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Archive for the ‘India’ Category

A look at the summer lives of four undergrads working on an environmental development project with the Foundation for Ecological Security.

Friday, July 17, 2009: Cribs: The Village Edition

Alice 1This week marked an important occasion: we moved into a village about 2 hours away from Udaipur and began working on our project. FES has asked us to make an assessment of one particular region with the eventual goal of developing a relationship with those communities and implementing environmental projects there. Our work this week mostly consisted of holding meetings with community members (all men) to create a map of the community’s resources and to get a general overview of life in the village. The meetings went well, although it can get really frustrating to watch people have an animated conversation in an inaccessible language and have to keep interjecting “what did he just say?” or “can you ask this?”. It’s hard not to feel like things would be much easier for everyone if the white girl in the corner with her notebook and expression of earnest confusion would just go sit in the jeep and eat biscuits. But we persevere, and so far the work is going well.

The living situation in the village is also better than expected; we have electricity (and a generator that helps protect against the frequent power outtages), running water (this one is actually pretty iffy, there have been some close calls with the toilet), and meals are provided. It should be mentioned that Asha is hands-down winning in terms of food consumption in India. This thoroughly endears her to every person who has cooked for us, and makes some of us look really bad. Skipping a meal is absolutely out of the question here, and people look shocked and a little frightened when one of us says that we’re not hungry. We’ve figured out a variety of ways to cope though (see Alice’s post on tiffin removal techniques).

The next two weeks will be similarly scheduled, with us “in the field” for the majority of week days and returning to Udaipur close to the weekend, so we won’t be close to a computer to update the blog frequently. We’ll update as much as we can though, and wish us luck seeing the solar eclipse on Wednesday!

Friday, July 24, 2009: “This is Truly A Most Auspicious Day”

Alice 2I managed to declare this phrase immediately before stepping into a large pile of cowshit in the middle of the street – but truly this week has been a little of the magical as well as mundane.

The “auspicious day” in question was the 22nd of July and our musings on it’s significance were largely due to the solar eclipse which Lizzy valiantly woke up at 5:30 am to run outside to catch only to return to bed defeated five minutes later declaring it was too cloudy to see anything. However, that was just the beginning.

Later on in the day during a village exercise in a place called Jakara Lizzy and I attempted to befriend a group of teenage girls. While at first they were painfully shy, as time went on we tried asking them questions that had been translated into Hindi for us by one of our colleagues, and we soon began to laugh together over our complete unintelligbleness (although it is quite possible they were laughing at us). They even taught us a game which involves picking up stones, similar to jacks, and at the end, as you do, we took a group photo with a goat.

That night we visited the house of our driver, Sunder, in the village which we were staying in. The house was made entirely of mud/clay and had an indoor stove which smelled amazing but made my eyes water the entire time. His 100 year old grandfather was there, we drank buffalo milk (delicious!) as well as something very akin to vomit that I made the mistake of taking seconds of to be polite. As we left an electrical storm lit up the entire sky, at times making the night look like daytime and sending clear lightning bolts across the sky into the forests and hills beyond.

Then, naturally, came the cowshit – sending me reeling hysterically holding on to Ari trying to scrape it off as we all just stopped and laughed at the general absurdity and irony of the proclamation I had just made.

As well as just the fact that, well, shit guys, we are in India.

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ShobaHampered by the complexities of working in a foreign country, an unknown language and an often alien culture, I found weaving together my picture of the work of the Veerni Project was similar to the process of creating the intricate quilted wall hangings made by the women of Rajasthan – a process in which the final design appears only slowly. My first priority was to develop a thorough understanding of the NGO I am working with, its strengths, weaknesses, needs and capacity.

Veerni works with six rural villages in the Jodhpur region of Rajasthan, India. The team helps to provide health and nutritional care, economic empowerment and education to the women and adolescent girls, and raising awareness of key issues such as malnutrition or domestic violence in the whole community. They run sewing courses to provide women with a means to generate their own income, provide literacy centres for girls who will other wise not attend school, and also fund a hostel in Jodhpur, where 85 village girls are able to benefit from improved health, nutrition and most importantly, a full time education.

