In 2007,Broadleaf co-founders stumbled upon a remote tea estate in the Darjeeling Hills troubled by a haunting question.
They had originally planned a short visit and some volunteering in the community before moving on to their next destination…they stayed a year and promised to return.
After graduating from college with liberal arts degrees, we embarked on a journey that completely altered our lives. Initially, we boarded a plane to India with the intention of volunteering on a tea plantation in rural Darjeeling for three months. After more than forty-eight hours of travel, we arrived at our new home – three tiny bungalows set within a jungle at the base of the Himalayan foothills. We were at our Halderkhoti village home.
I began teaching in the nursery classroom at a village primary school. There was no teacher assigned to the twenty children in this classroom and I became the head teacher. The school was sorely underfunded; there was also no electricity, no toilet, and no running water. Mike found himself making village medical rounds with a community-level nurse. After a few weeks, he began rummaging through old medical records with the intention of digitizing the materials for the tea estate.
Together, Mike and I worked on understanding the medical notations in the musty log books documenting every sickness, birth, and death the community has seen in the past twenty years. I began noticing children that should have been in my classroom and after some digging, realized that they had died before kindergarten from issues of fever and diarrhea. This changed everything.
Three months quickly evolved into one year of work in the Darjeeling Foothills. Mike and I began developing a health education program that I taught within my classroom, The goal was to create an awareness of the importance of health and hygiene through student-centered teaching and learning opportunities. Our students learned about preventing germs by washing their hands, brushing their teeth, and using appropriate bathroom facilities.
The results of these programs over the year were stunning but our lives called and after a year, we returned to the US and started careers far from the tea estates we loved so much. Several years passed, I earned my Masters in Elementary Education and Mike was almost finished with his Medical Degree. It was during this time that we pulled out all of our old work and founded Broadleaf Health and Education Alliance with the intention of growing and getting back to the Darjeeling Hills. The original lessons formed the foundation of the Comprehensive Health and Hygiene Improvement Program, CHHIP. We returned to spend another year in Darjeeling building out CHHIP, building relationships with communities all around the area, and establishing ourselves as a data-driven model for school health.
CHHIP has now become a growing and successful program under Broadleaf Health and Education Alliance.
Thank you for learning more about our organization, we hope you can join us in brining quality education and access to health care to the developing world.