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ITM Diary - ramblings from an Indian TB journalist

Physically I've been here for three weeks, but my tryst with ITM began more than five months ago. It began the day I was told that my application for the Journalist in Residence had been accepted. With almost surgical precision, I was led through the process of how my three weeks in Antwerp would be structured.

Roeland Scholtalbers of the Communication Unit gave me the content, told me about the resources that ITM had which would enhance my knowledge and understanding, and structured my days in a manner that would give me optimum exposure.

Annelies Croon of the Student Service led me through the visa process with a thoroughness that ensured that the visa officer in Bangalore did not have a single query before he accepted my visa application. My papers were so perfect. Patricia told me what to expect in terms of accommodation, food, transport etc. Before I could leave the shores of India, it seemed like I had already been in ITM for years!

Arriving and settling here was a pleasant and hassle-free experience, despite the fact that I arrived during a week-end. My keys, neatly enclosed in an envelope, with a welcome letter and other instructions were at the reception at the main building at ITM and within 30 minutes, I was ready for a shower in my room! My welcome kit had a map of Antwerp, tram schedules, sightseeing and shopping tips and everything else that can make one feel at home and excited all at once.

Why did I go into such detail about my pre and post-arrival process? It's because it made life so easy for me. I was coming to study here, much to the surprise and often incredulous queries from people back home about why on earth I wanted to study at my age! Why indeed? My reply to them of course was to ask back whether any of us can afford to stop being students ever in life and still claim to be live productive or quality lives. Back to ITM.. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't anxious about how I was going to adjust to student life. That's where it helped that the team at ITM was always at hand to lend their support, go that extra mile and do that extra bit to make me comfortable.

The Journalist in Residence programme itself is uniquely structured. Unlike other bursaries, which I have won and delivered on, it does not expect anything in return. The programme empowers one with knowledge, even while giving you the flexibility to set your own pace and select your areas of interest. And to me that is the biggest motivator. I am even more determined to give it my best.

I have had the opportunity to interact freely with some great minds, committed individuals and persons with formidable expertise in their chosen subjects. To name only some would be injustice to the others and naming all would make this piece very long. Suffice it to say that my world has opened up, my perspectives and understanding on public health is now stronger and more robust. I understand terminology better, I understand the importance of evidence. The great gap that exists between people who generate knowledge and those who translate that knowledge to larger audiences has been reduced (for me). I now have the basic understanding of how to translate complex information into layman's language - something I was always doing, but will henceforth do with greater conviction.

My field trips were great experiences in themselves. A visit with the TB screening van of VRTG to the Arendonk Asylum, where refugees are arriving in droves, the visit to Damien Foundation to learn about their work, the meetings with external stakeholders, the visit to KIT in Amsterdam to hear Hans Rosling speak - there is no more I could ask for.

I think the warmest memories I will carry back home with me are from Eat @ Karibu. The informal atmosphere, the easy camaraderie that exists between faculty and students, and the absence of hierarchical seating or spaces make it a melting pot and a heady mixture of experience, youth, and diversity. The earnestness of the lunch-time conversations demonstrate that work and leisure have blended seamlessly. How could I not mention the great food? Healthy, well-designed, and a great fusion of nutrition and taste, and not a drag on the pocket. Difficult to achieve - but Eat @ Karibu has achieved it! The sincerity of purpose with which people come to work every day, the results they produce, which translates to better health for the most disadvantaged across the world - ITM stands out for all this and more. I saw excitement in the eyes of the lady in the laboratory when she found a good sample of TB under her microscope, despite the fact she's been doing this job for over two decades. This tells me she still finds her job stimulating. The smile I see on the face of the person one first sees in any institution - the receptionist - it tells me she loves her workplace and that's a great indication of what her workplace gives her beyond remuneration.

I do think that work for remuneration is an essential part of life - it helps lead lives of dignity. But work for a larger social good is what makes life worthwhile and by this yardstick, people who work at ITM stand head and shoulders above the multitudes who merely work for a living. Jet lag doesn't faze them, crossing several time zones on a single day doesn't daunt them, spending week-ends away from family is taken in stride - because there are serious problems in the world that cannot wait.

It is a sobering thought that this piece might come across as one that is gushing in its tone and tenor and a tad too effusive in its praise of ITM. But my firm belief is that we in this world are a little to miserly when it comes to saying good things and too quick to point out flaws. I suppose if I think deeply, I could find a few flaws. But for that I would have to work really hard and I'm too lazy for that, especially since MS Word says I have already written 1026 word on ITM!

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