Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Chai and an EduCARE's experience manifesto

So I'll be talking about my overall experience with EduCARE. It has been quite a ride. Four months have passed but I feel, at least, one year older. It was fast yet so enriching.

Most western people come to India to find themselves. I came to India to find India and then, maybe, find myself. You see, how could I find myself if I don't even know where I am? If I can't even understand basic hindi or why people act like they act in here?

I'm glad I've found an organization like EduCARE, which gave me the opportunity to live so close to the Rait community and within Indian culture. Here I've met some of the kindest people in my life. Indeed I can use kind as a good description of Bhahari people. They will welcome you warmly to their homes and be genuinely curious/interested about you. Even without knowing you they will still feel responsible to take care of you. And let me tell you, they will take really good care of you. Obviously, they also come with their eccentricities. For example the difficulty to say no or that they don't know the direction to some place you are headed put me in messed up situations where patience couldn't really help me that much.

Anyways, I am also really grateful for the opportunity to share this experience with all the EduCARE team, particularly the (G)RAIT Team. Working next to you made me grow as one can only do among family. You'll be with me forever. (G)Rait brothers and sisters, I'll miss all the laughter, all the trips, all the messed up situations we put ourselves in and escape alive of and how we used to learn together. How we managed to live with each other having all different paces and make such a beautiful home out of the Rait house. It was amazing to work with all of you and getting to know what you are made of and what daily India can be.

There was times when I was very unsure about the work itself. I was wondering, is it just me? Am I really too ambitious while being too quiet while being too aggressive while being unlikable? Am I not funny enough? Am I not working hard enough? Do I belong?

Well, the adaptation can be a really hard process, which for me resulted in this kind of questioning. It took me a while to pick up on my work and get the hang of it; understand my duties, my rights and my limitations within this position. In the end, all the questions answered, I felt freer than ever as well as empowered: I learned that I'm more patient than I thought I was and that I can indeed overcome quite a few obstacles. The important thing is: Slowly, slowly but Rait is moving forward, gi. 

& Chai 4 life!

Inês Ramos - Portugal
Women's Empowerment Project Manager, Rait (Himachal Pradesh)

Friday, 18 December 2015

A Tree Nursery in Chenni!

What an exhausting day today: transporting manure and filling bags and bags and bags…


What for?

Well to plant trees!

Deodar, Kant, Ban… They are all ready to be planted in their new home: the Chenni tree nursery. And what a cozy home with its lovely door, its compost place and its little tool rack… here trees will be safe and protected from goats, cows, chicken and dogs. After one year and a half of this happy childhood they will be ready to be transplanted on the slope above Chenni. There they will maintain the soil, which is very unstable, and protect the village from a possible landslide. They will also provide fodder and fuel close to the village, which depends a lot on this wood. 

The wonderful little nursery space built by Johny

But this would never be possible without people to take care of them. Everyone in the Chenni community is aware of the nursery and very welcome to help, but Reena and Varsha in particular take care of the trees. They learn how to prepare the seeds and plant them. And Varsha never comes without her kids: Shanvi and Manvi, always very enthusiastic: “Louissse going field?” usually ask Shanvi when I go down to Chenni. In the picture below, you can see Manvi, very proud of herself: she just pied on the mixed soil! With her, the trees won’t lack nutrient! 

Filling bags activity

We also benefited from the help of the forest department, which gave us lots of information. We practiced the mixing of the soil in nurseries and had a little morning trek to fetch bags.

The nursery will soon extend with a new greenhouse and a bamboo growing area planned for next month. But as nothing goes as it was planned in EduCARE you will soon hear of the new adventures of the forestry team!

Louise Brunier - France
Forestry Project Manager, Naddi (Himachal Pradesh)

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Whatever happened to my Womanhood (part I). Living in India: Expectations Vs. Reality

So I've said many times before coming to India that I knew about the cultural differences, particularly the ones concerning being a woman in India. In my specific case being a woman in rural Himachal Pradesh, India.