Fifteen weeks seemed like ample time from my home in London, time that has now become compressed as I have realised the complexities of development work, even within my own small role. What has gradually emerged from the patches of quilt is a possible synergy between Veerni’s groundbreaking work on nutritional supplements, designed and patented by the nutritional team, and their less developed programme on skills training for income generation. An in-depth survey of the villages, their current nutritional habits and awareness and receptiveness to the idea of new income strategies, could assess the potential to initiate a women’s cooperative to produce the Veerni nutritional supplements. Ideally, this would provide employment and income to the women involved as well as easily available low-cost supplements to local families. This synergy of increasing women’s ability to nourish themselves and their families while developing their self-respect and status through income generation appeals to me. However, it is only by asking the women themselves that I can discover if such a project is viable in the hard grind for survival that characterises their day-to-day lives.

Rajwa_womenThese women are the human capital that is so often wasted in an area that has some of India’s lowest female literacy rates, female to male sex ratios and health indicators. And yet behind the gloomy statistics there lies a wealth of potential. Conducting interviews of some of the girls attending the Veerni hostel I met Shoba Choudhary, a seventeen-year-old from Rajwa village, who has been at the hostel for one year. Rajwa suffers from all the blights on women that plague one of India’s most underdeveloped states: the female literacy rate is 3.69% and the village population is 580 women to 611 men, clearly showing the number of ‘missing women’. Yet despite being married at eight, and now under pressure from her fellow villagers to give up her education and return to her family, Shoba displayed a quiet but impressive confidence and self-knowledge. ‘Education is a girl’s true friend’ she said, and talked of her ambition to attend college, pass the tough civil service exams and work for the government of Rajasthan. Only time will tell if Shoba can overcome the pressure from her village and achieve her ambitions, but her intelligence and maturity are a sign of the immense human capital Veerni is working to cultivate.

Back in Rajwa, as I observed the field staff and the women and children they worked with, the most powerful images were sensory: the vivid pink of the women’s head veils, the Indian sun baking the almost barren earth and dullness of malnutrition in some of the children’s coal-lined eyes. I understood nothing of the Mawari spoken, but what I could appreciate was the respect felt for the Veerni field staff. The men listened when they spoke and the women slowly pulled back their veils in their presence. This respect, and its fruits in terms of the true community engagement and trust it indicated, was a better introduction to the work of Veerni than any annual report or flashy website. It was also a crash course in the patience required for community development; a patience that does not come naturally to most Westerners, perhaps especially those who want to ‘make a difference.’ I may have emerged from the first phase of the internship process, but the real challenge, to develop a little of that patience, dedication and humility, is only just beginning.

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schuhrkej-1My FSD internship here in Jodhpur is with an NGO called UNNATI (the word unnati means “progress”) and is centered on their disaster risk reduction program. The major disaster here in the desert of Western Rajasthan is drought. My previous experience has dealt with hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires, which tend to be very visible events with a clear beginning and end. It is easy to see their impact because you can clearly see the difference from before and after the disaster; it’s dramatic and typically gets a lot of attention when it happens. Drought is different because it has no clear beginning and end, and so its impact is more difficult to see. It becomes a regular part of people’s daily lives, and therefore doesn’t seem as dramatic and gets less attention. It’s insidious and gets to the true nature of disasters as more than just one-time events.

The ongoing drought here in Rajasthan weakens food and water security, and it severely hurts rural livelihoods. People lose valuable time and money just trying to get water, so they can’t maintain their crops and livestock, and are often forced to migrate to cities for work. UNNATI is trying to counter this in a few ways. One project they’ve undertaken is providing some funds for families to build water-harvesting structures like underground tanks able to catch and store as much rainwater (which is extremely minimal) as possible. These tanks can also store water pumped in from tractor-hauled tankers that bring it from various sources like ponds and canals, though the owners/drivers of these tankers often charge unfair prices. For this, UNNATI is buying some water tankers and tractors and will give them to village committees, which will manage and oversee their use, and will charge fairer prices.

The organization has also undertaken a horticulture development project with about 30 households. The women of the households oversee their own plots of berry and plum-producing plants that require little water. The plants can provide extra food and fodder during times of scarcity, and are also reliable sources of income when the families sell the fruits.

schuhrkej-2UNNATI did not originally do this kind of work. Instead, the organization has traditionally worked to empower the Dalits, also known as the “untouchables”. In India’s ancient caste system, the Dalits were given what were considered the dirty jobs like dealing with waste and corpses, and were thus seen as permanently polluted and literally untouchable, and were treated as sub-human.

Since the time of India’s independence, the government has sought to eradicate “untouchability” and engender equal rights. While the overt mistreatment and oppression of Dalits has mostly ended, there are still subtle ways they are discriminated against. They are often systematically denied decent jobs and livelihoods, as well as access to quality education and other basic opportunities. It’s easy to draw comparisons to racism in America, which has also become subtler in recent decades.

