracy, promoting family planning or any other conceivable type of social work.

Indeed, Sahara began as a crisis care and rehab center for injecting drug users, but over the years faced the earliest cases of transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus through needle sharing, and step by step realized that drug use is only a single facet of life in these marginalized populations.

Throughout, the NGO’s mission has remained the same: to help those society has shunned back onto their feet. Throughout, Sahara’s scope has gotten bigger. Drop in centers for basic health care, detoxification and rehab for addicts, community outreach and home-based care, day care and non-formal education for street children, and vocational training are all services Sahara now provides – all to assist these people achieve a better place in society.

See, back at Duke, I may take four classes any given semester. In my Biology class HIV is taught as a microscopic virus which infects one’s immune cells and thus depletes his/her ability to fight off other illnesses. In my chemistry class I may learn about the addictive effects of drugs (well, that is, if they taught anything interesting in Chem classes). In Public Policy I may learn about the inadequate provision of basic health care. And in Writing 20 I may feel like I am reverting to, or else I may learn about, illiteracy.

These are all individual realities for their respective hospital beds, lab benches, research proposals, and endless useless revisions, but here, to those on the streets of New Delhi, each condition has a much larger shadow. And Sahara’s clients face conditions overcast by them all.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

DukeEngage - India (Summer 2007)

Duke students will volunteer at Sahara House Centre for Residential Care & Rehabilitation, a New Delhi-based organization that seeks to empower people facing difficulites due to substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, and low socio-economic status. Sahara's mission is to empower people and strenghten communities. To follow this, students will assist in different areas, assessing the needs of Sahara's clients and suggesting how the orginization can better serve those it reaches out to.

Students in India:
Saad Mir (Trinity '07)
Sweta Patel (Trinity '07)
Nabihah Kara (Trinity '08)
Kedar Kirtane (Trinity '08)
Arnav Mehta (Trinity '08)
Aneesh Kapur (Trinity '09)

Other Students who helped prepare
for these projects over the semester:
Nandini Palaniappa (Trinity '08)
Priyanka Sista (Trinity '10)