So about being a woman in Himachal Pradesh. I always felt really strong about my independence and autonomy. I was never good at being told what to do or what to say. Oké, even sometimes my temper is the boss of me. Anyways, I knew I would have to remain passive in more situations than I usually do. Ok. No issue! I thought: - if I live through this it will certainly improve my patient, my interpersonal/social skills, my understanding of what it can feel like being an Indian woman and my understanding of what my culture allows womanhood to be. So far I had a lot to gain.

And then it happened…the warnings started and I did not see them coming, specially since I was following the rules of conduct. The warnings about how dangerous it is for me to walk in my own neighborhood hit me hard. Specially coming from a friendly neighbor of ours. It happened three times in two months. Yeah, it was a bit past 7 p.m. So what it was already dark since 6p.m. because it's winter? I had just finished work and needed to buy some food. The worst was it came from a supposed friend. I mean, how could he not see how threatening and demeaning he was sounding. He gave me 2 of the 3 warnings. Both times I was with fellow male colleagues with whom he engaged in gleeful conversations and when the glee vanished he decided to address me to exclusively warn me about the danger I was running. It made me feel small, powerless, threatened and like I didn't own my own life. I didn't have the reaction of replying to him, but what to say?

I cannot help thinking that these warnings and rape culture are somehow intertwined, at least from where I see it. He did not warn the men that were with me. The warning was only for me, because I'm a woman. Despite our friendly neighbor naively yet truthfully warning me for my own good (I know this, cause today he told me about how I should buy a sweater (winter is coming) and beware of being overcharged) he was simultaneously contributing to carve the bars of the cage rape culture puts around all of us women in. He should not tell me to be aware of my steps on the way to buy groceries. Instead he should tell men to stop harassing people, women, girls whether it is day or night. However, how can I explain him all of this? He would not understand. Probably he would even get offended for me rejecting his good advice.

Oh well, I hope the demand for self-defense courses will soon rise among women in India. Women can and must defend themselves. It starts by rejecting a conformist position and stopping to accept this type of "advice" as justifiable. The warning can be based on true facts of existing violence. Nevertheless this violence will persist if we continue to emphasize the victim as the element that takes the blame instead of the aggressor.

When I mention learning self-defense I mean to learn how to defend yourself, not necessarily in a physical way, but in a way where you can recognize where you stand and what actually your position is about a particular matter. Learn about what in reality happens around you and what you can do to change and improve it.

Inês Ramos - Portugal
Women's Empowerment Project Manager, Rait (Himachal Pradesh)

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Diwali – the festival of lights (and really loud firecrackers)

For weeks people had been talking about Diwali, the festival of lights, or by some referred to as the “Indian Christmas”. Shops had been selling fireworks, candles and tons of sweets in all colours and shapes. Needless to say, we were really excited about celebrating this important event. I had been ravaging the stores in the nearby city of Hariana in the search for a pre-made dress. Believe me, it’s a lot harder than it sounds! Most of the people here buy fabric, which they then bring to the tailor. With only one day to go however, this was not an option for me. Luckily, after having tried most of the very limited selection of pre-made dresses, I eventually found one that was actually pretty nice! 

Me, in my new dress, with Bide, a girl from the migrant camp

And so the big day came! It didn’t start out great though. A girl we know from the neighbouring community of Janauri had offered to come by our house and cook for us. We happily accepted! In true Indian fashion however, we had problems with the gas in our kitchen that day so the lovely lunch never happened! Luckily the rest of the day turned out a lot better. The families in the migrant camp we work with had invited us over to celebrate with them. We were not exactly sure how Diwali was celebrated but people had told us to bring sweets. So we all dressed up for the occasion, got a big box of Indian sweets and some fruit and headed off to the camp. The camp seemed really happy to see us but they were even happier to see the sweets we brought. It didn’t take long for them to finish it all (for some reason they were not as interested in the fruit…). One of the young boys had a particularly good appetite. Unfortunately it was too much of a sugar shock for his poor tummy so the sweets all came back up in the end of the evening… 

Geeta and Taravati enjoying the sweets we brought

Apart from that incident, we had a really good time with the families. We did henna with the girls, took hundreds of photos (of course everyone wanted a picture with their Diwali outfit on) and the kids lit firecrackers. We didn’t really see the point as the firecrackers were not nice to look at and they were super loud! For the kids, however, it seemed the louder the better! We were a bit worried seeing them lighting them off everywhere. The rest of the adults in the camp did not share our concerns however, and to our massive relief no one, including us, got hurt.

