“I bet you’re wondering why I called you all here today…”
I can clearly picture one of my college friends repeating this phrase at the perfect random silent moment that occasionally washes over a crowd. That’s the phrase that comes to mind when I write this post. Why? Possibly because I picture all of my regular followers and casual readers as a diverse group of people with busy and crazy lives scattered about the world who all stop, for just a moment, to listen to my experiences and my reflections.
Why do you do it? That, I can’t answer. But what I can answer and what I haven’t done yet is explain to you all why I am writing this blog and why I am doing what I am this summer.
I am spending the summer working at a non-governmental organization…for all of you not in the Beltway bubble, an NGO is essentially the equivalent of a non-profit organization. NGOs can focus on so many different issues…you may have heard of Catholic Relief Services, UNESCO, Doctors without Borders…etc. The one I work for focuses on livelihood promotion.
What on earth does that mean? It means that they run several projects-several which help to promote agriculture, allowing people to feed their households and sell their surplus. They provide training on how to plant, what to plant, when to harvest, and how to market vegetables, rice, poultry, fish, etc. They help villages form co-operatives so they can use collective bargaining to receive fair prices for their produce and use the increased income as funds for other projects. The co-operatives also allow banks to mobilize more loans for start up costs.
Another project I like one in which they open up fair-trade community shops so that villagers will have access to basic needs without walking several kilometers every day. They also have helped set up irrigation structures to create acres of farmable land. In this process they have been able to bring water access to the homes for no extra cost!
While there are many more projects, I am specifically tasked on work with two projects. The first is a love of mine. I am helping to update the website, providing the text for each page and helping with the organization of the web pages. Why do I love this so much? A website is the world’s glimpse at who you’re organization is and what they stand for. It’s your mission and your ethos, presented visually. So working on the website requires me to understand what the organization really does and truly acquaint myself with the projects and their results.
My second project will hopefully end in a published report! Not much literature available currently on my research topic, so I cannot wait to finish my study. I have created and sent out questionnaires and started collecting data.
This is why I am here. I am here–seeing and learning about people without access to toilets or water in their homes, medical care, or means to make a living. I am here to learn about how local organizations are making this better for their fellow Indians.
Later in the summer, I’ll tell you about my other adventures.
But I am writing to share my new insights, unique to immersion in a new culture on the other side of the world, one in which the entire society is structured around a different religion and a totally different understanding of the social system. I am writing to tell you about a six day work week as the norm. I am writing so you can envision cows in urban areas–in the middle of the road. I am writing so that outside of our gated communities and safe neighborhoods, you’ll understand the slums and “keepin’ up with the Jones” in the same neighborhood. I am writing so that you can taste the spice of the curry and the sweetness of the mango.
I am writing so that you can experience auto-rickshaw rides–the only way to really take in the city, but holding on for your life as you bounce down narrow pot-holed roads. I am writing so that you see the vivid ornate sarees juxtaposed with the haze of dust and pollution hanging over the “small” capitol city of 1.5 million people. I am writing to express the joy that comes with the monsoon and dancing with new friends in the rain. I am writing to process all of these new tastes, smells, sights, sounds, and sensations–all beautiful in their own way. And all so very different, yet I am learning what stays the same no matter where you go.
The Indian culture is a rich one and I have so much more to take in…so bear with me and please, take in this journey with me!