Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Working for Rajasthan health at Disha Hospital

The children arriving at Disha with their school teachers
We've talked about travel and some of the amazing gardens we saw on our Rajasthan trip, while researching plants for the garden at Disha, but we haven't yet shared details of one of our Health Camps, which we all helped to run. Health Camps are a vitally important way of spreading news to the villagers in Rajasthan and while we were in India, we ran a special Children's Health Camp, where students from two of the local village schools came to Disha Hospital for a general medical check-up.
Dr Deepak Babel carrying out a medical check
Some 120 children from two schools within walking distance of Disha came and spent several hours with their teachers and a team of local helpers, plus the four English visitors (Paul and Pauline McBride, Chris Walker and Charlotte, who founded the Raven Charitable Trust). Dr Deepak Babel conducted the health camp, with assistance from Mr Subhash Goyal, Ms Pooja Bajaj, Mr Hetal Amin, and many other local helpers. The children were weighed, measured and had a 10-point medical check up.
Charlotte with some of the younger children
With more than 100 students, ranging in age from three to 12, we organised a full activity programme for them while they were waiting to see the doctor, including drawing, singing and a traditional Rajasthani puppet show, with a health theme. All volunteers turned their skills to entertaining the children and we also provided a healthy lunch for them.
Pauline (left) and Deepak serving the food for the children
Everybody joined in to help and for once the Indian caste system was left behind. Paul, Pauline, Chris and Charlotte organised the drawing competitions, where the children were asked to draw their homes and families. In the next entry, we will be featuring some of the artwork they produced and asking you to help us choose the winners.
Chris Walker, helping with shoes after the medical check
Chris had to turn his hand to shoe-putting-on-skills as the children finished their medical checks, and Deepak and Pauline got busy serving the lunch (above). But all in all the day was hugely successful and both children and adults thoroughly enjoyed themselves. When the children left, they were all given soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
One of the groups of school children at Disha
When a project like Disha starts, it is vitally important to let the villagers know that there is a hospital nearby where they will receive free treatment, so Health Camps need to be run on a regular basis and aimed at all sectors of the community to encourage the villagers to visit the hospital for the first time. Once they know it is there, they will return when they need medical help.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Step well back in Jodhpur to enjoy this ancient city! A landscape architect's delight.

The modern step well incorporated into the design of Umaid Heritage in Jodhpur
Our sojourn into the Thar Desert behind us, we travelled south to Jodhpur to see what we had come to India for .... gardens!! There are two great gardens of note here - the Chokelao Bagh, at Merangarh Fort and the beautifully maintained Bal Samand gardens. Yet nothing could have prepared us for the surprise we found near the palace - a modern interpretation of an ancient water management system - and an art form in itself!
Chand Baori in Abhaneri, near Jaipur - one of the finest surviving step wells in Rajasthan
Our first stop in Jodhpur was the Umaid Heritage gardens, which are worthy of their own post, so visionary is the design of this new gated housing development laid out below the famed Umaid Bhawan Palace (below) - which serves as both home to the Maharaja of Jodhpur and as one of the world's great luxury hotels.
Umaid Bhawan, Jodpur - the Umaid Heritage gardens are beyond the palace
Step wells (known locally as bawdi or baoli) are unique to the  Western Indian states - a form of water management dating back to the 6th century - conceived to overcome extreme weather conditions in Rajasthan and Gujarat, where there is monsoon for three months of the year, followed by nine months of drought. Construction involved the digging of huge trenches, lined with stone blocks and steps, allowing access to the falling water table throughout the dry months.
The 3,500 Escher style steps at Abhaneri step well descend 13 stories to access water in the dry season
There are step wells throughout India's Western states and one of the finest is found at Abhaneri (above) near Jaipur, where 3500 Escher-style steps descend 13 stories to access the water below. This baori incorporates a temple, and would have served not just as a functional building, but also a meeting place and somewhere to worship, given the scarcity of water in the long, dry months.
Escher-style steps (left) and Indian family (right) show scale of the steps
The Umaid Heritage site in Jodhpur is a joint venture between the Maharaja of Jodhpur and a well established property developer - Essgee - who commissioned architect, Hitash Patel, to design this new residential enclave. And while the houses are spectacular, it is the step well that will surely classify this development as history in the making. Considerable effort has gone into the garden planning here, but it is the ancient water management techniques that will keep this plot green throughout the dry season. This is certainly a plot to watch because I feel sure it will not only win prizes for innovative design, but also for rekindling ancient Indian traditions.
Ancient techniques incorporated into modern design make the Umaid Heritage step well unique