This discrimination is very similar to the drought. Both are forms are of deprivation—one is a sort of environmental deprivation while the other is a sort of social deprivation; and also both are insidious and subtle, rather than dramatic, overt situations that get a lot of attention. Not surprisingly, the Dalits tend to have the least access to water, often living farthest from water sources, and also not having the money to afford storage tanks or tanker-delivered water. So, while UNNATI originally worked with Dalit activists to help them assert their rights, it now also works with them to reduce their vulnerabilities to drought.

schuhrkej-3Many of my Indian colleagues are ashamed of the continued discrimination against Dalits. Speaking with Indians about Obama’s election back in my home country, a lot of them seem to think such problems in America are all over and only India is dealing with negative discrimination now. I try to tell them it’s not that simple. As proud as I was to see Obama win on November 4th, I was disappointed and ashamed at the passage of Proposition 8 in California and similar measures in other states.

But the election of Obama is definitely a mark of progress for the U.S. Looking at all the struggles for social equality that have taken place throughout my country’s history and how far we’ve come, I think Martin Luther King, Jr. was right when he said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” So I don’t despair the passage of Proposition 8 or the continued discrimination against Dalits, but instead have the “audacity to hope” that it’s only a matter of patience, faith, and dedicated effort before the long drought of injustice finally ends.

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gregoryj-11Following the introduction to my new family, I was to start my internship with the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF) the next day. Abi, my co-intern, and I arrived in good spirits, ready for organizational integration. We immediately set out with Sateesh, who is responsible for the Agoli Block Women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs), to visit the Vishnu Nagar and Jashti villages. Our mode of transportation was an open-door jeep, which lacked seatbelts, but came fully equipped with a driver who had relinquished any sense of danger probably at birth. For anyone who has not traveled by open-air vehicle through a desert before, the best way to simulate the experience would be to turn on your hair drier and blast your face for two hours.

The Marwar region, located in the western portion of Rajasthan, occupies areas of the Northwestern Thorn Scrub Forest and the Thar Desert. It is known as an arid and inhospitable region, yet paradoxically is the most densely populated desert in the world. Climatologists typically define a desert as having an annual rainfall of 250 mm or less; the Marwar region receives somewhere between 100 to 500 mm. To make matters worse, its water table is falling at around 1 to 2 m each year, and up to 5 m in some areas.

Enter JBF, its genesis is based on the principle of developing “a persuasive alliance with the people of Marwar to make the region water secure.” Their modus operandi is to educate and mobilize rural communities around water issues, such that by providing them with financial support and engineering expertise, disadvantaged communities can empower themselves to achieve local water sustainability. JBF’s straightaway success encouraged generous grants from foreign development agencies, which has been used to employ over 100 people and facilitate the installation of over 250 projects in only five years.

gregoryj-2Ironically, our project has little to do with JBF’s core operations; rather, we have been instructed to develop a system for encouraging micro-enterprise businesses within their SHGs. These groups are bodies designed to build social and financial capital in disadvantaged communities; they have been integral to the microfinance movement within India since the 1980’s. Originally, they were established to allow the poor access to basic monetary systems, including savings and credit, by dispersing the risk amongst many women. Over time, they have grown into social empowerment tools for their members, and they are currently regarded as mechanisms which could facilitate diversification vis-à-vis alternative livelihoods and income generating activities (ALIGA). JBF has been establishing SHGs for about two years and presently operate a total of 54 groups. Predictably however, they are unsophisticated and wanting in comparison to their counterparts to the South, who have been operating in earnest for over 15. Both Vishnu Nagar and Jashti are among the A grade JBF SHGs, yet nonetheless appear woefully behind the progress in the rest of India.

gregoryj-3However, even possessing this knowledge cannot dampen the sense of advancement, ambition and optimism radiating from the women within these groups. Not all possess this glow, but presumably the ones that do will pass it on to those yet to fully comprehend their own potential. The Vishnu Nagar women have recently bought a mechanised flour mill for the bajra (a grain similar to, but coarser than wheat) grown in their fields. It allays the necessity of traveling four km by foot to purchase flour from Agoli; minuscule, but demonstrative progress.

The Jashti women have adapted the SHG model to their pre-existing wholesale embroidery business. Some women in the group have been practicing their craft for 25 years or more. The results are impressive and symbolically Indian. Upon asking one of the men if he has noticed any changes in his wife Meenakshi since the establishment of the group, he tersely replies “she has become more talkative,” which spawns an eruption of laughter from the group and one abashed lady. Although a couple questions later, her self-confidence replenished, she brazenly elucidates her desire “to be the owner of a shop at the Mehrangarh fort [in Jodhpur]” … and moreover, to have husband work for her! In the end, she gets the last laugh.

