Exchange programs generally bring to mind images of high school and college students backpacking across foreign countries. But last month, a group of local business professionals traveled to India as part of a Rotary International exchange.
On Feb. 10, the last group member of the exchange program returned home from the group’s tour of Maharahatra, India.
Rotary International sponsors an annual Group Study Exchange program, which allows business and professional workers from mid-Missouri to gain an international perspective on their areas of expertise. This year’s group was Peter Ravindran, Tonya Benton and Tom O’Connor, all of Columbia; and Henry Heimsoth, a Springfield banker. The team leader was Columbia Rotarian Raymond Plue.
Gordon Brown, a member of the Columbia Metro Rotary and the GSE program chairman for Rotary District 6080, said the program is designed to take four to five local professionals and allow them to live in the homes of people with different cultural backgrounds and explore their way of doing business. They return with a deeper understanding of the international community.
“It’s a great way to introduce young people to other parts of the world that they may never see, as opposed to if they just sit at home and do their regular business,” Brown said.
Participants are non-Rotarians who were referred to the program by Rotary members or past participants, Brown said. The trip is paid for by the Rotary International except for passports and immunizations.
“It can take five years to build a home...”
Benton is the chief financial officer for Benton Homes Inc., of Columbia. While in India, Benton toured construction companies, banks and related financial institutions.
Benton said the big difference in home construction is the building materials and construction practices. None of the homes are built with wood, but rather with concrete and stone. Also, it’s all done by manual labor, not by machines.
“It can take five years to build a home,” she said. “A lot of the manual labor they had were women. They carried the bricks and concrete on their heads.”
Benton also said she visited with a real estate developer who explained how practitioners of Hinduism want their kitchen and master bedroom in a particular direction for religious reasons. Keeping that in mind, the developer designs home plans to cater to these needs.
“(Benton Homes) would take it into consideration. If we knew we had a Hindu customer, we’d know which models to direct them to,” she said.
On the financial side, Benton said India doesn’t have a credit bureau system and instead relies mainly on references. Until the last couple of years, banks didn’t have any recourse if a loan wasn’t repaid.
"One place we went, it hadn’t rained in three years...”
O’Connor is a consulting engineer for H2O’C Engineering, who specializes in water treatment. In India, he toured two water treatment facilities and looked at how they dealt with environmental issues.
“Water scarcity was a big issue the further from the ocean we got,” O’Connor said. “Near the ocean, they have a monsoon season and groundwater, but the further you get inland, water gets more scarce. One place we went, it hadn’t rained in three years.”
One of the small treatment facilities he visited had a treatment system he wasn’t familiar with, O’Connor said.
“I learned about simple, effective methods to use (in water treatment facilities) that we’ve left by the wayside in favor of complicated computer technologies that can create a fails commission,” which is a fee that someone is paid to fix failed technology, he said.
O’Connor said there were a few surface water reservoirs far from the cities and the water was piped in and treated. Unfortunately, surface water is fairly polluted. Also, in some areas affected by drought, water would only be piped to houses once a week and during specific times of day. People would have tanks they would fill. The rest of the week, people hand-pump their water from small wells around the city and carry it home.
“Oddly enough, conservation of water is not a big thing,” he said. “There are no flow restrictors on faucets and no one pays a water bill for how much they take.”
“Ten beds are common and the physician lives on the top floor...”
Ravindran is a nurse at University Hospitals and Clinics and also works as a licensed real estate agent for Gaslight Properties. He visited hospitals and clinics in every city and stayed with a few physicians while in India.
Ravindran said the size of hospitals varies from multi-story, high-tech hospitals to smaller clinics where ten beds are common and the physician lives on the top floor.
“They don’t have all the machines, but they were practicing sound medicine,” he said. “They depend on humans, knowledge and instinct rather than machines.”
Ravindran said that at one newborn intensive care unit he visited, all the fluids were monitored not by machines, but rather by using a gravity method and monitoring the number of drops of fluid per minute.
“The patients are as critical as they are here but (the physicians) are relying less on machines,” he said.
Ravindran said there was also a difference between American and Indian hospitals in the types of instruments used. American hospitals use a lot of disposable instruments. In India, whenever possible, they disinfect and reuse the instruments.
“It makes me think how we can conserve more and have business growth,” Ravindran said. “In India, the infrastructure is not there, but the people go on with business. They seem to be okay with that.”