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Skirting the Thar - the Desert Festival

So much for all my good intentions to post regularly from India! Somehow we got swept up in such a flurry of places, events and India-style "happenings", along with such patchy internet connections, that JSF fell by the wayside as we four intrepid travellers visited forts, castles, palaces and gardens. My fellow travellers - Paul and Pauline - have done much better and  have chronicled our adventures on their Sussex Prairies blog, which you can follow by clicking the link.
A not so "wandering" calf, firmly tethered outside our haveli in Phalodi
So filled with remorse, I pick up the reins nearly a month later, from where I left off in Phalodi, the strange, NorthWest frontier town that borders on the Thar Desert. You only stop and stay here if you want to see the remarkable crane feeding ceremony mentioned in my last post. Sad to say, but Phalodi is a real one horse town, filled with wandering cattle and piles of dung that make midnight meanderings around the town an absolute "NO, NO, NO". Although its magnificent Jain temple is worth more than a passing glance. 
The tiny temple (left) is filled with wonderful, ornate glass and mirror work, shimmering in the sunlight. Few visitors get this far in Rajasthan, but if you do make it to Phalodi, make sure you put this temple on your list of places to visit before careering off on a camel in the Thar Desert.
Smiling holy man, found sitting below a tree within the hill fort of Jaisalmer
From here it's on to Jaisalmer, the ancient hill fort town that rises out of the desert in the Westernmost part of Rajasthan. This is a strange place, and not one that I'm likely to return to because it's become such a slave to tourism that every sign screeches about "Lonely Planet" write-ups; every tout tries to sell you a camel safari into the desert; and every spare wall within the city is covered with tourist tat - Ali Baba trousers, carpets, fabrics, and endless pashmina shawls that will not only lose their sparkle when you get them home, but are also likely to disintegrate the moment you try to launder them.
Two children quietly waiting in a sidestreet in Jaisalmer, before they join the Desert Fair parade
We had travelled hundreds of kilometres across deeply rutted roads for the Desert Fair, but soon realised our folly, when the parade started on Day One! We had thought we were coming to a Pushkar style camel fair, but found ourselves enmeshed in a noisy, but colourful parade (top), where camels and drivers were festooned with acrylic decorations. But it's alright, because life looks up after this .... and we start visiting the gardens of Rajasthan.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Travels through Rajasthan

Just a photo-entry today, as my fellow travellers are sleeping after four exhausting days on Rajasthan roads, but we'll be blogging together later in the week. We've completed the first part of our journey - Paul, Pauline and Chris arrived in Ahmedabad in the middle of last Thursday night (+ 5.5 hours UK time, + 9.5 hours EST) and we drove to Udaipur where we spent three days working on the garden and other projects at Disha.
Pauline and Paul, Chris and Charlotte (on arrival in Udaipur on 10 February)
From Udaipur we travelled north through Jodhpur to Phalodi (see map on previous entry) where we spent the night at an ancient haveli before leaving at dawn to see the cranes being fed at a tiny village in the middle of the desert (more pictures here).
Demoiselle cranes arrive in huge flocks from the desert to be fed by the village people
Travel here is very slow as the roads are extremely congested and lane control doesn't apply, so you can only reckon on driving 25 miles an hour, including highways. Now we are in Jaisalmer, where it is wet and foggy (most unusual for this time of year) and tomorrow sees the start of the Desert Festival. 

Friday, 28 January 2011

Getting ready to leave for India - just two weeks to go!

With less than two weeks to go, the four intrepid travellers are getting ready to leave for India. Right now we are all in different parts of the world - Paul, Pauline and Chris are back in the UK and Charlotte is still in the US. But as we prepare for departure, we thought it would be helpful to have a map of our proposed travels in India, so you'll know where we're posting from when we get there.

