Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Safe Motherhood and Education in the rural region of Upaipur

Joie Lemaitre Guest Blogs for Americans for UNFPA

It's Wed. afternoon and we arrived in Udaipur late yesterday afternoon. Udaipur is in the state of Rajasthan and is a high desert area, very hilly, rugged and spectacularly beautiful. We are staying in an 18th century fortress that was bought by an Indian woman in the 1980's and she renovated the palace using local workers, local materials, and Rahjastani artwork and crafts. Marble is quarried here...white, black and green. I have a green marble soaking tub in my room...totally decadent and beautiful. The beds are on platforms on the ground, the floors are marble, and I think the slippers I have been given are hemp. Talk about feeling like an Indian princess. Now I just need to put on my new Indian tunic, pants and shawl and the feeling is complete. It's called Devi Garh in Udaipur, Rajasthan, check it out if you like.

We spent the day today touring the area and visiting a regional clinic...much cleaner and nicer than the govt. run hospital in Delhi. There is progress here in the rural areas and more and more women are using the clinic to deliver their babies. A couple of women who had complications when they had their children came and spoke about how the clinic saved their lives. As other neighboring women hear that the clinic cares for the healthiest outcome, they are more willing to have their babies outside the homes. The idea is very foreign and scary for some, so the word of mouth is helpful.

The Rajasthani people are beautiful...the men wear the colorful turbans and have wise weathered faces and the women wear beautiful saris' and enormous earrings in their nose rings, I guess, but they are like chandelier earrings. The villages are quite basic...the house, barn, children and livestock all living under the same roof. I am still so struck on how so little has changed for centuries in many parts of the world...and the rest of us move at light speed, comparatively speaking. They are gentle and dignified people. Although their history is one of a warrior people, as this would be the doorway to India from the north.
We had such a fabulous time at a regional education center for women today. The married women are learning crafts to raise money for their families 'cause once they are married they can no longer go to school. There were also many school girls there who are learning about how HIV/AIDS is spread, how to be advocates for themselves. They are urged to continue in school. The girls were about 15, 16 years old and spoke of their desire to go on to college and become teachers, and doctors and engineers.

Three of our delegates were dressed in honorary sari's (including me) to the delight of the girls and women. They were all laughing and clapping as their teacher wound the Sari material around our bodies and then veiled us. The women had made the sari's to sell, so I bought the one they put on me, which is hot PINK! We felt like rock stars...everyone wanted to shake our hands and touch us, etc. They don't get many foreigners in their rural villages, so we were quite the show.
Tomorrow and Friday we have more UNFPA site visits...schools, clinics, hospitals and then back to Delhi on Saturday. Hopefully my flight will leave on time on Sunday AM, but this time of year it's very "foggy" ie. smoggy in Delhi, so often flights are delayed for several hours.

I've learned a lot, have been reinvigorated by this trip and the work that's being done to better the lives of women and children by UNFPA...the word needs to get out there. And, hopefully our next president no matter who it is will finally release the millions of dollars that have been withheld by Bush. It's interesting to note that Congress votes the funds to support the work of UNFPA every year and even increased the funding this year, it's just Bush's administration that holds it back.

signing out from a hilltop in Udaipur...the sun is beginning to set over these spectacular hills.