Sitting on the rooftop of the Gajner intern house, I hear religious melodies travel across the desert’s horizon by speaker. The horn of a passing train blows in the distance, as below, the engine of a tuk tuk shakes in anticipation of its next customer. Looking up, the moon illuminates a slowly dimming sky. Looking around, I see hues of green, blue, and brown— Gajner is decorated with buildings of brick and cement, sandy roads and footpaths, isolated trees, and a small lake—it’s beautiful! The aroma of garam masala and other spices blow along in the wind, as the evening’s cool breeze offsets the Rajasthani heat. Closing my eyes, I take everything in: my surroundings, my thoughts, the nostalgia, and this peculiar blend of every emotion possible. I’m happy, sad, anxious, reminiscent, confused, and thankful. Sitting on the rooftop of the Gajner intern house, I’m reminded of the February quarterlies—where it all began.
I can recall the conversations of sustainable development, an all-day workshop on project management, and the many, many tea breaks that took place right here. I had been in India two weeks prior and was already feeling overwhelmed about my project; fortunately, this week of workshops, discussions, and challenges put a lot into perspective for me. I remember feeling ready to get back to my village and being eager to start working. I knew the anticipation, just as vividly as my recollections of disillusionment. Coming to India, I thought I would be working with an already-existing Young Women’s Association, tackling issues such as gender inequality and helping village women enhance their skills, so that one day, they could become the community’s leaders. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way. In fact, we still don’t have a Young Women’s Association in Rait.
Of the many lessons I’ve learned, the planning and the failures are as much a part of the process as the successes. Our initial strategy for establishing a YWA in Rait didn’t happen the way we hoped. The community wasn’t ready for a formal institution like such, so we used other ways to engage and empower local women: the health camp, informal English lessons, our research proposal, various microenterprise activities, and a multitude of broken-Hindi-limited-English conversations coupled with smiles and sweet cups of chai. Serving as centre manager, I’ve seen the Rait Centre progress from none to facilitating six operational projects within the community. Looking back, I’m so thrilled to have been part of this team. The motivation we took from February’s rooftop sessions in Gajner helped us initiate, expand, and continue our work throughout the village.
|Interns in the Rait Center|
To ensure a holistic approach to rural sustainable development, the Rait Centre uses a unique strategy for teamwork. We each devote at least an hour each day to working on one another’s projects, offering each other support, and finding ways to integrate our projects with others. This strategy caused me to become enthused about waste management, and it also improved my gardening skills! Some of my most meaningful work came from running other projects, such as the After School Program in the migrant camp. The way the children’s faces beam with huge smiles each time we arrive—excited to learn and play games with us—these are memories I won’t forget. Likewise, the relationships I have built with various community members are interactions I will hold onto for a long, long time. A lot of what I have encountered here in India has changed me, but I find myself in awe of who this experience has shaped me into. Every namaste, smile, peculiar stare, and curious feel of my afro, are all moments I will take with me as I leave India.
|Girls in the migrant camp playing with Alanah's hair|
Reflecting on my seven months here, I’ve seen many sides to this beautiful country. I’ve seen India’s wealthy and urban, just as I’ve seen her rural, and her poor. I’ve seen her pride and glory; her relentless, hard work; her pain, and I’ve seen her struggle. I’ve seen her masses, and I became familiar with her marginalized and ostracized. I’ve witnessed a number of India’s beautiful landscapes, took part in her customs and traditions, learned her history and invested time into her future. I was fortunate to experience her warm embrace, just as I, too, have encountered her hostile hesitation towards the unknown. Countless times, I have been hassled, harassed, and hustled, and I learned to haggle my way around. It’s only been seven months, but it’s all so fascinating! India has this way of forcing you out of your comfort zone, breaking down the barriers you’ve psychologically built up around yourself, and making you begin again.
|Alanah playing with children in the migrant camp in Rait|
On this rooftop, six and a half months ago, I sat back, receptively listening and taking note of all of the other interns’ contributions to each discussion. Returning to Gajner, as my internship comes to an end; I now observe and impart knowledge regarding the women’s empowerment projects on ground. A few months ago, that quiet, confused intern became project coordinator. Sitting here, on the rooftop of the Gajner intern house, I am reminded of where I began—completely overwhelmed and unsure of my place within the community and the organization. I found it! I often say that I have taken a lot more from my time with EduCARE India compared to what I have given. Nonetheless, I am grateful. I am thrilled. I am humbled. As nostalgia sets in, thoughts take my mind everywhere: I wonder what my girls in Girls Club will grow up to become; whether they’ll pursue higher education as well as the aspirations they have expressed at the tender age of twelve. I’m curious about the migrant children and what the future holds for them; will they go to school; will they have more economic opportunities; will they be able to settle in one place, and be part of the community. The main road is quiet and the stars now sparkle from a distance. I can hear the laughter of the Gajner team below, as all around me is quiet. Looking at the empty rooftop, I remember the faces from that February gathering. I remember how and what I felt. A lot has changed since then.
|Alanah in the migrant camp in Rait|
Alanah Grant - US
Women's Empowerment Manager and Rait Center Manager, Rait (Himachal Pradesh)