Deep Griha Society is a family welfare center that was founded in 1975 by Dr. Neela Onawale and her husband Reverend Bhaskar Onawale. They were both social activists and practitioners. They decided to call it Deep Griha because it means “house of light,” a positive space. When Deep Griha Society was founded over forty years ago, the organization resided in a one room medical clinic, in Dr. Onawale’s house. Within a few years, she was helping over one hundred patients. Dr. Onawale noticed most of the medical conditions and issues people were facing who the slum areas were due to malnutrition lack of medical facilities and not enough education. After witnessing these conditions, she decided to begin programs that supported and educated members of the community on how to live a healthy lifestyle. These programs included: an Empowerment Program, Health Education Program to address the key health problems, and a Nutrition Program that provides free meals. Ever since her programs started, Deep Griha Society has grown to be something bigger than expected. They have customized their service to inspire deprived communities through education and support. This has resulted in teaching different skills and gaining confidence to help push people forward to live a healthier life. Larger than ever, there are numerous branches of the organization in different slums around Pune district and Pune city. Today, the organization aids almost 50,000 people living in the slum communities of Pune and the have over 140 staff members. A majority of the staff members originally were clients who went to the organization for support, medical needs, and financial support. They now work there to reciprocate for the assistance they once received from Deep Griha, by offering community members support to whomever is in need.
Deep Griha Society works for the empowerment of the marginalized through capacity building and sustainable urban and rural development programs. They are an independent charitable organization working to better the lives of people living in the slums of Pune, India. Through a range of programs Deep Griha Society helps thousands of beneficiaries within Pune and several nearby villages. They have programs and projects for childcare, child development, youth empowerment, women’s empowerment, medical needs and dental care/health care, HIV/AIDS, Aadhar Kendra which is for foster children and orphans, education, awareness building, self-help projects, and rural development. They operate in three locations; Tadiwala Road, Ramtekdi, and Bibvewadi. Specifically, with the HIV/AIDS program they focus on nutrition and empowerment. This is where I am placed and what I assisted and worked with. The Tadiwala Road location is where I was stationed. Deep Griha’s involvement with HIV prevention in the city lies with the DISHA program. DISHA stands for Deep Griha’s Integrated Service for HIV and AIDS. The program is a HIV prevention, treatment, care and support program working to target Marathi-speaking, local communities. The nutritional program for clients provides them with two healthy meals a day, six times a week. The DISHA program also has counseling services, referral services, home based support and care, treatment of opportunistic infections, weekly outpatient clinics, shelter homes at Vishrantwadi, income generation programs which help clients with their finances and voluntary HIV testing. DISHA’s motto, ‘Positive Living’ gives people living with HIV (PLHIV) an opportunity to relax and have fun by being included in dances, competitions and music. DISHA specifically helps over 200 clients.
Dr. Neela Onawale is still working as the chief director of Deep Griha Society and she oversees every program they offer. There are different directors for community outreach, finances and supply chains, international and local volunteers and for program logistics. While working with Deep Griha Society, I mainly worked with Elizabeth Hollingsworth, who is the volunteer coordinator, and who holds a link between the international and local volunteers and helps them get involved where they desire and where help is needed. I also worked with Golnaz Malek, who serves as one of the Wake Up Pune coordinators and works with the student population as well as the DISHA ladies. Within each program, there are team leaders who oversee their specific projects and are responsible for the activities and logistics. The team leader I work under for DISHA and Wake Up Pune specifically is Avinash Chakranarayan. He is responsible for organizing events, awareness activities, and educational programs for the community. I really enjoy the fact that Deep Griha Society grabs the attention of the international volunteers. They make it very easy for people to come in and start working, and to get involved with community projects. I am currently interning with seven other students. One from Canada, one from South Korea, one from the Caribbean Islands, one from Iran and the others from various places in India. It is great working with such a diverse group of students, who all have the same goals and interests in Public Health, specifically HIV and AIDS. By always having new volunteers from all over the world coming in to work every few months, it allows there to be new ideas, different perceptions, different experimental backgrounds and ways of living. This helps benefit the diverse population that Deep Griha Society works with and serves.
In the greater context, Deep Griha fits in the role of the national attempt to eliminate the spread of HIV, stop social stigma and discrimination, and help support the lives of those living with HIV and AIDS. The DISHA ladies like to work in different communities, to teach HIV education, street plays and demonstrations, and by speaking with people about the effects and long-term outcomes etc. The DISHA program has a strong network of ladies living with HIV. They decided to call them “clients,” and not “patients,” because it stands for a better outlook and more positivity. DISHA has an Income Generating Project as well, where clients can be artistic and creative and make and sell hand-made crafts to support themselves financially.
