Meet Dr Sarojini Monteiro from Goa, who had made a pit stop in Mangaluru enroute her nearly 4000 kms cycling journey through major cities of India to raise awareness on the prevention of diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases etc, and also address the issue of lack of exercise through press conferences and local school and community talks to educate women and communities on diabetes prevention and the benefits of physical activity, including cycling. Undertaking this challenge as a self-funded project for charity, Sarojini gives credit to her family’s support.
Dr Sarojini’s mission is to cycle across India from Kashmir to Kerala covering about 4,000 kilometres. She began her expedition on October 18, from Leh in Kashmir. She has already completed traversing through Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka. She aims to culminate the trip on December 23 at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. Sarojini Monteiro, a native of Goa and a doctorate degree holder in public health who is on a solo cycling mission from Kashmir to Kanyakumari had reached Mangaluru on Sunday evening, and had spent couple of days interacting with members of the local cycle clubs, and had a busy schedule meeting with other cycling enthusiasts in Mangaluru as well as interacting with students in a few colleges as well medical professionals at the Fr. Muller Medical College and Hospital.
Dr Sarojini undertook the mission after witnessing increasing incidences of non-communicable diseases — diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases etc., in the country. Lack of exercise with changed lifestyle and the changed food habits are the reasons for the diseases. So, she decided to communicate message by practicing it through cycling. While in Mangaluru she interacted with some of the members of Mangaluru Bicycle Club (MBC) and Mangalore Cycling Club namely Shyam Nayak, Kishan Bangera, Donald Menezes, Anil Shet, Bunty Raj, Hare Krishna Maheshwari, Nitya Rao, Smitha Rao, Vernon Saldanha, B.R. Sadashiva Rao, and others. Appreciating her efforts in spreading the message about health issues and cycling, a few of our local cyclists escorted her – while Bangera, Menezes and Rao cycled with Ms. Monteiro till Manjeshwar near Kerala border, Maheshwari and Raj went till Uppala, and Nayak went till Kasargod, 55 km from Mangaluru.
Speaking to Mangalorean.com, Epidemiologist Monteiro said, “The International Diabetes Federation has identified India as the country with the highest number of diabetics in South Asia, (approx 65.1 million). The World Health Organisation on the other hand has identified the lack of physical activity as one of the major risk factors that lead to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity. The lack of medical awareness is an additional factor. I spent the first 23 years of my life living in India, experiencing the vibrant culture, strength and humanity of its people, but also the extreme human suffering from preventable diseases caused by a lack of public health services amidst the confluence of westernisation and globalisation”.
Her zeal to work towards the betterment of public health was her impetus to get her PhD in Public Health with the focus on women’s health promotion and disease prevention. Moving to Australia for her doctorate, she was able to build her skills, knowledge and experience in international public health and became a resource person for international low-to-middle income communities. Armed with a decade of experience in Public Health, she has worked and trained in India, Australia, USA, Brazil, Colombia and the Commonwealth Northern Mariana Islands. Returning to India she is using her expertise and spread awareness of a healthier lifestyle through her second passion – cycling. “My zeal to prevent non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in India inspired me to return to India to cycle through the villages and rural towns of India,” says Sarojini.
Sarojini states that scientific evidence has demonstrated that cycling has many health benefits including the prevention of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. “Cycling is a form of physical activity that can be incorporated into our daily living by using it as a form of transport. A small proportion of women in India cycle and these are predominantly young girls. There is a lack of data on the barriers and facilitators to promote cycling among adult women in India. Apart from its health benefits I have taken up this challenge because of my love for cycling. I am not a competitive cyclist but I have travelled across Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia and New Zealand using the bicycle intermittently. I also use the bicycle daily for transport when working.” added Sarojini.
Margaret Monteiro of Mapusa-Goa, her mother, a retired school headmistress, has imparted not just courage to her daughter, but also the importance of spreading information on disease prevention. “Inspired, I moved to Australia and decided to commit my career to building my skills, knowledge and experiences in international public health,” Sarojini had written on her blog. After obtaining a doctorate in public health in Australia, especially women’s health, she worked in many positions ranging from chief epidemiologist to health promotion practitioner and senior researcher. She travelled through different countries, pedalling her way through many of them. She mostly cycled through rural areas to connect with the people there more.
Her passion to promote health issues is also rooted in her knowledge about what she terms as the extreme human suffering from preventable diseases caused by a lack of public health services amid the confluence of westernization and globalization. Sarojini believes that talking to people is not enough, but being an example does help. Her cycling project aims at helping people to equip themselves with enough knowledge to avoid life-style diseases, which are caused due to lack of exercise. By cycling across the country, Sarojini hopes to demonstrate a fitness regime and prove that women’s safety is not an issue if some basic rules are observed.
