University of Missouri–St. Louis nursing alumna Rachel Ascher (BSN 2009) is living her dream by helping the “untouchables” in India. At just 21, she has started the Living Way Health Clinic at a boarding school for some of the country’s poorest children.
At the clinic, Ascher provides basic medical care to about 300 students. High fevers, skin infections, staph infections, toothaches, headaches, minor injuries and dehydration are the most common ailments treated at the clinic. She is partnering with the Blessed India Ministries to make this happen.
“Right now I’m the only staff, but I’m hoping that will quickly change,” said Ascher, who is home in Winfield, Mo., before returning for a six-month stint back at the clinic outside of Visakapatnam, India. “The goal is to make the clinic self-functioning with its own Indian staff and doctor. I will remain the medical director as long as needed.”
Ascher first learned about India’s caste system while in high school. She explained that though the hierarchy system based on heredity was made illegal in the 1950s, its effects are still relevant in the culture. Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras were the main castes with the Dalits or “untouchables” not even ranking.
“You see a bit less of it in the city areas,” Ascher said of the residual caste system. “In rural areas it’s very common.”
Ascher, who was home schooled and graduated from high school at 16, started warning her parents of her plans way back then.
“The reason I became a nurse was to help people in India. I wanted to be a missionary nurse,” she said. “My parents have been so supportive. My dad went with me (to India) back in December.”
Ascher made two missionary trips before getting involved with the school and clinic.
“This is the happiest time in my life. I truly love the children and the people there,” she said. “They know their situation and yet they are these hopeful little people. They are more of a blessing to me than I am to them.”
Though Ascher is learning more of Telugu, the native tongue, many of the students speak enough English and help her communicate at the school and clinic. Ascher said she lives on campus and always feels safe.
“There are always people around me, it’s protected by gates and I have a great relationship with the founders of the school and their family,” she said.
Ascher credits UMSL for helping her fulfill her dream. Working with Diane Saleska, associate teaching professor in nursing, she completed a self-study on India and the health care system there.
“I got to write my own course about what I wanted to do,” Ascher said. “And Dr. Saleska was wonderful. I learned a lot.”
After graduating from UMSL, she got a job as an intensive-care unit nurse at SSM St. Joseph Health Center in St. Charles. She plans on working as a contract staff nurse at U.S. hospitals between trips to India.