Wake Up Pune also holds activities, and awareness events. They target the urban youth and middle to upper class population and communities. Their initiative is “HIV Positive,” meaning having a positive outlook, HIV awareness, and support to individuals living with HIV. Wake Up Pune is known for their regular “HIV Boot-Camps.” These boot camps are very informative sessions where volunteers, corporate employees, college students and community members learn about HIV prevention, the stigma surrounding the virus, statistics, prevention, practice putting condoms on bananas, treatment, testing, transmission and the basic biology of what the HIV virus actually is and does. Boot camps are held very regularly, to keep people informed and aware.
I worked specifically with Deep Griha Society, but worked on one primary, big project with Wake Up Pune. I was placed into a big project from the very beginning. It was somewhat overwhelming because no one told me I would be working with Wake Up Pune, and that I would be jumping into a project that started one week before I arrived at DGS. My first task was to study the website and make comments and suggestions. I really enjoyed this task because before I started all of my other tasks and projects with DGS, I was able to become completely immersed in their website which allowed me to understand every aspect of the organization, especially with the DISHA program that I was working with. I was expected to make suggestions, and edits, but it was such a great website and very detailed and organized, that there were not many changes that needed to be done. My second task was to study the DISHA program activities, review the client satisfaction survey; the data collected and suggest any changes in the survey for further data collection. The document I had to review was over 70 pages. I read through every single page, and took notes to make sure I did not miss anything and to insure that I caught all the mistakes or errors that I thought should be modified. Surprisingly, I finished this task within two days. I thought I would take me longer so I moved other projects around by about one week to accommodate my anticipated timing. The client satisfaction survey was well written by a previous intern. I had minor changes and suggestions. It was very detailed and organized wonderfully and very clear. My comments and suggestions were about spacing, and moving certain pages around. The clients seem to love the DISHA activities and programs, and they are happy with everything, with one exception. All of the clients wish there were more parties, social events and gatherings. DGS unfortunately does not have the funds to grant the DISHA clients their wish. The lack of sufficient funds does hurt them. My third task was by far my biggest and longest task, yet the most enjoyable. For this task I was basically working for Wake Up Pune. World AIDS Day is celebrated every December 1st. Deep Griha Society and Wake Up Pune collectively had a number of programs starting in November, leading up to World AIDS Day. My job was to help plan all the activities and events, attend the activities and participate as well. This included various competitions, awareness activities, boot camps and campaigns. This portion of my tasks list was very broad and not specific so I got involved and engaged in every way that I could.
My first weekend interning, all of the other volunteers and myself went to the home of our program coordinator for Wake Up Pune. We had a nice lunch and then got to work. We made over 10 different placards for the LGBT Rally that we were going to partake in. We cut cardboard into smaller squares and rectangles, and glued different colored paper to one side of the board to make the signs. Together, we were all being very creative with the slogans and designs of the board. A few examples of some of the board slogans are: “I can’t think STRAIGHT,” “Love knows, no gender,” “My support, my gay brother,” and “I’m the pink sheep of my family.” We had a lot of fun making these boards and slogans. I am glad I had the chance to bond with the other student volunteers and my program coordinator before all the hard work began because it helped me in the long run, and made me very comfortable with everyone that I would be working with for the remainder of my time in India. The following day we were all with each other again. All the volunteers and program coordinator had a scheduled meet and greet with patients at a Clinic called Sahara Alhad. It is on the outskirts of Pune. When we arrived, we met all of the patients and they told us their stories. Many of them were heartbreaking. I shook hands with everyone after I met them because I know often, in India especially, people do not go near or touch people living with HIV and AIDS, so I wanted to make it a point to shake their hands and thank them for allowing us into their rooms and letting us hear their personal stories. It was a successful day.
Let the main tasks begin. Starting one week before World AIDS Day, we began our events. Starting November 25, 2013 we had a boot camp with new volunteers from the other DGS other locations. Since my program coordinator was busy with work, she asked if I could help run the boot camp. Thankfully, I had been in a boot camp previously when I first joined the Wake Up Pune team. The boot camp went very well! I hit all the right points, and the demonstrations went according to plan. The new volunteers said they learned a lot and they thanked me! I felt important and special at that moment because I felt like I was starting on a great note. The boot camp in general helped me understand HIV/AIDS in the context of India, and it gave me a more holistic awareness of HIV. After this day, the Wake Up Pune’s Awareness week activities were posted online via Facebook and Twitter. It was my responsibility to advertise these events. Therefore, I would repost all of the flyers online, and send them to Facebook friends to make sure people were aware of our events and to encourage everyone to come out and join us.