Our task at hand appears overwhelming at this stage of the internship. However, hopefully by the time we have crossed the last “t’s” and dotted the last “i’s”, some of these women will be on their way to achieving their dreams and escaping the poverty trap.

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“I just hope it was ok, I know it wasn’t perfect, I hope in the end, we can laugh and say it was all worth it…” – Ani Difranco
motsingerh-1I have now been here 75 days. For those 75 days I have been working with the Centre for Women’s Studies, a small department of a local university that is working to empower women throughout the tribal blocks of Rajasthan surrounding Udaipur. I have now been here 75 days. I have spent 75 days getting up around 7:30 in the morning, having breakfast with my wonderful host mother, and walking out the door by 9 am to ensure that I make it to work by 10 am, the time the Indian work day begins. I walk down the stairs of my apartment complex, wave good morning to the security guard who I’ve become “buddies” with that works at the grocery store in the bottom of my apartment building, and mentally prepare myself for the never-ending beeping of motorcycles, government buses, and auto rickshaws that whiz through the narrow roads of Udaipur. I take a 15-20 minute refreshing morning walk (mornings here are cool, though days are hot) to Court Chariya where I catch the “big rickshaw” or tempo to take me all the way to work in Pratap Nagar for 5 Rupees. I could catch one earlier without the 15-20 minute walk, but have found my sanity in the quiet back streets of early-morning Udaipur.

I squeeze into the jam-packed auto and ride for 20-30 minutes, dependent on how many times my driver wants to stop and try to convince more passengers to climb into his already over-crowded vehicle. I arrive at work, usually around 9:45 or right on time at 10:00, and then actually begin the workday around 11:00 when all of the staff has finally reached the office, and we have finished our first cup of sweet, hot, cardamom infused chai.

The first 75 days have been humbling, infuriating, educational, enjoyable, hysterical, frantic, and hectic, tiring, and the list could go on and on and on. I spent the first two weeks reading research project after research project in hopes of understanding the mission and previous projects of CWS. I spent the next month and a half losing hope that I would make any meaningful contribution to my host organization and the larger community. Numerous project ideas failed, work on existing projects and research with CWS couldn’t be undertaken due to a lack of funding, and communication barriers made the process of expressing our ideas difficult on a good day.

motsingerh-2Finally, upon having every urge to cry and pull my hair out as we were unsuccessful time and again at coming up with a sustainable project (however small), my boss asked me if I would develop a nutritional toolkit. “Nutritional toolkit?”, I said. I inquired about what this meant, and the only response I was given was “you know, like a scale and a thermometer and a few medicines and feminine hygiene projects that we can distribute at future health workshops and trainings.” To me, this sounded like aid, first aid, and not sustainable development. This wasn’t our collective goal. This wasn’t going to assist in the long term betterment of livelihoods for these village women. What to do? What to do?

Then it dawned on me. They were asking me for a nutritional toolkit. They obviously had some concern for the “nutrition” of village women, although our definitions of “nutrition” may be slightly different. I realized that wait a second, the Centre for Women’s Studies has done research on the impact of male migration on women and families and on the prevalence and conception of abuse against women in tribal communities (among others), but the organization had no information regarding the nutritional status of women and children in the surrounding communities.

As I began researching this topic a bit, it became even more apparent how nutrition can affect so many facets of village livelihood. With an insufficient diet, women often fall victim to iron deficiencies, and pregnant women often give birth to low birth weight babies that struggle to stay alive, only adding to the problem of a high infant mortality rate. Men and women are ineffective in their valuable jobs that ensure at least some sort of financial security and children that suffer from the common cold often end up with an incredibly grim diagnosis as without proper nutrition, immunities are weakened and the body can’t sufficiently fend off illness.

