By Ashton Willcox

Wow, I am back here again. A place that seems so familiar, however I still have a ton to learn. After visiting Agora last year as a Sophomore, I was excited to try to try to find a way to give back. Based on my experiences, healthcare seemed like an obvious way. I had seen the need for Health Care last year and wanted to help a community that had so positively impacted my life. However, after research, connecting with medical companies, and many hours of working on it in my Integrated Work cohort, I still have much to learn.

When you visit Agora it is a place that is not defined by one single person. It is a community of 450 people, that are all from the same place but have many different life stories, of which I can learn a ton. Coming here for a 2nd time, after last year, gave me a new perspective. This year, I wanted to work on my project and talk to the people in the village. That’s the interesting thing – a bunch of foreigners come into this place and aren’t stared at, aren’t told to leave. They’re welcomed with open arms, brought into kitchens made food for these foreigners before they even ate dinner. They let us take part in their religious festivals even though none of us are Hindu. This community is something that is so unique, I can’t and won’t ever be able to describe it. If I try to describe the community, I am honestly doing disservice to my experience here.

Before coming to India this year, I thought that I could sit in my dorm room at Christchurch and come up with all the answers I needed for my project. Because I had been here before, I figured I had the knowledge I needed. While I was here, though, I learned about things I never imagined would matter to my project.

I learned that the village of Agora has an elder system and a headman that has to approve any big project like what I am working on. I got to speak with a group of these people and present the basics of what I want to focus on. They approved and had ideas about what the center should look like.

I have learned that health education will be just as impactful as emergency care or remedial services. People need to be taught about smoke inhalation in kitchens and other closed environments. I learned that arthritis is a major issue for people who are older. I learned that most people go to Dehradun, which is a 9-10 hour drive, for serious injuries.

I have also learned things that I could never have learned online. I spoke with Praveen at length about the traditional medical practices in the valley that have never been recorded. I learned that people in this community still gather herbs and roots in the forest. They have been using these remedies for a long time and many of them continue to help people manage pain, deal with indigestion, and other things. Modern medicine and chemical alternatives are being pushed more and more into the community, slowly replacing these traditional methods. I hope now that my project can partially protect local culture through education as it also helps people receive better care.

At first, I thought that health was just a window into helping people that I got to know last year. Instead, I have found that it’s as much a way for me to understand people more. I have learned that a community like this has a dynamic relationship with health, not just a basic one. I have seen with my own eyes that some parts of this community are already fully healthy. Some of my energy is now about preserving that way of life.

Exploring health in Agora and discussing health issues is usually something people do not like to discuss, and is viewed as “Taboo” in America. However, to my delight, I was able to answer my questions through Suman, Parveen and other members of the community, I think I probably asked 80 questions to Suman about everything related to health, and much to my surprise he answered all of them without getting angry, or tired. This is what Agora is. A community that is extremely secluded in the province of Uttarakhand, India. After a 45min-1 hr Drive you reach a starting point, but it is just getting started, after 2 hours, and 45 minutes (45 minutes for Locals), You reach the highly unique village of Agora, and to conclude, the hike is long, but I would do it 100 more times, to reach this beautiful place.

6 responses to “Health – a Window into Agora”

  1. A Showalter Avatar

    Wow, Ashton. You are having super important insights! I am inspired by your openness to remaining curious and thoughtful about what you already know and what is left to know. This: “Before coming to India this year, I thought that I could sit in my dorm room at Christchurch and come up with all the answers I needed for my project. …While I was here, though, I learned about things I never imagined would matter to my project.” This is the heart of a wise traveler and a true scholar, Ashton. It’s why I hope we never take education entirely online. Looking people in the eyes, listening to their stories, drinking tea with them, seeing their situation and place–all of this helps us BEGIN to see in a new way, to understand. Think about how different the world would be if everyone (conquerers, colonists, missionaries, aid workers, foreign militaries) had this humility and insight. I’m really impressed.

  2. jbyersccs Avatar

    Love your enthusiasm for learning, the people, and the respect for their traditions and ways, Ashton. You are taking a balanced approach to your work and really thinking it through. Well done!

  3. Jefferson’s Mom Avatar
    Jefferson’s Mom

    I’m so impressed by the students who have chosen to visit India a second time.

    I like how Ashton states that interviewing individuals about their health concerns is easier than using online research. I wonder if there are different or fewer health concerns in a population which still relies on physical labor than in the more sedentary US population.

  4. Dave's Mom Avatar
    Dave’s Mom

    Ashton – excellent post! You’ve really put a ton of effort into preparing for this adventure and trying to follow through once in Agora with goals you set to accomplish your project. But in the process you’ve realized that there’s still so much to learn! One of those is the old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it!” Traditional tried-and-true remedies are perhaps better for the people of remote Agora than the fancy medicines of the more urban and “advanced” world.
    Thank you for your very interesting post!

  5. Meghan McNeill Avatar
    Meghan McNeill

    Ashton, upon reading this entry, I am impressed by the wise, worldly, and compassionate young man I have had the pleasure of watching grow-up though your years at Christchurh School. I was really impressed to read your reflection and acknowledgement of how important connecting with local people is in the process of understanding cultural nuances. You can learn a lot through independent research, but you now realize that the bulk of your understanding can come directly from the primary sources that are guiding your understanding of India and Agora.

    I am really impressed by your reflection and I am thrilled that your return to India has been deeply impactful in your development as a young person and world scholar. I can’t wait to hear all about your travels and project when you return!

  6. Britney Peart Avatar
    Britney Peart

    Ashton, I enjoyed reading your post and I am glad that you were able to listen to the narratives of the people within Agora. When addressing issues regarding health, especially among vulnerable populations, it is extremely important to listen to the needs of natives. As you continue to work towards your project, I encourage you to look into Community Based Participatory Action Research. Also, be sure to think about ways that you can sustain your project after graduating from CCS. Explore how you can utilize pre existing structures in their community to make a larger and more long term impact. 

Leave a Reply

Blog at