The following day, Tuesday November 26th, we had our Rangoli Campaign. This was a complete success. We set up our first campaign on the day at Shivajinagar railway station. All the volunteers, including myself were wearing our ‘HIV POSITIVE’ t-shirts, and the DISHA Ladies were all wearing red saris. It was beautiful. We each had brochures and flyers to pass out while the DISHA Ladies were making the huge red ribbon Rangoli. While they were completing their Rangoli, we were chanting, and holding our banners and placards that said, “We are all HIV positive,” “You cannot get infected by hugging, holding hands and sharing food,” “Cover your lover with a rubber,” and many more! We captured a lot of attention with the HIV POSITIVE shirts and red saris. People stood around and watched on as the DISHA Ladies made their beautiful Rangoli. The purpose of this campaign is to make a point, that HIV and AIDS is a problem in India, and we are trying to raise awareness. After a few hours, we left this location and headed over to Swargate Juction. The same events happened. The DISHA ladies started their big Rangoli, and we were in the middle of two main roads handing out flyers and brochures. Since we were on a very busy street, we decided to get the messages across by standing on the side of streets and corners. We would hold out the flyers and cars, motorcycles and rickshaws would zoom by and snatch one out of our hands. We handed out everything we brought with us. Word was spreading and more and more people came up to talk to us. They were asking questions and we even had a few people sign up for DSG’s services on site. Pune definitely felt the awareness in the air that day.
On November 27th, we had our signature campaign. We were stationed along Laxmi Road. It was me and 5 other volunteers and only four of the DISHA Ladies. We set up one of our posters at one of the biggest intersections, tying it to poles, and we had another banner on the ground that people signed, and one next to that, standing, so people could see who we were and what we were doing. Within a very short period of time, people were signing the posters. We of course, were passing out flyers and brochures, and telling people to break the silence and break the stigma and sign our poster. I found an interesting pattern while this campaign was going on. Schoolgirls between the ages of 13-17 were eager to sign for our campaign; the younger populations would sign without pausing; the middle aged people who were in lower castes or lower incomes would also sign right away, but the higher castes people, the people who clearly either had a lot money or thought they were above everyone would not sign, and they would not even give us the time of day. I found that to be very interesting. On our lunch break we walked to a nearby restaurant. As volunteers, we were wearing our HIV POSITIVE shirts, once again. As soon as we walked into the restaurant and sat at a table, all of the waiters were starring at us, and pointing. It was like they gathered just to gossip about us thinking we were all HIV Positive, literally. It was strange at first, but eventually it became uncomfortable. No waiters would come to our table, so finally the manager took our order, and helped us. We were getting death stares the entire time we were sitting at the table. I became so frustrated I just wanted to leave. I felt so out of place. I then realized what everyone was talking about regarding the stigma of HIV. People thought I was HIV Positive, therefore they treated me completely different than everyone else in the restaurant. Of course, I wanted to say something and speak up, but what was I going to say? I was happy to be out of the restaurant and glad to be back on the streets where people did not stare at me like I was not human. Overall, the campaign was a great success. We had the entire front side of the banner filled with signatures, and even the entire backside as well.
On November 28th, there was a street play competition, but I was unable to attend because I was helping plan DGS’s big event on December 3rd. I heard it went well. There was also another boot camp session, open to the public. I saw pictures and there were many people in attendance. The following day November 29th, it was Free Testing Day at DGS. The testing facilities and doctor were open to seeing anyone who would walk in and get tested. Even us, the volunteers got tested to show people that it is okay to get tested and that it’s painless, and if we can do it, they can do it too. That evening we had a fundraising event at Swig Bar and Restaurant. We held awareness games and quizzes for people who attended. There were awards as well. If you answer two questions correctly, you get 100 rupees back from the entrance fee, and a free drink. Most of the people in attendance were not there because of our event, but because Swig is a place they usually go to. Wake Up Pune got in a little bit of trouble because of the event. Apparently, our event was not supposed to serve alcohol, and our event was featured in the newspaper the following day. It mentioned names of people who work with DGS, reviews, and people who attended and their views on how the event went. Everything was cleared up after the event and the money we raised is going to a great cause.