The children of the camp playing with firecrackers
After spending a couple of hours with the family we headed off to the neighbouring Janauri community to meet with the families we had got to know there. They didn’t really have time for us when we arrived so we walked around in the community for a while, had some pakoura (deep-fried vegetables) and watched the fireworks that were going off all around us. It was so beautiful to walk around there at night with all the candles and lights everywhere! People also seemed to have embraced the Diwali-spirit and offered us sweets as we went along. One type of sweets was particularly interesting. It was basically deep-fried sugar twisted into an orange spiral. It was really weird, greasy and sweet but somehow it worked! We made a last visit at the house of one of the young women we had got to know in Janauri before heading back home. Madi, our Centre Manager, had bought fireworks so whence back home we lit them off our rooftop while having some delicious homemade popcorn. A great ending to a great day!

Siobhan, Sonia, little Jyoti and me in the temple of the migrant camp

Sabina Bäckman - Sweden
Women's Empowerment Project Manager, Paro (Punjab)

Friday, 11 December 2015

The Making of a Journal: p.s. It's Personal

Before I've arrived in India I already knew I wanted to manage the project Girls' Club.

The first time I went to Girls' Club (just as an observer) I encountered this group of energetic teenage girls who mostly kept to themselves or traded secrets or inside jokes amongst each other. It was noticeable how self-aware they were while verbally participating in group activities. It's natural to act this way, specially throughout adolescence, while one's building their self-confidence and self-esteem. However if you add the natural cultural and linguistic barriers you have quite a few obstacles to good communication. Only with lots of time, dedication and patience can you slowly overcome these. I had almost 4 months with them. Ah, and it took me at least 2 months to feel comfortable in India.

One of the main goals of Girls' Club is to create a platform where the girls can freely express themselves, their interests, joys, concerns and fears. It is supposed to be a place to share experiences, learn and understand what it is like to be a girl in India.

I developed the idea of making a personal journal since it can work as such a platform. It can be used freely and the girls can dare express anything they want. Importantly, it gives them the confirmation that they have the right to their privacy and to their secrets. That they should invest in listening to their own voices. Besides, I had never done a (note)book from scratch. I was sighted to learn about it.

In one of my trips to Dharamshala I've notice this printer/stationary shop and went right in. After introducing myself and my intention of learning how to bind and make a notebook, I've agreed with the shop owner I would buy the raw materials for at least 10 notebooks if he agreed to teach me how to make them. That closed the deal.

On my first day I went alone and was received by a very peaceful and relaxed team. I had to wait until they were ready to bind books which took a couple of hours. Throughout that morning they were just performing other tasks. They let me help them in some of them - e.g. organize the pages of some books. Simultaneously I did a lot of waiting and learned about how patient I can be. I also grew respect for the work of these men. It is beautiful and so fulfilling to make something yourself…and not just buy it done by some machine.

The girls were so happy when they learned we would be doing the journals. We divided the making of the 13 journals through 3 weeks. It was an activity difficult to coordinate specially due to the barriers mention above but it was totally worth it. The girls turned out to be really creative and put a lot of effort personalizing their diaries. Despite the raw materials being equal to everyone, in the end all diaries where different from one another.

Me and Hellen learning how to bind journals 


Inês Ramos - Portugal
Women's Empowerment Project Manager, Rait (Himachal Pradesh)

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Air pollution & health in the Paro migrant camp

Last week Rajvir, a five year old boy at the Paro migrant camp, fell sick with a chest infection. After an overnight trip to the government hospital in Hoshiarpur and a course of antibiotics, he’s now much better and well on the way to recovery. However, it highlighted to all of us one particular health risk that the migrants in the camp, together with many other families in India, face daily: indoor air pollution from burning wood and plastic.

