When Gemma MacMillan, a 24-year-old marketing specialist from Barwon Heads, met Dr Alma Ram, a 67-year-old community health leader from Amritsar, in northwest India, she realised something was lacking in her demanding corporate career – a chance to contribute to meaningful change.
Dr Alma runs the Woman & Child Mobile Health Clinics project in North India, which works with the Dalits (otherwise known as the Untouchables caste).
The Woman & Child project has worked with 11,000 women and 7000 children in 30 poor and oppressed Dalit villages in the Punjab.
It is a program of ante and post-natal care, female empowerment, gender equality, nutrition, contraception, immunisation and HIV/AIDS care; as well as environmental, sanitary and health education.
The project is supported by the JBK (Jagriti Bhalai Kendra Society) established through the UCA overseas partner Church of North India.
Dr Alma and the JBK have been assisted with their work in a number of ways during a three-year partnership with Frankston UCA and other Australian supporters.
Helen Beeby is a travel partner with the synod’s Uniting Journeys program. She explained that travelling to India and seeing the work firsthand had strengthened the relationship between the partners.
“It began as a purely financial arrangement – traditional, although now regarded as somewhat paternalistic, support. We parachute in the money and they deliver the work,” Ms Beeby said.
“Then we took people to visit the project, through Uniting Journeys Responsible Travel Tours, and these people became advocates back home.
“Gemma happened to learn about our tours when she talked to my dear friend and Uniting Journeys Conversation Partner Lea Trafford at a wedding.
“Lea encouraged Gemma to join me on a project visit last month, along with another UCA stalwart Eleanor Wood.
“Gemma stayed on for a further four weeks after we left and has been listening to stories from mothers, fathers, widows and project staff to create new website material.
“By establishing face-to-face relationships with those the Church supports we continue to see great benefits for all parties involved.”
Uniting Journey participants helped fund Dr Alma to be a delegate at the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) annual conference held in Goa, India in January this year.
Delegates from around the world were shocked and profoundly impacted by Alma’s accounts of the realities of life in an Indian village.
“Uniting Journeys are also involved with some micro-finance programs – the widows and single women supported by the JBK project are knitting Wisdom Wipes – cotton-ply knitted facecloths and dishcloths,” Ms Beeby said.
“The knitters in India, many with no income or resources as widows, receive a percentage of the profit and the remainder is pumped back into the JBK project work. Some Australian women have knitted too, so it’s an international partnership that is connecting everyone.”
To learn more about Wisdom Wipes go to: wisewomen.com.au/wisdom-wipes-fundraiser/
Another Uniting Journeys Tour to North India, incorporating a three-day visit to the JBK project, will run from 23 September to 6 October. For more information go to: www.responsibletravel.org.au