By: Rama Murali
I moved to Chennai, India in 2012 to help my mother care for my beloved and beautiful grandmother, who was suffering, with tremendous grace and strength, from the combined effects of a massive stroke and breast cancer. I never thought of myself as a person who would be responsible for the care of another – I was focused on my career in international public health and enjoying traveling the world – but there I was, embarking on the most difficult and rewarding role of my life. It was also a role in which I felt most challenged, most alone, most in need of help.
I am a Caregiver.
Of all the groups I have identified with – a native New Yorker, an Indian- American, a public health specialist, and many more – it was as a Caregiver that I first truly felt the need to connect with others in my group. I understood first-hand the challenges that my family and I faced, and realized there must be others like me out there. I wanted to find my Caregiver community so I was not alone, and so others would not feel alone. I knew there was great potential in convening those going through the same thing and building a safe platform for sharing and support. I had no idea how to do it. Sure, I had worked with communities in health programs; but, those programs were usually part of a project of an external agency with lots of funds and resources to incentivize people coming together. I was not a community organizer. I was not a big name that could draw people. I was not even fully fluent in the local language! So I relied on the thing that made me want to reach out to others– being, and understanding what it is to be, a Caregiver.
Building a Caregiver Community.
One by one, I visited homes and met with other Caregivers. The understanding that is essential for building strong community programs – to getting people out of their homes and into a new, foreign environment where they can share things they rarely have shared before – came from sharing my experience, speaking the language of my community, and, most of all, listening. It came from months of groundwork, all with the hope of building trust and bringing people together. The experience was incredible: getting a treasured glimpse into other Caregivers’ lives, gaining greater awareness of the central challenges and joys that connected us, and learning so much from each and every Caregiver. I was educated, humbled, and strengthened by each Caregiver’s story. Here I was (a community builder!), part of a growing group of Caregivers being mobilized, becoming empowered, and forming the foundation of a connected community.
I learned that once one people came together, things began to change. I was not alone in wanting to help. The language of individual Caregivers started morphing from “I do not know how to manage some days.” to a group of Caregivers saying “We can help each other.” I learned to let go of my vision of what the community should be, and became more and more open to the shared vision of the community – something more powerful that I had envisioned.
Where are we now?
Eighteen months later, I have connected with almost 200 Caregivers and their families, impacting the lives of over 400 people in Chennai. We have come together as CARE3 (Care Cubed), the first Caregiver network of its kind in India, and now have two meetings across the city each month. These meetings are the core of our program – allowing Caregivers to connect, while learning about self-care and community support. Some of our activities include: building a crowdsourced resource directory of health care service providers, populated with ratings and comments from Caregivers in CARE3; publishing quarterly newsletters, which include Caregiver stories and articles by members of our community; and, building a larger grassroots community of supporters across the city – including yoga centers, physiotherapy clinics, NGOs, and businesses – who donate space and resources for our meetings and help us keep costs low. Most importantly, WE (no longer me alone) are mobilizing a community that more and more Caregivers are willing to identify with, share ownership of, and take pride in. We are sharing our model freely, hoping that other Caregivers take it up and build such communities across the country. In fact, a Caregiver living in Pune, Maharashtra is starting a similar group using lessons learned from CARE3!
Movements happen from within a community – when those sharing common experiences come together and realize that their collective voice is loud and vibrant. I firmly believe that it all starts with the simple act of reaching out to others, and knowing that connecting with one person at a time can start something that makes a difference to the lives of many.
If you would like more information about CARE3 feel free to email me at RamaCare3@gmail.com or visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CareCubed. Our website (www.carecubed.org) will be launched on October 13th – so please check there soon for updates and more information!
Meet Rama, hear more about her work, and gain valuable career advice at these upcoming programs:
Non-Profit Boot Camp: Skills to Change the World (Deadline to apply: 10/21)
Wasserman Employer Meet Up (11/6)