Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Hi all,
I am writing you from the business class airport lounge in Hong Kong where we wrote our first post from. I am almost home. Our blog received 2045 hits while we were in India. That also happens to be the next time I will go to India. Januray 2045. Just kidding but I did meet up with Jeff during my time in HK and we talked about how life was different when not in India. Anyways, I also wanted to share with you some media exposure we have gotten: http://edition.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/07/23/usc.india/index.html yep! we're on CNN. We all wrote 2-4 posts which they should put up soon too. Instead of blogging we were writing professional blog posts for CNN so I guess thats the real reason we stopped posting on the blog. I am sure this blog will kind of die once we stop posting so there a good chance this will be the last entry until the USC team from next year goes back to Hubli. For now take care and thanks for reading about us!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The last day...

Sorry for the lack of posts recently but the past 2 weeks have been extremely hectic. As we have mentioned before we got all of our materials printed a few weeks ago and since then we have given our presentation to one or two schools a day, analyzed our data, dropped off pamphlets at clinics, and have been in meetings during the rest of time here. Overall the past 6 weeks has been an exciting and exhausting process. We have been featured in more newspapers and have been getting a great response from students as well as the local community. As the title of the post implies, this is my last day here. I am looking forward to an awesome meal tonight at my favorite restaurant. I am very thankful for the opportunities that the Desphande Foundation and USC Stevens has given me. I am leaving with countless memories and my hope is that our program has impacted as many lives as possible. Below are some pictures from the past few weeks for your viewing pleasure.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The last days in Hubli

Hi all,
SO we have been busy on the ground here and have not really had a chance to keep our readers updated. We just finished our last school yesterday and in total interacted with 1200 local students throughout our time here. We also got our pamphlets for healthcare professionals and patients and will be distributing them in our last few days here. We also found out we are in two newspapers: a local language paper and the Times of India. We also had a press conference yesterday with two other newspapers. Finally, we wrote up our story for CNN and are hoping that perhaps they will publish our stories. If we can post a link for that we will. It has been a great experience but all of us can't wait to get home to the good ol USA. Sorry for the lack of updates but we promise better things from us soon!

Monday, July 14, 2008

On the trails of the Anti-Gutka Campaign

As Crystal manifested below we had our second education session. This time it was in a government Kannada language high school. The littered gutka wrappers forming a pile at the base of the worn building provided grimacing evidence of this. While a high school, children of all ages walked around a dusty playground. The students however were very enthusiastic and excited to have visitors. They seemed to prize the educational game boards we gave them as many tried to scam us into giving them more. It was clear we were making an impact. I am sure many of you are asking why I came to India and what is this gutka thing I am talking about. Well here is a short write-up that will explain that:
India. A fourth trip. One like never before. A trip where I come to give and not just get. A trip where I am "prepared" for what lies ahead. It is my motherland and the combination of my cultural awareness and education give me the tools to initiate a change. I am a medical student. I understand work ethic and I can and will continue the arduous battle towards perfection. But wait, there’s so much personal sacrifice. Isn’t being a doctor and devoting my life to helping others enough? This is my last summer. Ever. I can choose to do anything, why would I ever choose to give up my amenities and lavish lifestyle in sunny Los Angeles? Gutka.
Gutka is a sweet tobacco product designed in India. It is a white granular substance and when placed in the mouth, morphs into a vermilion red liquid that is spat out. It is more addictive than cigarettes and more dangerous than dip. It comes in a dynamic array of flavors ranging from chocolate to fresh mint but is most popular in a flavor that brings together many spices used in Indian desserts. It was marketed as a fast option to paan, a similar tobacco product rolled in a fresh leaf and eaten as a mouth refresher after meals throughout India. Paan, while dangerous, has been around for centuries. It wasn’t until the late nineties that the gutka market emerged. Much like the overflow of crack into the streets of urban and ethnic neighborhoods in the late 80’s, gutka has torn through the lower socioeconomic classes all over India. It is highly addictive, fairly innocuous (during early use), and marketed as a safer alternative to cigarettes. While gutka is certainly known to be harmful, the extent of its dangers have not been conveyed to most of India. The creators, in search for a successful tobacco product seemed to mimic the recipe used by the discoverers of crack: they mixed every addictive substance they could find, every carcinogen, some glamor, but this time they added taste. It was a recipe for disaster. Some products have been found to cause oral cancer in less than 6 months. Oral cancer is not in the top ten amongst cancer incidence in the United States. In India, it is the most incident cancer amongst males. The trends are alarming in that the problem is getting worse. The scariest thing as that apart from a few large studies and localized action from individual states, there have not been major steps to create awareness of this problem. With a population of a billion, any problem that affects India on such a large scale automatically becomes a problem of the world. I know my impact may be small but with sustainability being my goal and molding our project around the idea that it can be replicable, I know we can begin something. With that in mind, the sacrifice of the last summer of my life and the challenge and excitement of being in my motherland don’t seem so daunting. I’m ready to give and to get.

