The backwaters and canals of Alappuzha are unfamiliar terrains for 61-year-old Dr. Bhupender Kaur. As a voluntary doctor with United Sikhs, an international organization that operates with communities in disaster-hit areas across the world, she and her team are boating medical aid to the flood-hit district. She is sad that her first visit to Kerala is this way.
Her team: a nurse, four to six volunteers, and an interpreter are visiting marooned villages on a motorboat, screening men, women, and children for diseases that commonly affect people in such circumstances.
This is their 30th project and Bhupender, in November 2017, worked for three months with Rohingya refugees at the Cox’s Bazaar camp in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
“The two situations are very different. There we set up a physical medical camp with all the amenities. We were doing check-ups for a lakh of very weak and malnourished people. Here, as the floodwaters have not receded completely and primary-health centers are still not functioning, we have converted our boat into a clinic and ferry medical aid to the clusters of villages in and around. Even if it is a single home we attend to them,” says Bhupinder.
Here, the high literacy and medical awareness make her work simpler. She is both amazed and impressed that amidst the chaos of flood-ravaged living, where a number have lost their material belongings, many have saved their health cards.
“The outbreak of Leptospirosis or rat fever is the biggest fear, and we are giving prophylactic medicines for a month as prevention. We are also giving multi-vitamins to build resistance. The calamity has destroyed their homes, and hence regular food and rest are still a few weeks away,” she says.
United Sikhs were founded in 1999 and are affiliated with the United Nations. A physician and a clinical psychologist, Bhupender in her boat clinic have been welcomed by the villagers. “There is no awkwardness; only love. The villagers, many who are not familiar with Sikhs, embrace us with kindness and talk openly about their fears and medical conditions.” She finds that anxiety and fear have led to depression.
Bhupinder has a word of praise for her team, young farmers from Barnala in Punjab. “It has been amply reciprocated. Their colorful headgear is noticed at once and people come to us with warmth. The six men are tough and lift and cart bagfuls of provisions and cartons of medicines easily.”
The team set out in their boat every morning at 9 am and return before dark, by 5 pm. They have been doing so for the last one month and have visited Kallara, Kuttamangalam, Kainakary, Pazhoor, Nagachiveedu, Kayalchiri, Kattichira, Thottuvathala and a few more areas.