MARGARET MEAD (1901-1978)
Mead 2001 Centennial Awards
The Bhopal People’s Health and Documentation Clinic, also known as "Sambhavna Clinic" or just "Sambhavna" is named for the Sanskrit/Hindi word meaning both "possibility" and "similar feelings” or “compassion.” This free clinic is run by doctors, scientists, social workers, researchers and volunteers who combine alternative therapies with Western medicine to treat people who are still suffering from the effects of the Union Carbide gas leak of December 2-3,1984, that killed 16,000 people in Bhopal.
Sathyu Sarangi, an engineer turned activist who helped found the clinic and currently serves as its managing trustee, originally came to Bhopal the day after the disaster. He immediately got involved with relief efforts. Later, recognizing that the need for sustained care was not being met after public attention to the disaster ebbed, he found common cause with organizations of survivors fighting for justice (punishment of the corporate culprits) and for a better deal for survivors: adequate medical care; and economic, social and environmental rehabilitation of the affected communities and individuals.
The Sambhavna Trust was set up in June, 1995, the 11th year after the disaster. It was founded with the understanding that it was possible to create a workable alternative to the Indian medical establishment’s hospital-based, drug-centered approach to health care of the survivors of the disaster -- an approach many survivors found impersonal, inadequate and ineffective. The Sambhavna approach emphasizes treatments based on Ayurveda (a system of indigenous, herbal-centered Indian medicine) and yoga. Sambhavna involves individuals and communities in the improvement of health and health care; encourages participatory monitoring and research methods; and pioneers numerous community-centered health care innovations.
Once the rough plans for an innovative free clinic to be run on such principles were in place, Sathyu Sarangi went around the country meeting with doctors, scientists and social workers who had been involved with Bhopal in the wake of the disaster. The Sambhavna Trust was set up in June, 1995. A two-story house close to the affected communities was purchased with money from individual donations. The clinic opened in September, 1996. Staff appointments were made through newspaper ads.
The work of Sambhavna's community health workers is focused on a total population of over ten thousand people in five severely affected communities, all of whom are eligible for free medical care at the clinic. The Sambhavna clinic sees as many as 110 people a day suffering from damage to their internal organs, diminished vision, breathlessness, persistent coughs, menstrual irregularities, fatigue, depression, anxiety and a host of other painful disorders.
Patients practice yoga on a spacious lean-to on a terrace with walls decorated with paintings by local children. The first floor of the clinic has a room for Ayurvedic massage and a library where information, documents and articles related to the gas leak accident are readily available to the survivors. There are three cubicles for doctors, a computer room, a pathology laboratory and a facility for regular cervical screening, pap smears, and treatment of cervical cancer. Sambhavna is the only facility in the city to conduct regular pap smears.
Sambhavna also focuses on the larger context of serving the needs of the communities affected by the disaster. Participants work towards promoting harmony between Hindu and Muslim communities; making Union Carbide and the Indian government accountable for continuing environmental damage; and inventing and promoting new ways to empower communities. Staffers and other participants organize health committees in communities; encourage “patient leaders” to inspire fellow TB sufferers to be responsible patients; and provide medical information to the affected communities.
In its organization and operating principles, the Sambhavna Clinic differs from most non-governmental / not for profit organizations. Minimized hierarchy, informed participation, consensus decision making, individual responsibility, voluntary involvement and a collective spirit of challenge and optimism are its distinguishing features. The management of Sambhavna is based on a philosophy of equality, consensus and public transparency.
The eight-member Board of Trustees that administers the Trust consists of doctors, scientists, writers and social workers who have been involved with various aspects of the disaster since its occurrence. Several members of the board have received national and international recognition for their scientific and social contributions. Except the managing trustee (who is paid a small monthly honorarium), all trustees work for the Trust on a voluntary basis. Trustees meet three to four times in a year. Decisions of the Trust are made through a consensus among the members of the board.
Nine of the twenty clinic staff members are survivors of the disaster. Seventeen staffers are employed there full time. Eight staffers are women, nine are under thirty years of age and four are over forty. Four staffers are qualified in medicine, including two specialists; five are post-graduates, four are graduates and seven have received education up to school level.
Half of the staff members have been working since the inception of the clinic in September, 1996.
Several clinic staffers and other volunteers have been involved in relief, monitoring and research efforts ever since the original Bhopal disaster. Everybody pitches in. When money was short and medical equipment was needed, some staffers gave up their modest salaries to purchase supplies. Until enough money came in, other staff members volunteered to feed those who went without pay. Doctors have also volunteered their services.
Sambhavna's outreach spans the globe, reaching out to survivors of the gas leak disaster who are in need of medical care; organizations of survivors; government and private doctors involved with health care of survivors; local students, doctors and other potential volunteers for the clinic; media persons and agencies; officials in the government and other institutions; local, national and international organizations active on issues concerning public health, human rights, legal rights, occupational and environmental health, womens' issues, multi nationals and others; and potential donors to the clinic.
Other participants in the Sambhavna project are the five members of an international advisory group (individuals from the USA, UK and Italy); members of a fourteen-member panel of medical advisors from Canada, South Africa, Sweden, the UK and the USA; and local, national and international volunteers. Sambhavna, which does not accept any money from corporations, has received grants and donations from thousands of people around the world.
44 Sant Kanwar Ram Nagar
Bhopal, India 462018
All rights reserved. Mead/Bateson photo ©Fred Roll.