Worldwide, over 4 million people die each year from illnesses attributable to household air pollution. India has one of the highest death rates, standing at 400 per million population. Burning wood, which is common across much of India for cooking, releases carbon monoxide and particles from incomplete combustion, which have harmful health effects. At the Paro migrant camp, they also burn soft plastic as tinder, releasing additional harmful chemicals. Although there are outside stoves, most of the cooking in the camp is done inside the tents, where there is little or no ventilation, increasing exposure to toxic chemicals.

As would be expected, most diseases from household air pollution are respiratory illnesses, such as acute pneumonia in children, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. However, burning wood in the home doesn’t only affect the lungs. People exposed to indoor air pollution are also at greater risk of heart problems and stroke later in life.

So what can we do at Educare to minimise the health risk to the migrants of burning fuel? One of the top priorities is education. To this end, we are working to incorporate educational activities about indoor air pollution into the after school programme. A longer term goal is to find an alternative energy source for cooking, and to work with the community to find ways of increasing ventilation within the tents.

There are also health measures that can be taken. Childhood vaccines can protect against pneumonia; better nutrition boosts the immune system to fight off infectious disease; and screening for cancer and tuberculosis catches disease at an early, treatable stage before the condition becomes too serious. Hence through a collaborative approach between health, SWASH and alternative energy, we can reduce the risk of illness from household air pollution in the Paro migrant camp.

Burning wood as fuel is a major cause of household air pollution. Although the migrants at the Paro camp have outdoor stoves, they often cook inside with poor ventilation, which can have serious health consequences.

Siobhan Botwright - UK
Health Coordinator, Paro (Punjab)

Monday, 7 December 2015

Teaching classes in India

Along the solitary roads crossing India’s rural landscape, small communities have sprouted near the roadside over the years. Rait is one such community, a cluster of houses and shops lying on the stretch of weathered asphalt connecting the larger cities across Himachal Pradesh. At the edge of the community is the government school, a collection of cement buildings painted with pink and green pastel colors that have faded with age and dust. EduCARE India recently began an educational program at the school to instruct students on topics related to health, environmental issues, and disaster management. Engaging with the students and faculty has shed some light on a number of the challenges associated with providing education in rural India, linked to both status as foreign educators and to general difficulties with providing education in resource-poor environments.

While the school has classrooms and scientific laboratories available for use, many of the classes are taught outside on the basketball and badminton courts in the center yard of the school’s two and three story buildings. The frequent power outages that affect Rait may be a nuisance indoors as intermittent loss of lights and functional fans can be disruptive. However, classes taught outside have their own difficulties as well. Even in late November, the midday sun can be exceptionally hot on the students’ layered school uniforms. It can be difficult for students to hear the instructors in the open setting, particularly when teachers may be competing with students and teachers in nearby classes to be heard. The teachers at the school typically have the students sit on the ground in long, narrow rows separated by gender while they remain at the front of the rows in a chair. Those sitting furthest from the teachers may not be able to hear much of what is said, and splitting up boys and girls does not necessarily help reduce distractions.

Limitations in available school supplies are also evident at the school. Instructors can be seen relying on a single textbook with no blackboard, projector, or visual aids, while students manage writing in small notebooks resting in their laps; any tables and desks at the school are only available in the indoor classrooms. Though tangible materials are in short supply, potential sources of diversions are not. With no physical separation from other classes and with the attention of teachers focused on sometimes oversized classes, it is often easy for students to hold side conversations with fellow classmates sitting in the same class or wandering around the school grounds during their free period. No class is without distractions, but the outdoor setup of the school nevertheless makes it particularly easy for less-than-interested students to let their minds wander as they watch a nearby game of basketball or gaze at the snow covered peaks of the Himalayas floating in the ethereal haze at the horizon.

