She Lost Her Grandma To Cancer; Now She Has Helped Nearly 2000 Rural Women With Breast Cancer

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Breast cancer is perhaps on the verge of becoming an epidemic in India, with an exponential rise in the number of cases each passing year. The most concerning part of this dangerous trend is that 8 out of 10 breast cancer patients in India do not survive in the absence of early intervention and inaccessibility of proper treatment. An indelible taboo surrounds the ‘feminine’ disease in rural India, leading many women, young and old, to succumb to breast cancer within five years of the onset of the deadly disease. With Aaroogya, by Priyanjali Dutta wants to change this. 

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

She Promised Her Grandma To Free The World From Cancer

Priyanjali Dutta was only 19 and a final-year dental student when her mother was diagnosed with Essential Thrombocytosis, a rare precancerous blood disorder. Around the same time, her sister and her adopted brother, both of whom were special kids, faced certain complications with their health. Priyanjali’s world came crumbling down.

The news brought back traumatic memories of losing her dear grandmother to cancer.

At 25, Dr Priyanjali Dutta is the brains behind Aaroogya – a non-profit organisation dedicated to offering basic healthcare facilities for free in remote parts of rural India. Her exceptional work in the domain of breast cancer awareness has saved over 700,000 women and earned her accolades from all over the world.

Aaroogya: She Started Her Work At 21

Priyanjali started Aaroogya in 2017 at the age of 21, from her hometown Shillong in Meghalaya, a state with one of the highest occurrences of cancer. From there, the Aaroogya movement has proliferated all over India, penetrating into the country’s nooks and corners and impacting nearly 700,000 lives in Meghalaya, Delhi-NCR, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and West Bengal.

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“Since I was pursuing my degree in a government medical college, I encountered patients who were mostly from an underprivileged background. I got a first-hand exposure to their plights and distress, and the factors that prevent them from availing timely medical care,” recalls Priyanjali, in a conversation with Efforts For Good.

While in college, Priyanjali’s unique approach to spread breast cancer awareness through fashion shows and choreography garnered a lot of attention in national and even international media. Soon, she delved into the scene of rural healthcare, dropping-in door-to-door in villages to inform women about breast cancer. That’s how Aaroogya came into being and propelled Priyanjali as a full-time social entrepreneur.

Aaroogya

Battling Resistance From The Villagers

Initially, she would face a lot of resistance from the villagers, as the womenfolks were either not allowed to step outside the confines of the household, or they were conditioned to ignore any health issues, especially those concerning their ‘private parts’. There had been times when men armed with ‘lathis’ surrounded Priyanjali and her team during their interaction with women in Uttar Pradesh hamlets.

With time, Priyanjali and her trained team of women volunteers managed to break the ice and share tête-à-tête with the shy housewives and teenage girls. Later they would be invited to attend the screening camps, where many had been diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer, even at critical stages. Most of her volunteers were Anganwadi workers and ASHA workers who were trained for months about the basics of cancer.

Priyanjali attributes a substantial part of Aaroogya’s success to Thermal Mammogram – an AI-driven procedure which helped her diagnose malignancy symptoms in women, without involving any physical touch of a doctor which they are extremely conscious about. In recognition of her incredible efforts, Hans Foundation has donated a Thermal Mammogram machine to Aaroogya, easing Priyanjali’s work by loads.

Some Shocking Encounters With The Stark Village Reality

Priyanjali recalls some of the shocking encounters she had in these villages.

“The level of ignorance and neglect of health among the villagers is appalling. In one UP village, people were consuming Bhang, weed and hash day in and day out, regarding it as ‘Bholenath Ka Prasad’ (Lord Shiva’s blessing), without having the slightest idea how gravely it is harming their health,” she shares.

Many patients would continue to ignore their cancer symptoms even in advanced stages, passing it off as some skin ailment or simply choosing to live with it, since they cannot afford treatment and medicine.

“In one camp, a middle-aged woman came, complaining of severe backache. When we examined her, we were terrified to find her at a very advanced stage of breast cancer. She had barely put up a thin cloth over her right breast which was completely disfigured and bleeding profusely. We rushed her to the emergency at the nearest hospital in Patna. She is now undergoing treatment,” Priyanjali shares, expressing her anguish at the body-shaming stigma plaguing the lives of rural women.

Priyanjali was quite sceptical when Aaroogya was invited to Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, by the local Ayushman Bharat coordinator to conduct a breast cancer camp in her hospital. “I thought a pollution-free, organically enriched place like Rishikesh would have almost no cases of breast cancer. I was in for a shock when six women nurses at the hospital itself were diagnosed with the disease at dangerous stages,” she shares.

Aaroogya

Expressing Her Gratitude

“I must express my sincere gratitude to a few eminent dignitaries, without whose guidance none of Aaroogya’s progress would have been a reality. Ronald van het Hof, the managing director of Women on Wings taught me the nitty-gritty of being an entrepreneur, while Dr Pramod Kumar Julka exposed me to the latest developments in cancer treatment like molecular profiling or precision medicine,” expresses Priyanjali.

“My interaction with Mary, an anthropologist from Israel, helped me understand how a person’s surroundings and daily schedule have the largest impact on the body. Moat of the disease manifestations are just repercussions from the daily lifestyle. She designed a data-driven curriculum for us to introduce our fellowship – Aaroogya Research and Public Health Fellowship (ARPHF),” Priyanjali narrates how Aaroogya introduced their prestigious fellowship for sprouting women changemakers in India.

From Breast Cancer To Holistic Healthcare

Recently, Aaroogya branched out into the domain of holistic healthcare alongside their dedicated breast cancer segment. In collaboration with the Central Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Priyanjali launched the Swasthya Nari Sashakta Buxar initiative in Buxar, Bihar, which

Brought 10,000 rural women into the ambit of overall health checkups and consequent treatments.

“I consider this a huge step for Aaroogya towards a bright future where we don’t just limit ourselves to breast cancer awareness, but effectively offer complete healthcare services to village women,” reiterates Priyanjali.

In the Bihar Aaroogya camps, the women were screened for breast cancer, cervical cancer, nutritional deficiency as well as made aware about menstrual hygiene. They also conducted malnutrition surveys among children and offered prostate cancer, kidney damage and hepatitis screening for men.

The Challenges & The Solution

For all these years, the entire funding for Aaroogya came from Priyanjali’s personal savings and contributions from her father, Sanjit Dutta. She might have received endless honours for her amazing efforts, but the sustainability of her non-profit foundation worries her the most.

With Aaroogya propagating into the fields of telemedicine, AI-based health programmes and advanced technology, she sincerely hopes the support for her work continues to pour in from all walks of society. Recently, she was felicitated by WEFT as the Young Achiever of The Year.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge

Posted by The Logical Indian on Saturday, October 27, 2018

Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles

It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.

The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.

In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.

“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.

On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.

“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.

After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.

Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote
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