Saturday November 30th, we had our Live Installation. We held this demonstration at Shaniwarwada Fort. All of the volunteers and some of the DISHA Ladies sat in a big circle with our backs facing inside the circle. We were blindfolded and also had our mouths covered. On our blindfolds were the words HIV. Wrapped around all of our wrists was red rope, like we were bound together. This was representing people who are living with HIV and how they are silenced, trapped and blinded by social stigma. Golnaz, our program coordinator for Wake Up Pune, and one DISHA Lady talked to the crowd of people who looked on. They began telling everyone about HIV and AIDS, what it really is, how to get it, how to prevent yourself from getting it, where you can get tested, and all about Deep Griha Society and where we are located and our services. At the end of the speech, she told everyone we were HIV Positive and to set us free, she asked if anyone in the crowd wanted to break the silence and stigma against HIV, she asked people to come up and take our blindfolds off and take the rope off our hands. I was the first person to be set free. This was a powerful experiment. Everyone was set free within two minutes of the speech and it was beautiful. I believe people were really listening and felt safe to take out blindfolds off. Progress was being made.
December 1st couldn’t have come any faster! It was World AIDS Day! I participated in a Rally while carrying and walking with banners conveying HIV awareness messages and slogans. Other volunteers and members of DISHA and DGS handed out flyers, and informational leaflets to passersby. There were many other organizations that were also trying to raise awareness for World AIDS Day. It was a beautiful sight to see so many people all rooting for the same thing. That same evening, it was the Sahara Football Tournament at fun fitness club. Many teams showed up to win, and many to raise money for World AIDS Day. The winner of the tournament received Rs2,000 and a certificate. More people showed up than expected.
It was time for Deep Griha Societies big event. December 3rd was our Celebration of Life! The celebration of life is an event where children of the Ramtekdi and Tadiwala community perform, sing, have dance shows, and people from all over come to see as well as the DISHA Ladies who perform, the volunteers, and school children and other members of Deep Griha Society. Even a nursing school came and performed a skit they had created. It was my favorite. This is also, to raise awareness. The event is not just for people involved with DGS, but other members of the community can watch and help out as well. This is where we get a lot of recognition because so many bystanders watch as people take to the stage. I was the only volunteer to represent the Tadiwala branch, but I had a great time rooting my Didi’s on! They called me up on stage, along with the volunteers from the other branches, and presented us with roses for all of our time, hard work and commitment! It was a very nice gesture. It felt great having the big event be such an accomplishment because we all worked so hard to make all the activities the best that they could possibly be. All of the hard work paid off, which was evident by all the smiles and laughter that filled the air.
My last task, interviews. I had of my questions approved by Avinash, and told my interpreter to help me the day I was going to interview. Unfortunately, a series of events happened, that led to my interviews being cut short and not the best they could possibly be! The questions were very straight forward, and simple. I was told not to ask the client about their status and how they were infected. I followed the instructions and kept it very professional. Without me going into too much detail, I had a bit of a disagreement with my interpreter and actually had to give her a lesson on HIV/AIDS. I told her the way you can get infected, the treatment options, stigma around it and much more! I was relieved to have the interviews completed so quickly. I learned so much about how people around my age feel about HIV/AIDS, and how little they understand everything. They are not educated properly about this topic. That’s why there is a lot of stigma, discrimination and miscommunication in this arena. I learned such a big lesson in just a few hours. That is the one thing I am glad I got out of it. I learned the most during my last week of my internship.
The work I performed with Deep Griha Society meets the overall mission of the organization to provide education to improve the overall health of the community and to raise awareness. My work with Wake Up Pune and with the DISHA programs backed the general HIV and AIDS awareness mission of both of the programs. They collectively seek to influence and educate as many people as they can by their awareness events. I contributed by speaking directly to members of the community, and helping first hand to help spread awareness messages, answering questions, clearing up misconceptions and advocating WUP’s goals. I helped the general public to better understand HIV and AIDS as a whole, I looked at all of the challenges straight in the face and dealt with them in a professional manner, and I upheld the mission of the organizations to the best of my ability. However, the work I contributed cannot be summarized. Most of the work I performed with DGS and WUP was very much the same and overlapped. I came in each day with a smile on my face ready to tackle any obstacle for the day with a positive attitude. Whatever needed to be done, I took on. Unfortunately, my lasting contribution is minor. I did not change any policies, or implement new programs that would last forever. Realizing that I am just one of the hundreds of international volunteers they get every year, made me a little gloomy. But then I came to the realization that the work I have been doing is helping individuals, which actually can make a lasting impression. My job was to come in and help educate, and make people aware of HIV and AIDS. That is exactly what I accomplished. With excellent precision! I was here to do as much as I could in the short month while interning. I trust that I managed my time well, and that I DID in fact, make a lasting impression on specific individuals in the community. Even brining families together, friends together and strangers together. Additionally, the work I executed with Wake Up Pune and DISHA is part of a bigger goal. It is not the contributions of individuals, but rather the accomplishments of the entire organization as a whole. With the drive of individuals trying to make the organization a prosperous one, this brings the organization to a better place, and taking it a step further to succeeding in its mission.