The pre-existing challenges of providing an education at the government school are only amplified by the presence of foreign educators. As many of EduCARE’s project managers are not of Indian descent, the visibly different EduCARE staff was a novelty to the curious students, who generally had limited prior interaction with those from other countries. Class discussions often shifted to the nationality and lifestyles of the visitors from the actual content of the course, and students in other classes tended to divert their focus from their own schoolwork to the class of a hundred led by the EduCARE instructors. Language differences were a concern as well: for some students, English-speaking abilities were limited making interactions more difficult. Hindi-speaking EduCARE workers were needed to facilitate more effective communication.

In spite of the challenges, EduCARE staff identified some approaches that were effective in engaging student interest. Discussing how issues related to the students and their own communities tended to get more of the children interested in the conversation. Interacting on a more personal level by dividing the class into smaller groups was effective as well. Although teaching the large classes of students proved demanding, recognizing sources of difficulty and working to mitigate some of the issues helped make the experience a productive one.
Having a class outside in Rait Government School 

Craig Rothenberg - USA
Disaster Management Project Manager, Rait (Himachal Pradesh)

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Reusing Waste: New Ideas of Waste Valorisation

My name is Kévin and I am SWASH Project Manager in Naddi and SWASH Project Coordinator. I started my internship in September in a field that was completely new for me. Even the environment field was something that I didn’t deal with in depth. I had some lessons in high school and in my university but they only taught me a broad vision of it. So I started my internship with little knowledge about environment and I was trying to learn as much as I could to find my way in my project.

The two first months were intense, learning about waste management. Hopefully, I had someone to teach me a lot and to guide me, Elliott, a previous intern who was also SWASH Project Manager in Naddi and the previous SWASH Project Coordinator. After he left, I was completely in charge of the project he was taking care of in Naddi, the solid waste management system provided to the shopkeepers of Naddi.

The first days were very hard to handle since I was alone on the project and had to adapt to what my partner did before. And I also had to think about what I could do in the next weeks/months for the project. The arrival of a new intern, Valerio, brought a new dynamic to my project and inspired me a lot for possible things I could do for my project. He asked to work with me on reusing textile waste and also creating natural colors by reusing different types of organic waste. This was the beginning of a strong partnership.

One of his ideas was to create brown color by using tea waste. I decided to ask one shopkeeper to keep his tea waste in a little recipient. I was skeptic about the shopkeeper doing what we asked for but he did it, which means that he was willing to separate this specific type of waste. The experiment of applying tea waste to white textile (wool) gave a positive result, which means that tea bags can be reused in a large scale. Every shopkeeper can keep tea waste that can be used to give brown color to textile. Valerio experimented with other types of colors by using turmeric, henna, beetroot and red cabbage, although these ones are not necessarily considered waste.

Tea waste applied to wool
Valerio and I also wanted to reuse textile waste since it is also a type of waste that is visible in dumping areas. Before his arrival, I never thought about this type of waste and the previous interns never did either. So it is very interesting to have a new focus and work on how to valorise it. Reusing is not necessarily the best idea in the long-term since you cannot reuse it as many times as you want and you cannot reuse every single part of it. But it is still an efficient solution on the short and mid-term. We decided to find ways of reusing textile waste and had a lot of discussion about it.

At the beginning, we simply asked the tailors of Naddi and the Chenni community households to sort their waste in a box. Apparently, the tailors and their own families are reusing the waste so it is not thrown on the streets. So we didn’t go further with them since they were not generating waste. On the Chenni community, the placement of a big box in the « main square » of the community gave no results after two weeks because the community members didn’t understand that the box was for textile waste. They were using as a simple trash box. So we asked Madhu, a Hindi speaker intern, to come and clarify each household that the box was dedicated to textile waste and not to all types of trash. Finally, after one month, the box was used properly and Valerio collected a lot of fabrics that can now be reused.

Nevertheless, Naddi didn’t bring a lot of opportunities considering textile waste. So Valerio and I decided to stay in Rait for 3 days and see what we can do there. We worked together with Pooja, SWASH Project Manager in Rait centre, and the rest of the team. Apparently, Rait offers more opportunities than Naddi since the textile waste is thrown on the streets and in dumps. We collected waste from one tailor and kept it in the interns’ house. The first stay in Rait was used to essentially observe and assess the needs of the community. After the stay, we promoted textile waste reuse during the Red Cross Fair at Dharamsala and I hope that enlightened our initiative. 

