Published: 27th February 2020
How this couple in Hyderabad set up a 'Healing Train' to get underprivileged kids healthy while having fun
Meet Rachel and Kimmi, a couple in Hyderabad who have set up an NGO where students and underprivileged kids get much needed health checks and gyaan almost like they're on a train ride
Working as a doctor in Gandhi Medical College used to pain the heart of Dr Rachel Priyanka Pulla for one reason alone. All the distraught parents rushing in their kids for urgent medical attention need not have worried at all had they just paid a visit to the hospital in the early stages instead of when things are out of hand. But again, can we blame these parents who themselves have limited knowledge about screening, immunisation, keeping track of growth milestones and detecting warning signs in children? "I could guess by their confused expression that they themselves hardly had any information about whatever the condition," says the 29-year-old. Another thing this youngster detested was patients waiting to see her. "Even if the child wasn't sick, the waiting period was so long that they would look bored and sick by the end of it," says Rachel in a lighter vein. But what Rachel was really itching to do was go out there, screen children before the need to step into a hospital arises.
Girls ready for the session | (Pic: Healing Train Foundation)
Baby just say yes
Right here, we must sidetrack to tell you a love story. Just when Rachel was bubbling with ideas to make a difference as a paediatrician, she ran into Komal 'Kimmi' Swaroop at a party. After pursuing his Master’s in IT and Networking from Sheffield Hallam University, he came back to Hyderabad with a strong desire to give back to society. Two years he dedicated to travelling within the two Telugu-speaking states, he even visited tribal villages, to understand India. He started a centre in Kukatpally, Hyderabad, in January 2014 where he tutored six children. Today, he tutors up to 300. And it is this work that he was talking about so passionately when Rachel bumped into him and thought to herself, 'This is exactly what I want to do!'. Conversations led to exchange of ideas and they not only found their life's purpose but they also found in each other the love of their lives. They married in February 2017 and in April that same year, they started the Healing Train Foundation.
They want to reach out to 20,000 children by 2020
Purpose with heart and soul
"The very purpose of the foundation was that we did not want any child to wait before seeing the doctor," says Rachel who was born in Warangal and brought up in Hyderabad. To this end, they launched the Healing Train Camp. The model is that before reaching the doctor, their final destination, children and parents pass through various stations and at these stations, they learn about the essentials of healthcare — like at the fitness station, which comes right after the nutrition station, a good 45 minutes goes into playing and exercising. At the pharmacy station, medicines for deworming, iron deficiency and so on are given away.
Komal with children and their kits | (Pic: Healing Train Foundation)
"If I ever held a medical camp, I knew that I never wanted it to be monotonous. What these stations help us with is picking up the development and intellectual ability of the children. We understand if the child is hyperactive, autistic, introverted, has attention deficit disorder and so on, something that takes time to understand through a regular clinical appointment. These camps are a holistic approach towards healthcare," says Rachel who works at Ankura Hospital for Women and Children, Mehdipatnam. Their first camp was at Komal's centre and was attended by 70 children. Over the past two years, they have conducted 25 camps in rural areas, including the villages in East and West Godavari, Andhra Pradesh.
They impacted close to 9,500 girls in the last year
They've got a whole lot more
Another one of their initiatives, the Svachchhata Project comes in as a lifesaver. These are basically hygiene kits with products like tongue cleaner, moisturiser, soap, toothpaste and more. But these kits are not just distributed, the children are taken through a 30-minute play during which they are taught about how and why one must use each and every product in the kit. Teeny and Greeny are the two characters in the play, one is stinky while the other is squeaky clean. As they talk about health and hygiene amongst themselves, the children listening learn all about how to use the kit. "As a paediatrician, I have had the chance to observe children over the years. As per my observations, I developed the play based on what connects with them and what makes them laugh and understand," she shares.
Rachel demonstrating how to use a reusable pad | (Pic: Healing Train Foundation)
Another cause close to both Rachel and Komal's heart is that of the hygiene of girl children. "They are so shy. Usually, they approach us with questions just before we are about to leave. There is so much power in empowering girls," says Rachel. But it was an uphill task. How were they supposed to talk about menstruation when the very mention of the word 'vagina' would lead to giggles or the girls hiding their faces? Thus, through the Suraksha Project, they distribute kits which contain reusable pads, soap and underwear, and educate girls about the taboo that exists around menstruation. "We tell them that they are responsible for their own body, not their parents. They need to take care of it," says Rachel.
5,000 children have been impacted through the Healing Train Camp initiative
Looking out for them all
While both urban and rural kids benefit from the initiatives of the Healing Train Foundation, what Rachel has noticed is that urban kids take the knowledge for granted. "That's why, with them, we emphasise more on the right way to do things whereas the rural kids are very receptive and appreciative of what we share," she explains. Irrespective of how they behave, Rachel and Komal have vowed to reach out to as many kids as they can to empower them with knowledge and help them lead a hale and hearty life.
Komal and Rachel | (Pic: Healing Train Foundation)
At the station
Here are all the stations children go through during the Healing Train Camp
- Registration station: The children and parents would register and they would get a growth chart and a booklet with information
- BMI station: Their Body Mass Index (BMI), weight, height and other essentials are recorded
- Nurses' station: Children are screened for lymph node enlargements, tonsilitis, skin diseases, fungal diseases and more
- Paediatric station: This is where Rachel comes in. She does the full body check-up and talks about the health history of the parents
- ENT specialist station: Friends of Rachel volunteer for this particular station
- Dentist station: A dentist checks up on the teeth of children and also gives them advice on how to take care of them
- Nutrition station: From many plastic vegetables and fruits, students are asked to pick the most nutritious ones and taught about what to eat
- Fitness station: Through games, children work on team-building, working in groups and other skills
- Pharmacy station: Essentials like ointments for fungal infections and more are given
Scenes from the camp:
For more on them, check out healingtrain.net