“When we come to deserve a master, he shall reach us.” – Gurudev Swami Chinmayanandaji

The Day It Started

During a spiritual camp in March 1982 at Sidhbari, Gurudev inaugurated a free dispensary where Dr. Indumati Vaidya and Dr. Akhilam (now Swamini Nishthananda) served. Later, that little clinic became the nucleus for the Chinmaya Rural Primary Health Care and Training Centre (CRPHC&TC) with financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in collaboration with the Government of India and National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW).

Dr. S. Chakra, a devotee and a physician in the government hospital at Dharamshala in 1983, gave the idea of getting USAID to set up CRPHC&TC for training of community nurses. That year, the Government of India had issued a directive for the selection of an NGO for these health services in remote and inaccessible areas. Despite being reluctant initially to be involved in a government program, Gurudev became interested when being told that the program will benefit the women the most.

The Building Blocks

The Chinmaya Rural Primary Health Care and Training Centre (predecessor organization of CORD) was inaugurated by Gurudev on April 10, 1985.

Some of the components of the USAID-funded collaborative project with the Government of India include:

  • Running of a primary health centre, with six outreach health sub-centers in remote areas of Kangra Valley, which were not reached by the government yet.
  • Emphasis on maternal and child health and family planning services.
  • Training of multipurpose health workers, village health guides, and traditional birth attendants.
  • Construction of a building for the project activities. The building was ready in late 1986, and CORD continues to function from the same building.
  • Dr. Jayanti Mahimutra, a kind 75-year-old lady, was the first director of the project, followed by Dr. Ramakrishna Sharma, retired Deputy Director of Health Services, Himachal Pradesh, and Sri K.R. Pai (later Swami Ramananda).
  • Dr. Kshama Metre became the project director in 1987. She had joined the project as medical officer in November 1985.

The importance of the project could be gauged from the fact that when it was established, patients from near and far-off villages had to travel by foot to the nearest Government medical facility, which was miles away. There were no trained midwives in the villages. Superstitions ruled strong. Quacks practiced medicine, driving off evil spirits.

When Healthcare Is Not Enough

While providing maternal and child healthcare, the doctor, nurses and students associated with the project came into close contact with rural people. They realized that the villagers faced many challenges and difficulties. Women often trudged kilometers to fetch fuel and fodder from the forests and water from the closest source. For the project workers it became obvious that the link between primary healthcare services and the reality of village life and poverty needed more intervention.

Describing the situation, Dr. Kshama Metre says, “One of the first lessons we learned was that an isolated health program only touched the tip of the iceberg of the villagers’ interconnected problems. The poor villagers are endlessly caught in a cycle of poverty, ill health, lack of access to livelihood opportunities and resources; poor education or no education; poor governance, communication and transport; lack of water and electricity; as well as poor hygiene, nutrition, and sanitation. The low status and low self-image of women and some of them having alcoholic husbands further worsened and complicated the hardship of women and children. We realized that even emptying an entire ocean of medicines on these villages would not break the vicious circle of ill health and poverty.”

Although, the government have programs on various issues, they seem perfect on paper. The poorest of the community do not get even a trickle of benefits meant for them. There were substantial gaps between the policymakers, the implementers and the communities. The voices of the poor communities couldn’t reach the top officials. There was a need to address the local issues of the villagers, providing local solutions. Further, it was required that people should demand structural and systematic changes collectively through active involvement of community-based organizations that converge with various government programs at the local level. That became the evolutionary reasons for creating a comprehensive participatory integrated program, which was later known as Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development or CORD. The initial workforce of the project consisted of simple semi-literate women from poorest of the poor homes. These women applied their learning to improve their lives, and gradually became the role models for others to follow. These women became the core group of grassroots workers, driving changes through collective demand and action.