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Kamalangapurim Village, Chennai, India

Due to overwhelming demand, we ran an impromptu clinic in a Dalit encampment rather than in the main village. The dignity and beauty of the people was a stark contrast to the surroundings, strewn with waste of all sorts. There were no outhouses, and despite the new communal water pipe, the water was not filtered and boiling would be expensive. We visited in the afternoon, when the day laborers returned after backbreaking manual labor with little nutritional sustenance. The children who were able to attend school had not as yet returned, but a group of boys was playing cricket barefoot in a clearing in the brush. The babies and children too young for school were scampering amidst the strewn debris. Their dirty, caked and crusted feet were a glaring juxtaposition to the flowers in their hair. The parents looked thin and worn, in frayed saris and lunghis, while the children still gleamed with possibility. 

We treated many people for skin infections, cellulites, ringworm, and gave out albendazole. In endemic areas, the entire population should be given albendazole twice a year to keep parasitic infections such as hookworm at bay. However, that is a bandaid approach, and real change requires not just nutrition, education, medication and hygiene, but also social justice.  

We also treated pneumonia, ear infections, myalgias, respiratory infections. I was amazed at the number of working men who numbed their pain with moonshine, but apparently that was a cheaper approach than over the counter analgesics. To visit the free government hospital would have meant an expensive transport and a days’s lost wages, which translated as at least a day without food for the entire family. Nearly everyone was anemic.

We gave out numerous pairs of shoes to the young children. For each of them, it was a first pair of shoes. Shockingly, they were often the only family members to own shoes.

The gratitude for what we were able to accomplish was overwhelming.

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