When asked what she has to say about her stay in Mangaluru, she replied, “Mangaluru is a wonderful place with wonderful people. Mangaloreans are very friendly and they render the best hospitality. My couple of days stay at aunty Betty Sequeira’s house near Fathima Retreat House was quite memorable- she cooked the best Mangalorean cuisine-although Goan food is very close to Mangaluru cuisine, but here it is bit spicy than the Goan food. I love coastal sea-food- and I had plenty of the home-made seafood delicacies during my stay here. The support shown by the members of Mangalore Bicycle club and Mangalore Cycle club was unbelievable. They were all friendly and even went out of their way in escorting me till the border of Kerala. Thank You Mangaluru for your kind hospitality”.
When she has travelled through these amazing places, the local people have given her food and tea, and invited her into their houses and showed her how kind and generous Indian people are even when they are poor and have little to live on themselves they shared their meals with her when she was tired and couldn’t find any place to eat. Dr Monteiro says “India is incredibly safe”. She has been riding solo for the 2000kms and does not have a support vehicle or other cyclists. She rides between 60 and 120kms a day depending on the number of hills she has to climb but people are always encouraging her even though they are shocked to see a girl.Dr Monteiro says “people hear of one bad experience by one girl and then apply that experience to all of India. This is not the way to live in fear because fear breeds fear. Rather, thinking positively and thanking the Gods and the Universe for the health and life we have we must challenge ourselves and think positive about other people. If we think positively we have positive experiences and if we expect people to behave positively then people will behave positively”.
People along the road are shocked that she is travelling alone and often want to know who she is why she is doing this journey. She says she has only received positive comments from all villagers, people cutting wheat, people in bullock carts, chai vallahs, dhabavallahs and people from different stores. Dr Monteiro says “Public Health Connects Us All and as Indians we are all a part of a big family. However today some Indians are following the western pattern and are becoming more an more isolated from our fellow human beings”. She promotes the idea that if we all take individual responsibility of starting to be healthy and environmentally conscientious then the effect will be huge. However, if people wait for tomorrow and someone else to be healthy then they will be waiting all their lives and getting more diseases.
Dr Monteiro says public health is not only a job but her life, something she loves and lives by everyday of her life. Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of families and communities through promotion of healthy lifestyles, research for disease and injury prevention and detection and control of infectious diseases.Overall, public health is concerned with protecting the health of entire populations. These populations can be as small as a local neighborhood, or as big as an entire country or region of the world. As a public health professional I try to prevent problems from happening or recurring through implementing educational programs, recommending policies, administering services and conducting research – in contrast to clinical professionals like doctors and nurses, who focus primarily on treating individuals after they become sick or injured. A large part of my job is promoting health care equity, quality and accessibility.
To find out more about her initiative and to support cycling in India she requests you to check her facebookpage : Cycling India for Women, Health and the Environment and she asks you to email her with your opinion on Sarojini.email@example.com. The project, Sarojini states, aims to understand the issue associated with cycling among women, to advocate for women to ride the bicycle in India to prevent non-communicable diseases and to identify local solutions to increase cycling among women in India. “To achieve my goal I will cycle an average of 100 kilometres a day but if there is uneven terrain, I will take it slower. I will also be taking rest for a day or two every four days of cycling,” says Sarojini.
Since she is cycling to raise awareness, she has also collaborated with an NGO – Society for Education, Village Action and Improvement (SEVAI). “I request a donation of at least Rs 5 for each day that I bicycle. I will bicycle for an average of 45 days – so a minimum donation of Rs 225 will go a long way. Additional donations are always welcome to help with this cause,” she states. To find out more about the ‘Cycling India for Indian Women’ project please visit Facebook Page – Dare to Dream: Cycling India to encourage Indian women to cycle for health. To make tax deductible donations to SEVAI go to http://www.sevaingo.in/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org)
The proceeds will be used towards achieving the below goals by 2017:
– To conduct research on the barriers and facilitators of women riding bicycles in India.
– To develop sustainable women’s cycling projects in India.
– To increase awareness and education of the health benefits of physical activity (cycling) and the role of exercise in the prevention of diabetes and non-communicable diseases.
– To advocate for women to cycle as a form of transport in villages of India.
– To advocate for cycling infrastructure in India.
– To increase the number of women who ride bicycles in India.