10 / 2006
a. What are the objectives of the Voluntary Health Association of Meghalaya?
VHAM works at making health a reality for all people of Meghalaya through its involvement in the voluntary health sector. VHAM is a non-profit registered Society. Its constitution is Secular. Indeed, the VHA movement was started in Meghalaya and a State unit formed as soon as the 16th of September 1974. We work with the Government, other Agencies and like-minded individuals working for health. VHAM services are in principle open to all health and health related institutions in the voluntary non-profit sector of health-care, irrespective of religious affiliation and like-minded individuals.
b. Can you explain the way you work and give some concrete examples of the results?
Community health is VHAM’s main thrust. VHAM promotes and provides the education of villages based Community Health Volunteers, and we help people to develop or extend community health services. VHAM conducts seminars, workshops and other education programmes including training programmes on different topics. VHAM helps its member organizations with consultancy in planning, implementing and evaluating.
VHAM has organized a number of HIV/AIDS awareness programmes in a state like Jowai, where the incidence is highest. A five-day training was organized there for service providers. The main theme studied during the session was substance abuse. VHAM promotes healthy indigenous health practices. A special training programme on HIV/AIDS was organized for practitioners of the indian system of medicine and homeopathy. HIV/AIDS awareness and education programme for truck drivers has also been leaded with, thanks to the support of Meghalaya AIDS Control Society. The programme is being run along National Highway No. 44. It has not only benefited the truck drivers, but also communities who live near the highway. Though the programme focuses on HIV/AIDS, general health awareness is raised through it. VHAM’s Mobile Clinic provides medical services to the truck drivers and others.
VHAM also organized a 15-day community based de-addiction camp in Jowai. Since Jowai happens to be a place where drug abuse was found to be rising. The camp succeeded in creating an atmosphere for the public so that they would regard drug addicts with sympathy and accept them as members of the community who need support for their recovery. This would surely help in rehabilitation of the addicts. This programme was supported by the United Nations Development Programme.
Health camps are regular features of VHAM action. Most camps go hand in hand with Health Awareness. Personal hygiene is a prominent and regular theme for health education in rural areas. Other activities like Financial Management Training for VHAM’s institutional members and other NGOs, training on Reproductive and Child Health (RCH), etc., are also fomented.
c. What was the local context like when the Voluntary Health Association of Meghalaya was started?
VHAM started in the year 1974 as a voluntary based organization. Before it started the concept of NGO or developmental work was not known at all. People believed in a welfare approach where social work was based on charity and not on rights. Nowhere would have people thought to start an organization concerned with the rights of the people. Locally, people were laid back and had no direction. The cases of violation and oppression were not addressed. With the coming years the concept of social work slowly changed and the rights approach started to develop.
d. What obstacles have emerged through these years of experience?
Obstacles are many in terms of human as well as financial resources. The society is reluctant to change. Pursuing a labor based on the defense of human rights is a very difficult task. Nonetheless, we are engaged in a irreversible process. In India, young people are shying away from working in a developmental sector because it pays less and the work load is heavy. They are more attracted by the corporate world where they are well payed and granted with a great status. Moreover, rural people are now able to understand their rights and start to struggle. Thanks to the Right to Information Act passed recently, the people are quite informed.
e. In what sense is VHAM’s approach innovative?
VHAM has started with innovative programmes recently. Here are some examples: the creation of a commemorating drugs day, HIV/AIDS programmes, globalization programmes, the empowerment of the communities to have community-runned market, the empowerment of the weavers to help them create a niche for their products, working with the youngests to develop a spirit of volunteerism in them.
f. What are the most important lessons you have learnt?
The one and only lesson learnt is to always listen to people’s needs first, rather pushing our own agenda.
g. Which is the biggest problem affecting the mountain communities?
Mountain communities face a huge problem of identity. The mountain communities have always been considered as illiterate and uneducated people. The marketing of their products is always a problem considering the fact that the roads are in a bad estate and that there are not regular transports. Most of the time the goods get spoiled or their talents rot away because of a lack in market. Thirdly because of the low market status young people of the communities goes out of their home in search of a better avenue thus leaving the mountain communities deprived of active and enthusiastic people to continue the tasks.
h. What would be the priority actions to launched at the local and international level to improve the quality of life of the mountain people?
The 1st priority is to create a link between all mountain communities to fight against the oppression and violation. Secondly, to launch mountain standard products based on our traditional know-how and expertise.
i. How do you see the future for the mountain people?
In 20 years from now I see a world where every identities, tribes and tongues, are respected in their existence. I see people respecting each others’ rights. I see young men and women going forward to contribute to social change.
j. How do you define the mountain?
Looking at it from a spiritual point of view, I have always considered the mountains to be the connector between the word below and the God above.
The mountain sings in all its splendor,
Standing tall in all its magnificence
To raise their heads up high,
To sing praises to the LORD.
Praises for the birds that sing,
Praises for the air we breathe,
Praises for insects that crawl,
Praises to man to praise all them.
The mountains raise their hands with trees
To thank dear LORD for all that breathes.
This interview has been realized by ALMEDIO Consultores with the support of the Charles-Léopold Mayer Fondation during the regional meeting organised by the World Mountain People Association - APMM.
Interview with Mayfereen Lyngdoh Ryntathiang
Voluntary Health Association of Meghalaya
Mavis Dunn Road, Mawkhar, Mawkhar Main Road, Shillong 793 001, India
Phone: \(+91) 0364 25 44 142
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