Udaipur, city of palaces, lakes and flowers
Starting point is Ahmedabad in Gujarat (bottom tag on the map), where Charlotte will meet the other three when they arrive from the UK ... somewhat jet-lagged and with time clocks out of sync since it will be the middle of the night on the Indian clock, but just before midnight British time. From here, we head north to Udaipur to Disha Hospital, to look at the garden and spend some time exploring the magical lake city, filled with palaces, lakes and flowers.

Then it's northwards to Jodhpur (above), Phalodi and finally Jaiselmer, for the Desert Fair which takes place mid-February. This is a first for all of us and we're hoping to see camels and a lot of colour. Plans for the rest of the trip will be made as we go along, but we're planning to see some interesting places ... so watch this space!

Monday, 10 January 2011

The story of Disha Hospital in Rajasthan ... so far!

We're really pleased that so many of you have signed up to follow our progress in the last 10 days - thank you for all your wonderful messages and support! But many of you have also asked for more information ... and as I'm not computer literate enough to upload the brochure we use, I've used the text and images here, so you can read more about how this project started  - Disha Hospital and The Raven Charitable Trust.

  • To provide free medical care in rural Rajasthan where there is currently none.
  • To implement health screening and medical regimes to underpin our philosophy: “Prevention is better than cure”.
  • To raise basic awareness of the value of health care in terms of longevity, well-being and security and empower the local people of Rajasthan to make their own health choices.
  • To educate the village people of Rajasthan about the importance of nutrition and diet in relation to health matters.
  • To promote the status of women’s and children’s health care within the community.
  • To work with specialist doctors on prevention and treatment of childhood cancers.
  • To provide regular children’s clinics and implement vaccination programmes in local communities.
  • To provide an understanding of the importance of good health for existing and future generations.


21 Fatehpura, Udaipur 313001 Rajasthan, India tel: +91 982 814 2100
Contact: Dr Deepak Babel
Mrs Charlotte Raven
Registered Charity No.

The measure of a countrys greatness
  should be based on how well it cares
  for its vulnerable populations.” 
Mahatma Gandhi

About The Raven Charitable Trust...

The Raven Charitable Trust (RCT) is a non- government, not-for-profit organisation with a mission to provide free medical care and a long-term Health Literacy programme to the village people of Bari District outside Udaipur in Rajasthan, India.
The Trust and Charity (34/Dev/Udr/2009) were established in 2009, and have constructed a 4,000 square foot hospital at Lio ka Guda, Udaipur, which is now completed. 
The hospital – called Disha - was inaugurated on 31st October 2010 and will provide basic medical care, including treatment of minor illnesses and accidents on site. It will be staffed by fully qualified medical practitioners and in cases where patients need ongoing medical treatment and support they will be referred and transferred to Udaipur.
This story began in 2008 when Charlotte Raven, an Englishwoman who had previously worked in India, returned with her husband, as a tourist. He became seriously ill in Udaipur and was treated by Dr Deepak Babel. Illness is never a pleasant experience, but in this case it brought together two people with a shared vision and fundamental belief that:

“All people have a basic right to medical care”

Dr Babel and his family, who own and run Lake City Hospital, Udaipur promised to collaborate on the hospital project if Mrs Raven would raise funds for construction. And this is how Disha began. In March 2009 the Raven Charitable Trust (RCT) was formed and the rest has become history - Disha is now officially open and ready to serve the local community.
At Disha we aim to provide an excellent standard of primary medical care, without charging patients for consultations. Dr Deepak Babel and his father, Dr Chandra Babel, will operate regular walk-in clinics, with the support of technicians and specialists.There is a laboratory on site for pathology tests and in cases where patients require surgery, there is a fully-equipped operating theatre at Lake City Hospital in Udaipur.
However, providing medical care is only the start of RCT’s work. The long term success of the project lies in our ability to educate the rural people of Rajasthan about the value of healthcare at the most basic level, so they will be sufficiently motivated to make decisions for themselves.
RCT will therefore be working in conjunction with other NGOs and we have incorporated a conference/teaching room and accommodation for visiting doctors at the hospital, so RCT can implement its Health Literacy programme and offer on-site training in conjunction with local providers.
Our Health Literacy programme will ensure that medical experts work alongside existing local organisations and education providers, to ensure that the basic healthcare of rural communities are met. by pooling their knowledge.
We are optimistic that RCT can make a real change to the way in which healthcare is delivered and understood in rural Rajasthan and we hope you will help us.

