Medical care for the Santal children and mothers in West Bengal

Development of a preventive paediatric clinic and rural healthcare provision in India

The villages around the university town of Santiniketan are inhabited by the Santals, who were some of the original inhabitants of India. They survived by cultivating rice and supplement their diet by hunting or fishing. The harvest which is made possible by the monsoon rains has to feed the families throughout the year. This results in malnutrition, which can have serious consequences in children and pregnant women in particular. The children can go blind, have problems concentrating and a weakened immune system. They easily fall ill with diarrhoea, respiratory infections and tuberculosis. The poor hygiene situation in the villages makes this development even worse. Since 2010 the MAHLE FOUNDATION has been supporting the Shining Eyes Association in improving the nutritional and hygiene situation.

Against hunger and tuberculosis

The project supervised since 1994 by Dr. med. Monika Golembiewski, which aims to improve the medical care of the Santal children and mothers in rural West Bengal, has been supported since 2010 by the MAHLE FOUNDATION. Since the opening of the Children's Clinic in Bolpur in 2011, seriously ill and malnourished children can be cared for at the Clinic and pregnant women are admitted as a precaution. The X-ray equipment financed by funds from the MAHLE FOUNDATION now makes the early diagnosis of tuberculosis easier. Preventive therapies can prevent the onset of the disease. Furthermore, village health workers are trained at the hospital to recognise malnourished children and people suffering from tuberculosis and send them to the hospital.

An integral part of the project is the diet programmes, in which children and mothers learn how a healthy meal is prepared. Together with the villagers, kitchen gardens are created, in which fruit and vegetables are grown. The health and change in weight of the children is monitored regularly and vitamins and minerals added to their diet if necessary.

A further aspect to sustainably ensure the healthy development of children is to improve the hygienic conditions in the villages. Often there is no clean water for bathing, washing the clothes and dishes. In the village pond, which is also used as a toilet, numerous diseases are transmitted. In order to counteract this, wells are being set up and wash houses with toilets built.

The anthroposophic remedies have now been readily accepted in the villages, as the people have a strong connection with the plants, animals and cosmic conditions that surround them. The processing of their medicinal plants is carried out in accordance with an ancient tradition and is directly linked to their intuitive knowledge.


How did the project come about?

Since 1994 the paediatrician Dr. Monika Golembiewski has been treating the children and mothers of the Santal villages around Bolpur in India. Invited by the German writer Martin Kämpchen, she packed her suitcases with prescription drugs and went to live with the people in their mud huts. She quickly became acquainted with their problems and the causes of their diseases. Since that time Monika Golembiewski has been travelling to India every year to develop a system of preventive medical care for children.

In the early years she took care of the people directly in the villages and taught the mothers and a Jesuit priest how to process the medicinal plants. It was soon possible to begin the first hygiene training sessions, as well as discussions on family planning, and educate the people about a healthy diet.

2007 her son Nico and daughter-in-law Silvia Golembiewski visited India for the first time. Under the guidance of Monika Golembiewski they started nutrition programmes for children and pregnant women in the village. In 2009 the Shining Eyes Association was founded in Germany in order to be able to expand this preventive work to the surrounding villages.

Particular attention was now focused on planning a children's clinic, as seriously ill children were still not receiving a sufficient level of care. Together with the nun and doctor Sister Pheelima, and accompanied in an oversight capacity by the Kindermissionswerk relief organisation for children, everything was meticulously planned until it was possible to begin with the construction work. In 2011 the Children's Clinic was inaugurated.

What are the funds of the MAHLE FOUNDATION specifically used for?

With the help of the MAHLE FOUNDATION it was possible to continue with the construction of the Children's Clinic: patient and seminar rooms as well as a delivery room were set up on the first floor. In the new X-ray room, individuals suspected of suffering from tuberculosis can be examined immediately and lifesaving therapies initiated as soon as possible. The initial funding for another doctor was also provided by the Foundation.

What is planned for the future?

The stabilisation of the processes at the Children's Clinic is planned for the near future. Due to the shortage of skilled labour in India, it is hard to obtain trained nurses. Therefore, volunteers from Germany and Austria are used, for whom staff and administrative rooms are to be set up.

Furthermore, the nutrition programmes are now being extended to 17 more villages. As part of a doctoral thesis of Silvia Golembiewski and Caroline Stiller in collaboration with the University of Hohenheim, the effects of the programmes on health in the villages are to be examined. It is to be determined in particular whether the micronutrient needs of the children are being sufficiently covered by the resources available locally (the leaves of the Moringa and Amaranthus plant) and if the severe cases of anaemia can be reduced.