It is a special thing in life when we have the privilege of meeting someone with that glimmer in their eye, that spark of dogged, relentless creative genius. The only time I have ever seen it before was in my beloved late grandfather, who never lost his dream of making access to educational leisure facilities affordable for all. Today I saw it again in Sharad Pendsey, the Doctor who Dreamed.
I had been anticipating this interview for weeks, if not months, and knew that it was crucial; the cement for my project. After all, the DREAM Trust is Dr Pendsey’s story, and this place would be nothing if it were not for his vision and perseverance.
Let me tell you a little about the Sharad Pendsey I have come to know over the past few days. He operates out of a small and modest office, the walls of which are dominated by dusty volumes on diabetes, an awards cabinet, and letters from patients. One such letter reads “you are as a second father to me”. As I have mentioned before, I only have to say Dr Pendsey’s name to make the shyest of children light up.
And for the man himself- he is on a one road track, and as steady and indomitable as a steam roller. I wanted to know what motivated him, for it is certainly not the shelves of trophies glinting behind his desk. It is hard to keep dry eyes whilst writing this, never mind whilst interviewing him.
He ran, and still runs, a private clinic for Type 2 diabetes patients, and explains from time to time poor children with Type 1 diabetes were brought to him. These became his side project, of sorts, who he tried to help. However it was the death of two small girls that motivated him into action.
He explained how insulin often costs around a third of a poor family’s income, and that for a girl, having diabetes means a low chance of marriage due to associated stigma. He found out about the death of the first girl, who he had been treating, when someone from her village told him how the family had withdrawn insulin deliberately. The second child was brought to him in a terrible state.
“I ran down the stairs of my clinic where her family had laid her. They had travelled 200km. I asked them what had happened, and they told me that they had used alternative medicine because they believed it could cure her. She died in my arms.
“This was when me and my wife knew that we had to do something.”
The ‘something’ grew into the DREAM Trust, starting out as five children who were sponsored for their medication and health care. Today the Trust has effectively saved the lives of over five hundred children and has sponsors worldwide.
It is hard to convey the genius of this man in words, and perhaps that is why I love the radio form so much. When you listen to him speak, and the way his voice moves with both passion and emotion, you will understand. His dedication is utterly humbling. The Trust is his life- he even LIVES in the clinic, in his residence downstairs.
His creative powers are demonstrated by his creation of the DREAM Trust pots, which are have two layers and are used to keep insulin cool in poor villages where there are no refrigerators, and the temperatures soar to over 40 degrees in the summer months. I asked how he came up with the idea.
“Well, I was at an exhibition and they had a giant pot they were using to keep vegetables cool. I asked how it worked, and when I returned to Nagpur, I went to a local supplier and asked him whether he could make a small version.”
These pots cost around $1, and are literally life savers, preventing families from having to make weekly trips from distances of up to 18 hours return journey away. My translator told me today that some children live so far away that they have to travel to the nearest train station and sleep on the platform before travelling here in the morning. Tomorrow, when I visit the villages, I think I will see more of these particular problems.
I have to share one last story with you, although I will not go on too long. Today I interviewed a girl whose suffering is beyond anything imaginable to you or I in the UK, and when the Doctor told me her background I was not even sure I could do the interview. However I think a journalist’s job sometimes to bear witness, and she had come to the clinic especially because she wanted me to hear her story. A tiny girl with a beautiful green and golden outfit sat beside an Indian nun, who frowned protectively around the room. I cannot name the girl so shall refer to her as X.
X developed diabetes when she was much younger, whilst living in a rural village. However she was not correctly diagnosed so was often ill, and her parents neglected her badly. They both remarried and neither wanted to keep her- first, her mother threw her out, and after only just one month her father too. She was deposited at the orphanage in a pitiable condition, extremely ill and terrified. The missionaries brought her to DREAM Trust who treated her, but it took her almost 8 months to speak to anyone. She is now in her 20s, and has stunted growth because of how her diabetes was wrongly managed.
Her situation was so depressing. When I asked her of her hopes for the future, she could say nothing. She could think of no future. For her, future was a life destitute, uneducated and stranded at the orphanage, helping the nuns with the smaller orphans. She was so timid, she could barely speak and only said a few words, and her hands were shaking. Within moments of us beginning talking the tears began sliding silently down her cheeks.
Dr Pendsey is encouraging her to make small things to sell, to bring in some income and to develop self esteem. She gave me a beautiful card she had made herself when she left- a photograph of some roses, framed by pink embroidery. I think her situation demonstrates the layers of complexity surrounding diabetes for girls living here.
I have just had my lunch prepared by the lovely Mrs Pendsey. My appetite is still so small I feel so guilty about barely touching her delicious home cooked Indian food. She bought me a traditional Indian coral-coloured shawl, which the ladies showed me how to wear. This afternoon I am going to visit the homes of some diabetics living in the city. I have also taken lots of photographs today around the centre. The surroundings are modest, but what they have achieved is mind-blowing.
It feels strange that tomorrow is my last day here, and I will be packing my bags later. I am ready to leave, however, as I have a HUGE quantity of audio to work with. With the addition of the field recordings I make today and tomorrow, I hope I can put together something both moving and informative.