Overall, my experiences with Wake Up Pune and Deep Griha Society have given me a helpful insight to how NGOs are managed and operated. The struggles, successes, and background of what they really do behind the scenes. Being observant and having conversations with many different people, I realized that the best way to convey messages about HIV and AIDS, awareness, and breaking stigma is by educating people…starting with individual communities at a personal level. In order to successfully spread awareness, Deep Griha Society needs to come up with a community-based method of how they are going to get the messages across; they need to communicate, have patience and be flexible. If you want social change, it takes time and does not happen overnight. Therefore, having a great attitude and setting goals, even if they are small, will help make everything fall into place.
My experiences last summer in South Africa, doing research on HIV and AIDS and working in slum communities in Soweto, helped me to gain an overall understanding of HIV and AIDS prior to coming to India. I was able to apply what I had learned to help me with my internship. Although I did not know the amount of people living with HIV or AIDS in India when I started this internship, I still found it pretty easy to deal with because the numbers in Africa are higher than in India. Another thing I did not know anything about when I started this Internship was how critical of an impact social stigma has on the world living with HIV and AIDS and especially here in India where millions of people infected with HIV have a lack of education and awareness. Eventually, that leads to fear and cases of discrimination. My work also helped me understand that lack of health care facilities, treatment and supplies can cause and lead to HIV positive individuals. Condoms are the best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections and diseases, but a lot of rural India and high-risk areas do not have access to condoms or other preventable methods. I learned that while raising awareness about the different types of transmissions, that it is very important to deliver high-risk populations with concrete methods to help prevent the transmission of the disease.
I really enjoyed my time at Deep Griha Society and working with Wake Up Pune. My contributions were made to the best of my abilities. A few things did frustrate me that I noticed. The lack of organization, continuity and lack of communication. There were many times where nobody knew what was happening, where to go, or what was next; our program coordinators would not know either and that meant that we would be scattering trying to understand what was going on. Also, there have been many awkward times in the office. Arguments and disagreements would get out of hand and result in loss of friendship, people being moved out of the office and a sense of confusion for all of the volunteers. It was very uncomfortable when that happened. When I first started, I was just dropped into the middle of a project. I feel that Deep Griha should inform the new volunteers and interns about what is going on in the office, what they will be doing, what they need help with and what has been done recently in the past so they can get a better understanding of what the vibe is in the organization. If this would have taken place, I would have had a better transition, and a more smooth start while working in the project I was dropped in on to work with. It is very difficult to gain understanding of what programs have been done, and implemented, and how they were conducted if there is nobody there to fill you in and to help insure that you have a sooth start. For me, the challenges and frustrations elevated the importance of leadership, organization and structure within any NGO and similar organizations.
My experiences at deep Griha Society have been amazing overall. They have helped me understand myself better, helped me make a path for my future dreams and aspirations, and because of them, I have gained many new friendships with people from all over the world. Before coming to India, I knew I was interested in Public Health. I just was not sure what avenue I wanted to pursue. Having traveled to now 14 different countries, and taking something away from each of my experiences, I believe my trip to India and my internship at Deep Griha Society has benefited me in more ways than one! Within the last week of my internship, as I previously mentioned before, there was a little bump in the road with my interpreter and my last task. From that experience, I realized so much about myself as a person, and for my future. Although I cried for most of that day, I cried tears of pain, hurt and realization. While I crying to my one of my teachers and the student advisor, I realized in that moment, how passionate I was about HIV/AIDS Education. I realized that this scenario happened for a reason and helped me to understand what I am really here to do: to educate people about health care, health related issues and especially HIV/AIDS. That moment was a turning point for me. Out of pure frustration and anger, grew something beautiful.
With all of that being said, my experience at Deep Griha has been a bumpy ride, but a ride that will take me on a journey of a lifetime. I now have friends all over the world I can call on when I am in their country. Through this internship I have grown tremendously, and I realized I have the ability to accomplish anything if I put my mind to it. I now will be going to graduate school for Public Health with a concentration in Development upon my undergraduate studies, instead of Global Affairs. Through my experiences, I have come to understand the importance of Health Education in developing countries. I know I cannot change the world, but I know I can make a difference to somebody’s life through what I have learned here at Deep Griha Society.