Promotion of textile waste reuse during the Red Cross Fair  
The second stay in Rait brought a big achievement to the initiative of textile waste reuse. After 2 days there, we created samples of pillow covers and bags made only with fabrics. Valerio learnt how to stitch from Pooja and now they can both teach in Naddi and Rait how to make these types of textile works made only with textile waste. The next objective is to help the communities produce pillow covers, bags, etc. and sell them in REstore. It would be also a good opportunity for Rait centre to have a REstore. 

I am happy that many achievements have been done in this project. I would encourage future interns to keep it growing and I hope it would give new ideas to them. Finding ways to valorise waste, by reducing, by reusing or by recycling, is the key to the success of solid waste management projects in EduCARE.  
Samples of pillow covers and bags made with textile waste

Kévin Sundareswaran - France
SWASH Project Coordinator, Naddi (Himachal Pradesh)

Friday, 4 December 2015

Quarterlies behind the scenes

For most of us in EduCARE, Quarterlies is the time for gathering together, meeting new interns, forming strong bonds with some of them and learning as much as we can from each other. But for others, this is just the tip of the iceberg. As a member of the COM team, I had to help the Operations Coordinator to make sure that everything was running smoothly and that we had all the resources needed so everyone else in EduCARE could enjoy these four days in the new center in Harike and make the best out of them.

This was my first Quarterlies and, at the end of the day, I have to say that I enjoyed and I appreciated the challenges that I had to face. The never-ending working hours and meetings while people were relaxing and bounding, the ever-changing agenda, making sure that the breakfast was served on time, even if that meant to wake up early to cut fruits for twenty people… And taking photos! It was so hard for me to change my mindset from participant and listener to the external photographer during the workshops that sometimes I was so focused on what it was being explained that I totally forgot to press the button. I prefer to see all this extra work not as a burden, but as a chance to improve my management and organizational skills, something that I had never done before but that it turns out I like.
The members of COM Team with Isis. Me, Margaret, Hellen, Daniela, Isis and Shannon 

All the effort I put in before and during Quarterlies was rewarded during the workshops where I was able to learn more about the different projects, gain new knowledge about project and organizational management, and push my ideas and convictions to the limit and question them. Sometimes, when we are so concentrated in our projects, we may lose the focus and the reason of why we are here. And Quarterlies are the best way to take a step back, see what we have been working on from another perspective, be proud of it and reconnect with EduCARE values, one of the reasons why we all became part of this organization. After this week we can come back to our centers with new ideas, and a boost of motivation to keep working hard and do our best with the time that is left.

At the end of the week, I took a moment to think about what we all had accomplished during these busy days. And I’m happy that everything went more or less as planned which in India means that time is relative, nothing starts on time and you have to adjust and change the schedule all the time. But we made it, and I hope everybody enjoyed these days. And what made me prouder of this organization that we tend to call our family is that everyone was willing to push EduCARE forward with new ideas to grow stronger and help it thrive in the communities we work in.

Last night at the Golden Temple

Laura Sabater – Spain 
Communications Coordinator, Maiti (Himachal Pradesh) 

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

What has marked me during my internship with EduCARE

Being part of EduCARE weaves some sort of spell – It constantly requires you to grow and change. Unexpectedly, several things have left a lasting impression on me. In no particular order:

1. Cows, dogs, birds, spiders, leeches and slugs

Enough said.

2. Girl’s Club 

While working on the field for a grassroots organisation in particular, it is hard to see progress unfold in front of your eyes… Unless it’s Girls' Club. When I met the young girl’s in early July I knew I wanted to inspire them to dream. I knew I wanted to give them a taste of everything I knew.

