IN MEMORIAM

On Friday Sept 18, 2015, our brother, friend, and teammate, Alam Geer, was ruthlessly murdered by unidentified assailants on the main road of Aligarh Muslim University. This is a loss that is hard to capture in words – for his family and friends, for Aligarh, for Saharanpur, for us at Khushi Baby.

Alam joined the Khushi Baby team on May 28, and has been with us ever since. His personality was unmistakably warm. Alam would be the first to take each of us individually up to the terrace and ask us about our family, our dreams, and our struggles. He was concerned about people and about engaging with their emotions, and in doing so he drew us close. Alam was the glue that turned our team into a family.

He had a  penchant for leadership which infused and empowered his compassionate nature. Alam lead our team of field surveyors, managed and facilitated our operations, communicated and motivated health workers and officials and everyone in between. He was as willing to listen and learn as he was eager to lead and direct, and above all he kept a respect for all who he interacted with regardless of their background.

Alam simply asked for a certificate of completion before the start of this school year. It was a small token for what he had left with us – a big smile, a family, and a better perspective on how we want to make an impact. And for Alam, his dreams may have gone unrealized. He wanted to travel to the US to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Health, to be equipped to better serve as a role model for his community in Saharanpur. His statement of purpose is something that we can all learn from, and articulating his mission was one of his last personal endeavors.

Despite his unfinished agenda, he has touched us all. We at Khushi Baby hope to carry his dreams and mission forward.

Below is an attachment of Alam’s SOP:

I rose early every morning, awoken by the overwhelming noise from the buffaloes and birds. It was dark and cold. Too dark and cold for them to logically be awake, but there they were. The rooster’s crow was so loud at dawn, that every morning I was forced, to get up from a bed. And, when I woke up, I felt a need to get out of the house. To escape the trash and manure-lined streets of my neighborhood, to feel the cold, fresh wind brushing against my skin, enveloping me and welcoming me to the open field where I would exercise.­­­

In the fourth grade, I was accepted to the Air Force School. This was my ticket for independence – liberty from the commotion that filled my neighborhood. I made the school my haven, studying late nights and participating in competitive athletics (wrestling and kickboxing) and arts (writing and painting). During my time, I could measure my self-improvement day by day. I was winning national gold medals in wrestling, kickboxing, painting and essay. I was performing well in my studies, and representing my class as a leader.

But with my success came a pang; I had forgotten about my home, about my neighborhood, and about my family who had sacrificed so much to send me to my new-found sanctuary. It soon dawned upon me that, the dirt, the manure, the garbage, was not going anywhere unless someone stood up to clean it. Just as I had embarked on a journey of self-improvement, I realized that I could contribute to my community’s improvement as well. Upon graduation from the academy, I made this my sole mission: to clean the streets of my community and to bring health and well-being to my neighbors.

When I was accepted in Aligarh Muslim University, one of Asia’s most reputed universities, I felt a strong fit with the social work major. Through my program, I was exposed regularly to the field and underserved communities just like my home. Three experiences have had a lasting impact in shaping my perspective on how to learn and give back from the community.

In 2014, I was exposed to disabled communities in Dehradun district, Uttarakhand, India through the NGO, RLEK (Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra). My role required me to go door to door, speaking with disabled people, primarily to understand their access to their government entitlements. I soon found that many members were not receiving their due aid from the village head orPradhan. After confronting thePradhan with these accounts, I realized the level of corruption and politics at play in access to social services, even at the village level. Unable to secure identification or a letter of acknowledgment, I still returned to the NGO with a detailed report of the situation, looking for other avenues to make the change. From this experience which I get in the NGO (RLEK), from talking to people like Nasir and Parvez, and hearing their stories, I have started to realize that health and social service has left many voices unheard. More importantly, I have learned that consistent activism is a vehicle for me to work towards desired structural change.

This insight was further strengthened by an internship with RHEDI (Rural Health and Education Development Institute), where I worked with women victims of domestic abuse in the Balmer District of Rajasthan, India. I was initially tasked with conducting workshops on women’s health and family planning. But as I spent more time in the field engaging with the community, my focus shifted to understanding the problems women face in their household in these villages. Sangeeta, a local resident, narrated how her husband would come home late at night, beg her hard earned money and spent it on alcohol. She told me about how her husband would beat her and her child, leaving them battered and hungry when they went to bed. She told me about how pervasive the problem was in her village, and about how helpless she felt night after night. She was not only a victim of abuse but in the case of the missing social safety net, a victim of neglect, it frustrated me that I didn’t have a solution. There were no police officers, rehabilitation centers, meditation centers, or village leaders who whould take interest in this embedded cultural issue.

In 2015, I worked for Khushi Baby, 157 Church Street, 12th Floor New Haven, CT 06510,USA, as a local coordinator in India. The purpose of the project was to assess how social network position of reproductive age mothers in rural villages of Rajasthan, India, may predict the vaccine adherence of their children, to predict their adoption of the Khushi Baby necklace, to suggest their role as a local referral champion to recruit mothers who do not attend the monthly immunization camp, to interact on the level of the individual, social group, or village to predict the above relationships, interact with individual sociodemographic covariates to predict the above relationships.  I learned a lot about public health during my field experience, it was such a valuable learning tool. This research was held on a low-income, minority community. The program attempted to increase treatment compliance rates for the child through proper immunization. Working for the county exposed me to a different side of healthcare that I hadn’t previously seen. Service and organization were not assets of the country and yet its role in the public health “ecosystem” was and is critical. It’s the job of immunizing thousands and interacting with all members of the community, is often forgotten but is important for keeping an entire community healthy.

I wake up every day with a sense of activism, advocacy, and leadership. It’s a need to confront the municipal government to establish a waste management program in Saharanpur. It’s a desire to teach kids in my community for free whose parents prevent them from going to school because they can’t afford the stationaries. It’s an urge to engage with the community around me. And in order to do that effectively, I need more than empathy. I need to refine my knowledge base in order to be an effective and informed leader in public health. This master’s degree will afford me the opportunity to be that leader.

Alam, we will miss you.

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