The bustle of the Total Health Complex in Aragonda has long quietened down; most people have left and evening has crept upon the hills around. Total Health CEO Dr Subbanna seems lost in his computer, seated alone inside his cabin opposite the now empty reception. My greeting shakes him out of his reverie and he asks me how my first day here was. Before I leave, he stops me to ask, “I hope you caught the sunrise or the sunset? You must experience that,” he says. Making a quick mental calculation, he points helpfully, “The east falls this side of the terrace, and this side is the west,” urging me to go to the terrace.
For Dr Subbanna, an introduction to Total Health’s work is incomplete without an introduction to the village he serves, and that includes its sunrises and sunsets. “Working in Aragonda is like stepping off the highway of a hectic life, and taking the path into a serene space, where you see the immediate impact of the work you do. As a public health professional, to see the smiles on people’s faces once you get them involved in their own health, makes all the difference,” he says adding that it has been important to understand local customs and traditions in order to win people’s trust.
So, in the same breath that Dr Subbanna talks of Total Health’s satellite clinics, he mentions Aragonda’s hills. Yoga camps and lakes, mobile clinics and temples, kitchen gardens and banyan trees – all go hand in hand.
Since its inception, Apollo Foundation’s Total Health was clear in its mission to be rooted in the areas it functions in. The people who work at Total Health also benefit from empowering the community, many of them born and raised in and around Aragonda. The work atmosphere at Total Health reflects this easy camaraderie.
Many workplaces like to call their teams ‘families’ but at the Total Health complex, this is often literal. At the skill centre, husband and wife U Murugesh and Anuradha share their mid-work lunches, while P Haritha and her mother ride together to the tailoring complex every morning.
Young men strike up new friendships at the AC and Refrigeration classes for those who’ve passed class 10, often ending the day with a game of badminton, volleyball, or cricket on Total Health’s expansive grounds, all 6 acres of it. Festivals, weddings, funerals – here, you will find company to celebrate and commiserate with.
On my first day in Aragonda, to get a better view of the hills, Bhavana C, who manages operations and IT for Total Health, takes us to the Hanuman temple on the Ghat road. Her father works at the temple, and she ensures that we get the prasad. Pointing to a calendar of festivals hung on the temple wall, she says, “Make sure that the next time you visit, it is during a full moon.” Every 14 days, devotees make their way to the top of the hill to offer prayers and light a lamp for good health.
This tone of affection for their hometown is recognizable in everyone who works at Total Health. Whether it is yoga teacher M Irfan, who takes us to meet the village’s jaggery manufacturers, swiping his way through a field of canes, or trainer J Vedamba, who is an expert at the best wild fruits to be had. Plucking out parikipallu, she gives us the ripe red ones: “The green will be too sour for your city tastes,” she says, laughing.
New employment opportunities with Total Health have brought many who left in search of work outside Chittoor, the district where Aragonda is situated, back to the place that raised them. Bhavana, who worked in Hyderabad for 2 years before returning here says, “Working in cities gives you the advantage of easy access to facilities that enhance your work skills. Whereas, in Aragonda, the challenge is to deliver the best with limited resources.” But it is worth it for her, simply because of “the love and care we get from the people of the village.”
As for me, I am already looking forward to my next visit here – Bhavana has promised an insider’s guide to trekking through the Aragonda hills.