Sriya Srikrishnan ’12 investigates health problems in her native Mumbai
Sriya Srikrishnan has lived her whole life in Mumbai, though last summer was her first experience venturing into the slum communities which her home is infamous for.
During the summer of 2009, she and several other Brandeis students worked to “Revive Mumbai,” completing a theater project with the Parivartan School and the Experimental Theatre Foundation. Inspired by her work in the community, this past summer she returned to Mumbai and volunteered with health education organization called SNEHA (Society for Nutrition Education and Health Action), working with the senior citizens program and also conducting an ethics study in slum areas.
Global Brandeis Profiles: Sriya Srikrishnan ’12
Home city/country: Mumbai, India
Majors: Dual major in Biology and Health: Science, Society & Policy (HSSP)
Clubs: South Asian Students Association (SASA); Namaskar (religious club of Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains), Waltham Group (community service); The Girl Effect
“Since I am from Mumbai you would think this is not completely new to me, but it really was — it was a big step for me to know the other side of the same place I live in.”
An HSSP major, she received credit for her internship and was especially interested in the social work aspect of the organization, a field she plans to purse after graduation. She worked with a group of elderly women on various projects, including organizing a dance workshop for them. She says, “there were at least 35 all elderly woman in the traditional saris all dancing to Bollywood music,” an experience that was new for many of them, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Joys like this were combined with some difficulties, as she was the first volunteer that SNEHA had ever had in this sector of the organization. That gave her flexibility to do what she wanted, such as setting up the dance workshop and an orthopedic health camp with a local doctor.
In addition to working with the elderly, Sriya conducted a Community Initiative Newborn Health Study. Infant mortality is a huge issue in the slum areas, so in the past five years the organization has tried to intervene and conduct interviews in communities where the pregnant women got together and spoke about what they were going through and how to be healthy. Sriya explains that her role was to conduct a study to see if these interventions were conducted ethically, “if they knew what they were going through and how much it had actually helped.” For Sriya, this was a great experience because she was able to go to six different communities and view the cultural differences between them on the most basic levels, like sanitation, which differed greatly. She says she could really tell that education made a difference in how they answered the questions and that it made her reflect upon her own education.
Sriya sees some large differences in her work at Brandeis and her studies on the theory of public health policy, and the real practice of it in places like the slums of Mumbai. She states: “There definitely is a big difference when you go and experience it because most of the time the people you are working with . . . they don’t even know that this is a problem, that the life they are leading is not up to standard. So first of all, you are explaining to them that, ‘Ok, you can do something better’.” At Brandeis, she says, you “would just think you are working towards their betterment and studying their lives but the real question is. . .is introducing all these new things really going to be helpful, or not?” She says that going in as a volunteer and then leaving is difficult as well.
Sriya is currently taking a post-internship course where she and approximately thirty other HSSP students reflect and do a lot of writing on their internship experiences. Taking what she has done and reapplying it has been extremely helpful in processing her experiences, as well as being able to share them with other students. She says she will definitely go back to India, and would like to focus her work in the future there. She wants to use the knowledge she has gained here at Brandeis and apply it in new ways. “Having the language, I am able to communicate with these people easily . . . I feel like I should use that in a community back home,” she says. What exactly she wants to do is still up in the air but she states that Brandeis is inspiration for her. The focus on social justice and policy and, “the number of people doing amazing things here just motivates me to do more,” she says.