KIMS Med Student Superstars

We had a slight scare last week, when we thought we wouldn't have medical students from Karnatika Institute of Medical Sciences, and after today's performance, the full implication of that would-have-been loss is clear. The three Indian medical students really shone today, translating and instructing as we did our education program in a Kanada medium school for the first time. We had all our materials pre-translated, but it would have been impossible to explain what we wanted the kids to do with them, since they spoke only a smattering of English. In addition, the students helped us by imparting additional knowledge about oral cancer to the kids--in our 9th standard class, they were eager to learn more! At the end, they led the kids in a cheer, a rousing "say no way to Gutka" hoorah. I felt that the program today, despite bumps we will iron out with experience, was a resounding success. The headmistress thought so, too, and invited the "big wigs" from the school board to meet us and thank us for running the program. Undoubtedly, it could not have turned out so well without the contribution of the students at KIMS, and our NGO partner Ravindra. Later in the week, there will be two nursing students joining us as well. A full onslaught of soon-to-be medical professionals reaching out to the Kanada-medium government schools where the gutka problem is significant. I only hope the juggernaut of help that we seem to have now can keep rolling forward---I imagine there will need to be some more added momentum, somewhere, or the darn thing is liable to succumb to friction and stop.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Our First Session: Chaos in Hubli

Today we conducted our first education session for our anti-gutka campaign. We worked at the Rotary High School which is an English school and one of the nicer schools in Hubli. We received permission from their school oard thanks to Dr. BR Patil who is a surgeon with a hospital and a cancer center in Hubli. It was him who allowed us to watch the fibula free flap repair and mandible resection. Details aside, we were given this great opportunity. I woke up early in the morning to go to downtown Hubli to search for something we could use as game pieces. It was hard finding a silver shoe, thimble, or car, so instead of basing our game on Monopoly, I decided to use buttons. When I returned, Crystal and I began to video tape students around school. Our plan was to leave to the school at one and in typical Indian fashion we didn’t get our printing until 12 and that was only part of the job. The other part would be dropped off to the school while we were on our way there.
When we got to the school we decided to split the 8th and 9th grade apart so that we could educate them separately. Thank god for that. The students arrived in the auditorium queit, in single file, with an excited glow about them. Jeff introduced the group (in a flashy Indian accent nonetheless) and we took questions from the students about life in the US. They did not ask us about Hollywood, music, or Disneyland. Nope. These 8th graders aare different. They asked us about career choice, attaining a green card and/or a visa, and about the process of opening a business as an immigrant. Interesting…Nonetheless, gifted them the comic which they all enjoyed. We then began to play the game, but at that point, due to a wave of excitement flowing through the hall, we lost all control of the students. No words from the students or us would calm them down. In fact no beating would calm them down. We saw kids getting ears pulled, getting slapped on the back of the head and getting whacked with a coarse rob of bamboo. It was fairly eye-opening. When we gave them surveys and accepted their individual thanks we we exhausted but awaited the 9th graders. None came. We had taken so long in teaching the 8th graders that school was almost over for the day. We will go back to the school another day. It was an exhilarating day in Hubli and there is at least another week of this. For now, we will talk to you guys later.Below is a video of a few kids playing our game.

Online Videos by Veoh.com

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

5 surgical interns...

We working harder and longer these days, as our deadline nears and still so much to do. I went to the famous "glass house" yesterday, to the Augustia science center, to get contacts for rural Kanada schools. It was interesting to see the science center and learn about what they teach the kids who come there. They are all about inspiring creativity and love of learning in their students, which is something lacking in the standard Indian education system (and I think many would admit, in the standard US public school system as well). I found the visit refreshing, but I was surprised they could show young children real jarred fetuses, and the live crab in a jar too small for it was a little sad. At any rate, I am looking forward to putting our project forward in rural schools, where the kids are most at risk for a gutka addiction, and likely know the least about it. I am a proponent of us having as much contact with rural schools as our time and printing budget allows, because I think we will have a large impact there.

Yesterday, the group met with Dr. Desari, the head of the Karnatika Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS). It was amazing to meet with him in and of itself--can you imagine telephoning the dean of a US medical school, and meeting him or her face to face half an hour later, just on the pretext that you want to see him, with no prior introduction? He set up another meeting that Marin and I went to this morning, with a head of a department, and now we have 5 surgical interns who will be coming with us to the Kanada schools. They will translate and help educate the students on oral cancer. I'm so excited that they have agreed to help us, because this will add credibility to our program, the students will learn well from the native Kanada speakers, and they may be inspired more by peers who have made it in the medical field than by "foreigners". I also hope that this contact will help us increase the sustainability of our project, a goal we always have foremost in our minds. I don't dare to hope too much, but we will introduce the students to Ravindra (whose NGO we are working with) and perhaps something will come of it. If nothing else, we have a valuable contact for future USC students who might work on this project. I also went to the nursing school yesterday, but so far they have not gotten back to me about getting their students involved.