A wonderful Rajasthani face - this woman needed a radical hysterectomy, but was unable to afford it - cost including surgery and all aftercare was just £150 (US $225) - RCT made it possible!
  • India is already the world’s largest parliamentary democracy, yet there is currently no state provision of healthcare in Rajasthan, where most income in rural communities is derived from agriculture, which is vital to the Indian economy.
  • The Disha project is intended to be a working model for future healthcare projects in Rajasthan and will be unique in that it will not only provide medical care in rural areas where there is currently little or none, but will also be committed to setting up an innovative and accessible Health Literacy programme, aimed at improving not just the lives of the patients it treats, but also their families and their communities.
  • The Raven Charitable Trust will provide basic healthcare in the community which will enable the Foundation to assess the medical needs of the people and establish what their longer term needs are in terms of health provision.

Friday, 31 December 2010

The birth of a new blog - we hope you'll join us as we build a garden the other side of the world!

Sussex Prairies in bloom in the summer
This is the beginning a new adventure for four intrepid travelling gardeners! We'd like to introduce ourselves because we're going to India to plant a garden and we hope you'll follow us on our journey. 
Sounds simple, or maybe just extraordinary, but if we tell you a little more about the history of this project, you may understand why we're doing this! 
Charlotte is already well established in the blogging world and goes under the name - The Galloping Gardener - and for those of you who already know her, you'll be aware that besides visiting gardens around the world at an alarming speed, she's also the founder of The Raven Charitable Trust in Rajasthan.
Paul and Pauline McBride are the brains and brawn behind Sussex Prairies in England's East Sussex - a glorious garden that some of you may already know, planted in Piet Oudolf style; and a wonderful Bed & Breakfast that you may have even stayed in. The fourth team member is Chris Walker, organiser extraordinaire, who's helping with Disha's new Gap Year programme for those taking time off between school and college.
The land before building began
Mowing the grass at Disha
Disha under construction -  November 2009
Disha in November 2010 - ready to open
   Chris has known Charlotte for more years than you'd want to know and he's become involved in the project because he's an amazingly practical person and will be helping set up the "Gap Year" programme planned for 2011. With the hospital up and running and fantastic local contacts in India, the Foundation plans to offer trips to India for school leavers and university students, with opportunities to work in the hospital, out in the local community that it serves and as the network grows, in local schools in Rajasthan.
    At the moment there's no garden at the hospital ... we have land and the ability to mow the grass when it grows (thanks to a local farmer who lends us his oxen), but apart from mud in monsoon season and grass in the dry months, there's nothing growing yet. But that's all about to change because in February 2011 the four intrepid travellers are off to Rajasthan to start making a garden at Disha.
   Paul and Pauline are quite used to making a garden from scratch and are the brains behind this project; Charlotte raised the funds to build Disha and construction was overseen by her partner, Dr Deepak Babel in India (for more on this see our Raven Foundation blog); and Chris is used to organising manpower and management, so his input is vital. And now the four of us are going to work together to make a great garden rural Rajasthan.
So why a new blog?
We're launching this new blog to cover our travels when we visit India and to show how the garden progresses over time. But we'll also be featuring other unique gardens that serve local communities the world over.
    We're all booked to fly out at the beginning of February and we're going to start work on the garden at Disha Hospital when we get there. 
    Our first stop is Ahmedabad, where we'll be looking at an existing hospital garden that's been designed for the patients at Apollo Hospital. Disha is already associated with the hospital and we've been getting a lot of feedback from the consultants about the positive effects that the garden space has on patients.
   After that we head up to Udaipur to start work on the garden, and from there we're heading to the Thar Desert (Jaisalmer and beyond) and continuing on through western Rajasthan, so there will be plenty of photos and updates (as and when we get an internet connection). This great journey starts on February 10, but we will be posting before then as we get ready for the trip and we'd love you to follow our travels. If you're on Facebook you can click on the widget below ....
    You'll see that we've chosen the end of 2010 as our launch day and the reason for this is it's about to be a New Year, a new project and a new garden for Disha Hospital. Hope that you all have a wonderful year and may 2011 be a really special year for you - we are determined that it's going to be a memorable year for The Raven Charitable Trust and all the people it serves! NAMASTE and more soon from Jardins san Frontiers around the world.