On my very first session with the girls, we looked at the map of the world. We picked random destinations and then used Google images to see the different countries. This was rather interesting since most of them had never been anywhere beyond Dharamshala. As the weeks went by we started talking about deep sea diving and outer space travel. As we grew closer, breaking our personal boundaries, we would exchange views on relationships and marriage and the point of it all. Of course there would be a lot of giggles but we were able to comfortably discuss intimacy too. It was not all serious though! We played an endless number of games, we learnt dance routines and had long henna sessions. I could see them grow as individuals almost every week - and that was the most rewarding.

Anamika with the Girls from JDM community of Naddi
I think that you know you are on the forefront of change when you are speaking to a group of girls that are listening intently, you know you are making some sort of a difference when they let you challenge their thoughts and perceptions. And I know they appreciate it most when I am not necessarily imposing my views on them but rather letting them decide for themselves what they would like for their rights.

3. A big, beefy woman, with barely any neck but a beautiful heart.
Living at Indra’s house has been a unique cacophonic experience. Her mother in law coughing her lungs out, her son playing bhangra music on his phone, her grandchild crying, her daughter chasing after the chicken, her neighbours yelling, her dog barking or her TV on maximum volume are only some of the sounds that would play simultaneously.

Me with Indra and her daughter
Will I miss it? It’s too soon to say, but I am thinking no.

4. The Unreserved Compartment
Even though I am Indian, there have been several instances where I felt the challenge of adjusting to Incredible India… But this particular journey did throw me over the edge.

We were under the impression we were going to travel First Class Jaisalmer to Delhi. On reaching the station however, due to the long waiting list, we found out that we would have to experience a 15 hour overnight journey in the general compartment, or otherwise known as the unreserved compartment of the Indian Railway system. We went from a sense of entitlement to a sense of economy within a matter of minutes.

All night, station after station there was a violent scramble on board. I feel the picture below does no justice. Every available centimetre of seating space was occupied - all the way to the metal luggage racks over our heads. The very old, fragile men in the aisle took turns to sit or squat on the floor. Every individual felt the press of at least two other bodies against theirs. Did I mention the stench? There were definitely times we were ruthlessly robbed of our right to breathe some fresh air. But we were already there, sharing with the hapless masses, the full burden of an inescapable Indian experience.

Unreserved compartment in the train Jaisalmer - Delhi

5. Weekend Travel Escapades
From Rajasthan’s extravagant palaces, forts and finely carved temples to the Ganges flowing out from the foothills on its journey to the sea in Uttarakhand - I have had the opportunity to travel North India extensively during the weekends and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

My most favourite travel was to the Sikhs’ holy city of Amritsar. Noisy and congested, but as lively as any other Indian city, this city contains the fabled Golden Temple whose domes soar above the teeming streets. The afternoon sun rays hitting the golden Darbar Sahib made a splendid sight. After having the kadha prasad and taking in the view, we further indulged in paranthas and lassis at the infamous Brother Da Dhaba before we made our way to the Indo–Pakistan frontier at Wagha. As the parade progressed, the roars of pride from both, Indian and Pakistani spectators grew equally loudly and strongly. I don’t think I had ever felt more patriotic.

Me in the Golden Temple

On the Wagha border feeling patriotic

6. Aloo Parantha, my true soul mate

Aloo parantha and I share an emotional intimacy like none other. They reciprocate my love and are ever forgiving for the times that I cheat on them with, you know, dal-chawal or crepes. Whether at Omy’s or at Restore, I will definitely miss an integral part of my Indian diet and a hot cuppa chai as I would enjoy the view of the rocky Dauladhar terrains, towering high above the Kangra Valley.

Eating Paranthas at REstore

7. Tulsi
From the ‘ambika’ jokes to her detailed live narrations, Tulsi’s sense of humour will be deeply missed.

I am so grateful for the experience EduCARE has provided me with and thankful for the beautiful people I have met on the way. Each and every individual, uniquely talented and equally inspiring. There is so much I have learnt from all those around me.

Some of my favourite people looking their best!

They say ‘Everything you ever sense, in touch or taste or sight or even thought, has an effect on you that’s greater than zero … and they change your life forever’… It’s true.

Anamika Choudhury - Kuwait
Women's Empowerment Coordinator, Naddi (Himachal Pradesh)