Finding My Calling – Mahir Bhatt

by | Jun 6, 2019

In image, Mahir Bhatt (left) with his cofellow Dr. Sandeep during his India Fellowship journey with Swasthya Swaraj Society in Kalahandi, Odisha.

I am a Civil Engineer by qualification. Data management, monitoring, evaluation and analytics were part of my engineering training. I completed a project on Chemical Grouting to increase Soil Stability with the Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar, India. I worked with AIESEC, the world’s largest youth leadership organization, for three years as a student (2012-2015) and one year as full time employee (2016-2017). I led a team of young individuals in the department of incoming international volunteers in Nepal. I helped the team design multiple short term projects of six weeks duration in the areas of health and education. The projects were designed based on the needs of local community. via the Business Model Canvas approach. This sums up my experience till June 2017.

If some of you are already losing interest in the rest of the read, thinking it is a string of good things about me, let me add – i completely understand that a lot of the dear readers here are qualified and experienced to have done this and much more, as a list of their accomplishments. The reason is that i wish to build my credibility as a writer and ensure that you do not discount my skills, just because i chose to do a self-discovery journey in early career. That has been a stereotype i have long had to carry the weight of and a mistrust of my ability to have an alternate career trajectory may make you discount the one i have chosen to make and want to speak of here.

By June 2017, it was clear to me that I wanted to build my career working in the development sector and so I decided to apply for India Fellowship. I was selected for but I was not at all sure what awaited me in the journey ahead.

Two crucial events happened in this phase. In the beginning of 2016, one of my family member was involved in an accident. Upon hearing about the accident we quickly rushed to a private hospital in Ahmedabad. There was no major injury but a small surgery was required in order to heal the dislocated shoulder. A month after the surgery there was pain in the shoulder again and we went to consult the same doctor, who suggested that there is one more surgery required in order to fix the problem. I was not convinced. At that time I was working in a start-up company focusing on tele-medicine; founder of the organization was a doctor and he suggested me to visit another orthopedist who was a friend of his and so we did. He said that no surgery is needed and that mild exercise on day to day basis can resolve the issue. We followed the advice and within a few months everything was back to normal.

This experience really scared me because I felt really handicapped in terms of knowledge on medicine. I could of course not start studying M.B.B.S all of a sudden, that was not the solution. This experience did make me think a lot about the situation of health care as a system in India. Then i went to Nepal. The condition of health system that I saw in there was also not very pleasant. We designed one project with the government hospital there to understand the cases of rheumatic heart disease in the city of Kathmandu. The project was done in collaboration with government hospital. I am bound by the confidentiality of the project to share any detailed information but that experience again sparked my interest in not just understanding and learning about medicine but health care as whole.

Mahir (extreme left) with the Swasthya Swaraj Society team of all doctors!

As part of my India Fellow field placement, I worked with a charitable, not for profit organization called Swasthya Swaraj Society in the remote, tribal predominant villages of Kalahandi in Odisha, India. I supported the education project of Swasthya Swaraj Society. It consisted of improving the quality of education using the Health Promoting School framework of the World Health Organization within government higher primary schools located in deeply forested hilly, tribal villages of one community development block of Kalahandi.  I worked with a team of trained community workers to support and supervise the education activities in the tribal schools. I coordinated with technical experts such as doctors and social scientists to improve the quality of education. During the year, my role looked like a lot of fragments and odd jobs. I did not know how i was doing the most justice to my and the organization’s time by being the only non-doctor in the team, which predominantly focused on healthcare. But i knew i was learning, at an exponential rate.

My experience in Kalahandi for one year was extremely crucial in helping me decide the trajectory of my life. Before I knew that I wanted to work in the development sector but development sector is pretty vast, the fellowship helped to understand that I want to strive to achieve equality in health for all. I crystalized this resolution by spending another year, post the fellowship, in public health again. Only this time in the Himalayan belt – giving me a comprehensive exposure to multiple health challenges we as a nation face, but most importantly, sealing my decision to further my career and work in that direction.

A journey that was meant to be a self-discovery, turned out to be much more than that. Seemingly disconnected things fell in place, the meaning making happened as i stayed patient and with time. The perspective building was exponential and that was possible because i chose spontaneity over securing every single piece of information – to an extent that it renders you paralyzed. And above all, serendipitously, it gave me a purpose.

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