Since presenting the idea to my organization to undertake a research study on the nutritional status of tribal women and families and the nutritional divisions that may exist between men and women, class and caste, I have started spending my everyday in the field with one of my fellow co-workers as my all too valuable translator. The hour and a half haul to Gogunda (the tribal block I am working within) via government bus is absolutely nerve-wracking, but one of those experiences that makes this adventure all the more exciting. We speed through winding, bumping roads and fly off our seats if we are so unlucky as to get stuck in the back of the bus. We clinch our teeth and hold on to our seats for dear life as brakes aren’t used here, only blaring horns that say “get out of the way or we will run you over!” (said jokingly, kind of!) We walk, walk, and walk some more from hamlet to hamlet as transportation through the expansive villages is pretty much non-existent. We eat lunch with locals and as I can’t speak the language, the village women and I smile at one another and laugh at our inability to talk. Somehow through the laughter, we sometimes begin to understand each other, if only just a little. We sometimes receive incredible responses to our survey and feel as if the end result is going to be fantastic, and other days we want to run quickly back to the bus stand as responses are nothing short of vague and unclear. This is just how it goes…

motsingerh-3I have realized through these days in the field and in pouring so much effort into developing a meaningful project in collaboration with my host organization that ultimately, my time spent here isn’t about the project or about implementing “change” throughout the duration of my time here (something that just isn’t going to happen in 4 months). In laughing, in becoming so incredibly annoyed by things I just can’t control, in talking to my co-workers and to my host parents about life in India and my life in the US, in sharing our experiences with one another, and in sharing our frustrations and joys, I have realized that the most beneficial thing I can give and take from this place are the one or two incredible relationships that I have formed with a co-worker, a host mother, and a village grandmother that insists I eat her chapatti and dahi (yogurt) even when I feel as if I can eat nothing else. In these relationships, we begin to understand one another. We begin to develop a sense of the importance that must be placed upon an individual’s history and a specific locale’s history in reaching the sustainable betterment of livelihoods of every individual throughout the world.

I have realized that although I may not finish the surveying of 100 women as I had hoped, my time here still will be a success when it ends on December 18th. If I only finish 50 surveys, write a theoretical research report, but know that I have positively impacted the life of at least one individual while also being given the greatest learning experiences about life, and work, and persistence, and the importance of hope and faith in this world of sustainable development, my time in Udaipur, India will have been worth every single second. This work is hard. This work is challenging and often infuriating. This work makes you laugh and it makes you cry. It makes you want to pull your hair out and run into the middle of a forest just to scream at the top of your lungs for 20 minutes. It makes you so incredibly happy and excited, and it builds your patience like nothing else possibly could. It takes you on the greatest ride of your life. This place. This project. These people I have encountered. My host mother and my host organization. They have been my teachers. They have been those that have enhanced my understanding of myself, of this life, of this world and of this thing we call “sustainable development”. I suppose in the end, we can laugh… cry… scream… and confidently say, “I guess it was all worth it!!!!!”

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India’s booming economy is thrusting the wealthy of India into the ranks of the world’s richest, but how about everyone else?

After my first two and a half weeks trying to find my place in the charming chaos of India I can confidently say that the sight of a traffic jam caused by a 52 sheep pile up, the shameless stares of complete strangers on the streets and the new function of my hands as dinner utensils is quickly become routine. The 6 Udaipur interns, including myself, are all stuffed with stories (and chipatis) and are enjoying a friendly competition for the most compelling chai rendezvous, most bizarre host family member and best Indian fashion sense. I could stand to learn a lot when it comes to the fashion sense.

On a more professional note, we are all gradually coming into our own development projects at our respective NGOS. I am working with the Sahayata Organization with a group of cheerful and motivated young professionals and a delightful supervisor nicknamed Babuji. The Sahayata Organization is as an emerging urban micro Finance and Livelihood initiative in Rajasthan. It was started by a team of professionals who were aware of the large gap that exists between traditional means of finance and the economically marginalized sector of society. Sahayata has successfully established itself as a revenue-based service provider in order to achieve the dual objectives of social and economic empowerment of the community as well as the sustainability of this intervention. Now Sahayata is in the process of expanding the organization to include a non-profit financial literacy program.

Not only will the financial literacy program be advantageous to the women of Rajasthan, but it will be one small step towards a more financial savvy India. India’s booming economy is thrusting the wealthy of India into the ranks of the world’s richest, but how about everyone else? In the last fiscal year the GDP growth rate was 9.1% and India’s economy established itself as the twelfth largest economy in the world and the second fastest growing economy, after China. However, despite the new boomtowns of Bangalore and Mumbai, most of the Indian population is still hovering below the poverty line, untouched by the rising national wealth. According to the new financial inclusion index, India is doing very poorly when it comes to the rate at which people use banking products and make investments. The financial inclusion index “is a measure of the availability and usage of banking services in key nations of the world, and is based on indicators like the number of bank accounts per 1,000 adults, numbers of ATMS, and amount of bank credit and deposits” (The Economic Times, 24/7/2008). In order for the majority of Indians to benefit from their profitable economy, financial inclusion must be the key priority for the NGOs, the government and banking institutions in the upcoming decade. Through our financial literacy program, Sahayata hopes to be a catalyst in the push towards a larger middle class and a healthy India.

