In 1962, when the Peace Corps began sending groups of volunteers to various countries, it decided to identify each group by its country of service name and the group’s number in relation to the previous groups that were trained. Thus, the first group to be trained for service in India was identified by the name, India 1. Our group was the 20th group trained and hence was known as India 20. However, there was a second group of volunteers that trained for India at the same time our group was trained. Accordingly, our group was identified as India 20A. The other group was identified as India 20B.
India 20A was trained in public health at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In 1965, India was a land where tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, smallpox , and plague killed with deadly efficiency and sapped the energies of the people. In response, the Indian government had undertaken an ambitious program of systematically extending health services into the villages. The vehicle for extending medical care and preventive health programs into the rural areas was the Primary Health Center. By 1964, a Primary Health Center consisting of a main center and three sub-centers had been established or projected for each Development Block within the various states of India. Its mandate was to provide to all the villages in the Block the whole gamut of basic health services, both curative and preventive: medical treatment, maternal and child health care including family planning and training of “dais” (midwife helpers), health education and environmental sanitation, and control of communicable diseases.
The Primary Health Centers helped to develop the team concept of health work in India. This was necessary to support the many-pronged approach of the centers; however, due to the lack of sufficient trained personnel and funds, the original proposal for the staffing of these Primary Health Centers had to be repeatedly cut back. Although a Block contained approximately one hundred villages and a population ranging from 65,000 to 80,000 people, the Primary Health Center as then staffed could at best reach the area comprising only one-fourth to one-third of the Block’s inhabitants. Because of that condition, essential preventive and promotional work suffered.
In response, the Government of India requested support from the Peace Corps in aiding the Primary Health Center to extend its preventive and promotional health work into the villages. The skills required for the Volunteers were in the areas of public health assistance, sanitation, nutrition, poultry and gardening, and rural community action. The Volunteers worked under the team concept and were assigned to Primary Health Centers in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Kerala. India 20A Peace Corps Volunteers aimed 1) to instill in the minds of the villagers by action and word a desire to lead more healthy lives, (2) to activate key community organizations (the school, the village council) to take up health programs, and (3) to give active leadership to village efforts to improve health education, school health, diet, maternal and child health services, control of communicable diseases, production of nutritious foods, and environmental sanitation. Priority was on provision of safe water supply, health housing, and sanitary disposal of human excreta.
Often the existing structure of the Primary Health Center was weak or nonexistent, and the Volunteers had to rely on their own initiative, creativity, and leadership in order to be effective in the villages of India.*
*From: Course of Study for Peace Corps Training For Rural Public Health and Nutrition in India, August 31, to November 22, 1965, The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Peace Corps Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1965.