Health care for the citizens of rural India has always been sub-par to nonexistent in many regions, but the onset of the global pandemic has brought the crisis to life for one Island priest who grew up there.
Father Raju Chebattina,parish priest at St Mary’s in Montague, St Paul’s in Sturgeon and St Michael’s in Iona, said his hope is to bring more equitable access to health care to the people living in the West Godavari District of the South Asian country.
Back in February and March of this year India reported not only the highest Covid case counts, averaging one million every three days, but as many as 5,000 deaths per day.
News of people dying, some in the streets without access to oxygen, or lining up to cremate their loved ones was extremely hard to take, he said.
It was heartbreaking to watch, said Fr Raju, but growing up in a country with a population of 1.3 billion where the caste system (rigid social groups characterized by hereditary transmission of lifestyle, occupation and social status) are still in place and access to education and health care for some is out of reach, he knew he wanted to do something to support the people.
“It is my hope to have something where there is nothing,” Fr Raju said.
“Coming from that situation I thought, ‘God has given me a chance to be here and we are a little better off; we have a system that works and we have better health care.
“We give our life for God and why not bring some good to others?”
His goal is to build a 60 bed mission hospital in the centre of the district.
The project has been in the works for the past nine months. Blueprints have been drawn up and one-and-a-half acres of land in the centre of the 2,989 square mile region has already been donated. Several medical professionals in the region have sanctioned the project as well.
There are more than 25 villages in the region with a population of over 75,000, many of whom are seasonal labourers.
With wages at $4 for men and $2 for women, paying for health care is not within their reach. The money they do make is needed for the families to survive.
“Education and health care are a privilege for only those in the higher caste,” Fr Raju said.
Many who live in the rural areas never have access to health care in their lifetime. The majority of mothers give birth at home without proper access to any antenatal care.
Fr Raju is now looking to Islanders to help contribute to this project which is estimated to cost $127,000.
Sponsorship levels have been created so donors will be recognized for their contribution.
The idea is to have the cost of each room covered through a sponsor and the rooms named in their honour.
The Souris Knights of Columbus have already held a fundraiser for the project donating $5,000, the cost of building a ward.
Fr Raju is also reaching out to other Island Knight councils, as well as service organizations to garner their support.
Donors will also receive a progress report, Fr Raju said.
The plan is to have 25 to 30 major donors to fund the build and equipment drive, but donations of any amount are welcome to ensure the facility has general finances to fall back on.
Once the hospital is up and running Fr Raju’s goal is to eventually partner with PEI hospitals as well as UPEI nursing and (future) medical students for continued support.
“The people this hospital will serve are the poorest of the poor,” he said.
“It will be a welcoming place for all people - people of all faiths and all castes.”
More information on how to make a donation can be found by contacting Fr Raju at St Mary’s Parish.