Currently I am doing a needs assessment survey with our loan clients to evaluate their level of financial literacy and find out if they would be interested in a money management tutorial. The response from the clients has been overwhelmingly positive.

We have already recruited a great teacher from the nearby college who is well-versed in economic policy and financial management and we hope to begin the pilot project in two weeks. The pilot project will consist of three groups of women. One group will be familiar with basic financial terminology such as Budget, Risk, and interest. This group will consist of women that have bank accounts. The second group of women will have some idea of the basic financial terms but no substantial knowledge and approximately fifty percent of these women will have bank accounts and the other fifty percent will keep their savings in their homes. The third group of women will have little to no knowledge of financial management and will consist of women that do not use banking institutions. Our teacher will meet with each group twice a week for a period of eight weeks. After which each group will have a final examination so we can evaluate and monitor the success of the pilot program for each group.

I would have to say that the largest obstacle in the way of my success in this internship will most likely be the language barrier. However, with the help of our language teacher Retchna, we are speedily becoming acquainted with Hindi and in the interim, big smiles seem to be the best way of building a good rapport with new friends.

Namashkar,

Nina Robbins

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As a nine week intern in India, time is short and work is hectic. Although, I have limited time here, I was still able (with the support of the FSD site team and my co-workers) to implement and obtain funding for a project. The Institute for Local Self-Governance and Responsible Citizenship, my host organization, conducts bi-weekly, trainings for members of panchayati raj (India’s village government and representative system). The Institute does not have any substantial data that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of its trainings. This lack of evidence has started to become problematic for the NGO because donors and future investors want proof of the trainings’ positive impact.

In an attempt to help the Institute evaluate its trainings, get funding, and improve the quality of the training itself, my co-workers and I designed an interactive evaluation game entitled the “Rainbow Game”. This game is color coordinated by training categories. The rules and questions are simple. The game will be played by participants at the end of all six-day trainings. By recording the amount of incorrectly and correctly answered questions for each category, the institute will be able to document the amount of training information retained by representatives. In addition, the game will be fun, colorful, and easy to follow, especially since the majority of trainees are illiterate.

In the picture: From Left to Right: Ms. Varsha Jhanwar and Mr. Pratapmal Devpura edit the questions and answers section of “Rainbow Game”.

As a foreigner, who does not speak a word of Hindi, it was very difficult to design and develop a project. The work and living environment has been nothing less than challenging. However, it has been a positive and humbling experience. Since this is my first time out of my home country, it was hard to admit my vulnerability and deal with the fact that I am a burden to my host family and especially my host organization. Before the internship, I knew that I would be a drain on my organization’s resources, but I could have never prepared myself for the task of embracing my limitations while discovering which skills (that I possess) could be used to the Institute’s benefit.

My creativity, my determination, my adaptability, my pride, my previous conceptions about Indian culture, and especially my patience have all been challenged during my stay in Udaipur. Yes, the Indian work culture is at times frustratingly slow, but in order to make any difference I learned to adapt, embrace, enjoy, and respect this different way of life. Random power outages, six chai (tea) breaks a day, office gossiping, and the hierarchical work system can be wearisome at times. However, the atmosphere at the Institute has been by far the most enjoyable office environment. At work there is always an endless supply of jokes, laughter, invitations to homes and celebrations, curiosity, respect, challenges to video game competitions, and offers for rides home. It has truly been my honor and privilege to work at the Institute for Local Self-Governance and experience the good, the bad, and the quirky facets of India’s work culture.

In the picture: Taken from the rooftop restaurant Mehwar Haveli, this is one of many breathtaking views of Udaipur. It reminds me of something my co-worker and friend, Ms. Varsha Jhanawar, said to me when I was frustrated, “Ashley, you need to stop stressing, go take rest, and watch the sunset”.

Although I have felt uncomfortable, lost, and frustrated, the experience of working in Udaipur has been empowering in its own way. My project is nearing completion and will be implemented next week at a monthly training session on women’s empowerment for elected representatives of several wards (local districts). Despite the obstacles (such as language barriers, cultural differences, limited time, and disagreements over the development of the “Rainbow Game”), it will be used and played. To have left something not only beneficial, but sustainable has been acutely rewarding and significantly outweighs all of the negative experiences.

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