Yesterday I set off to train Health workers at an urban slum called KG Halli– a clean and bright training centre in the midst of a large slum. The health workers were enthusiastic and raring to go. I started off – slowly, testing their knowledge and understanding. They seemed keen to learn – a mix of Tamil and Kannada, with Urdu thrown in for good measure.
‘Madam, is it okay to place turmeric on the child’s forehead?” asked Veena. Well this seemed like a rather apt moment to categorise practices into harmful, harmless and good. Good practices identified by the team included the mother staying at home with her newborn baby, without a pressing social and financial obligation to rush off to work. Compare this with strained and harried working mothers juggling work, finances, babies, self respect, time and sanity – well definitely mums staying at home classified in my eyes as ‘good practice’.
“Ma’am what about tying a tight belt made out of a woman’s sari, to help contain the post partum belly? Is it good practice??”
The others intervened. Bellamma fumed ‘They tied my abdomen up so tightly, I couldn’t even breathe. I threw it off. I didn’t care what they said. Maybe that’s why my tummy bulges and these other girls have such flat abs”. “It didn’t work” said another worker “Look” she points, while the other break out into laughter.
I am angry now. When I had my son in UK, my mom asked me if I wanted a belt around my abs. I had given her the tough and haughty “that’s no suggestion to give a public health person’ look. Now I was angry with my mum for not having insisted. Hey it seemed like a ‘harmless lurking on very good’ practice. I could have had that enviable flat tummy of the health worker who had followed tradition. At least, if it was effective, I could have been a happy beneficiary.
So that got me thinking……….. where’s the line? When does one say ‘good practice’, ‘requires further research’, ‘potentially beneficial’, ‘downright useless’, ‘good if done a little differently’? Where does one take off from misconception to absolute truth? I left the training reminiscing on the proverbial ‘drop in the ocean’. Was the training adequate, appropriate, relevant?? Where did it fit into pre-existing notions of trainers and trainees? Can we really change cultural beliefs within a larger dimension? Can we as trainers truly say that we have crossed the boundary from misconception to genuine knowledge and wisdom? From the deafening silence that surrounds me as I ask the question, I presume the answer is still “No”.