Thursday, 15 December 2016

My first time in a non-Western country - Experience working with EduCARE India

As I climbed onto my first general bus in Delhi, I looked around anxiously as sweat dripped from every inch of my body and the adrenaline of being in the midst of chaos was the only thing keeping me from collapsing of exhaustion. It had been a twenty-three hour journey from San Francisco to Delhi, and I had just spent another eight hours in a bus station waiting for my bus to Dharamsala, where I was headed for induction. Once on the bus, it was another hot and grueling twelve hour trip pressed up against a metal pole and pushed around by an overflowing sea of people, all shouting and staring at me as if I was an alien. It was a rough first few days, but at least I knew from then on things could only get better. And I was right, for the most part.

This was my first time in a non-Western country, so the culture shock I faced was quite taxing. After you get past the intense heat and smells, constant honking, being bombarded by taxi drivers and being scammed out of money, you begin to notice other idiosyncrasies of the Indian culture, some of which I came to love. The sheer amount of people in one place was overwhelming, but the beautiful bright saris, smiling faces and friendly dispositions made being there worth it.

My initial culture shock never completely wore off during my time in India, especially as I kept experiencing new things that made me angry or upset. Starved dogs ran awry in the streets looking bruised and beaten, and it was a defeating feeling to know I couldn't do anything to help them. Cows, who are considered “holy” in India, trudged around in the street and appeared just as sickly. Piles of burning trash blanketed the ground for miles and filled my lungs with dust; and this was just the beginning.

I came into my internship unsure of what to expect— just like everyone, which I soon found out when I arrived. But adjusting to this new world became much easier as I started to meet all the positive and motivated people around me from all over the world. My two and a half month internship took place in Harike, Punjab and in Rait, Himachal Pradesh, so I was lucky to experience two different locations in India— both rural and poverty stricken, but diverse in their own ways.

In Harike, what surprised me the most was the absence of women outside in the village. At least for the short time I was there, I never once saw a woman walking in the street, which I soon learned was deliberate since most women are expected to never leave the house. When I transferred to the Rait center, this issue was not as prevalent and the village seemed slightly more progressive, but inequalities in the community were evident right outside our intern house. On one side of the road was a decently sized home with a family who owned healthy pets and grew their own vegetables in their backyard; across the path, homes were barely held together by metal, straw or wood with no signs of comfort in sight.

Living in a home-stay, working and interacting with the community is much different than traveling around India and seeing their world from the “outside.” Even through our challenges and difficulties, it was invaluable to experience the true Indian culture and spend time with the locals, especially in rural and impoverished areas: the reality that makes up the majority of India.

The most eye-opening part of my project was engaging with the women in the community and listening to their stories and daily struggles. It changed my perspective on everything, and made the things I complain about in my daily life seem pretty laughable. As well as spending time with the women and getting to learn about the Indian health care system firsthand, the best part of this internship were my peer interns who played such a big role in my life at the center. I learned so much from all of them, and they still serve as my reminders of all the good people in this world. My internship with EduCARE India was foremost a learning experience and is one which I will never regret going through. Although my disappointment at the end was that I did not accomplish what I wanted, I know now that I gained a sense of knowledge I couldn’t have elsewhere, especially back in the states. My time here has also solidified my thoughts about pursuing a job as a travel nurse. For me to be able to provide a ray of light for people surviving in desperate conditions, even for a moment, is what I hope to do someday.

While there were parts of India that I saw as a complete mess, I came to learn that much of it was a kind of organized chaos; one that worked for people, and my initial shock turned into more of a sense of wonderment by the end of my stay. It may be different than the standards I have at home, but that does not always mean it’s wrong— just different. Some of my favorite moments in India were seeing children’s faces beaming with joy and curiosity, and experiencing the sincere kindness of families who would offer us food or chai even if they barely had enough for themselves. Some of the happiest people I met were some of the least materially well-off.

Stepping out of my comfort zone opened my world, and the people I met showed me that life is not about living in luxury. Life is about being happy.


Sarah Cole - USA
Health Project Manager in Rait

Sunday, 13 November 2016

An internship with EduCARE India

It’s quite hard to summarize a travel experience; so how complex it is to make the point about an internship in India. Finding the right words to express such a rich and multifaceted adventure is complicated; it’s hard to talk about it but there is also so much to say.The first time I asked myself what I’ve learned from my experience in India was in a cab, coming back from a fourth or fifth visit at the hospital after an ankle injury. That day, I questioned my experience there because things turned out to be not as I expected them they would be, and I had taken the decision to go back to my country before the end of my internship, for a medical purpose. 

It’s very common to hear warnings and recommendations before traveling, such as how mentally and physically prepared for a cultural shock you have to be. If you travel for a professional purpose, you are often told that you have to be very patient and flexible, as well as open-minded. So after hearing that for a while, you think you’ve got enough and that you detain all the tools needed to succeed your journey, and then it starts. With EduCARE India, you have an Induction; you begin your insertion in your new environment; you get involved with the community; you think about some goals and objectives you want to achieve… You take a step back to analyse the situation and create a project related to the needs of the local population and the outcomes you want to attain… 

And then, you realize how big are certain barriers that keep you from doing your project the way you want to do it. You are destabilized and it’s sometimes hard to apply what you’ve been told: to adapt yourself to every situation. In my case, to be a Project Manager for Women Empowerment in Gajner was a huge opportunity to learn to work on the field and to acquire the skills related to the project management and the social development. It pushed myself to find the tools and the motivation to pursue my project even if the conditions didn’t help, such as the extreme heat, the language barrier and the lack of resources. I thought a few times that it was difficult to work with those conditions, and then other inconvenience happened, and everything became more complicated. In the most difficult moments, the professional pressure pushed myself to continue my work and find some alternative ways to conduct my project, as well as the pressure I myself put on my shoulders. I didn’t want to fail that professional and personal quest. 

At the critical moment I questioned my experience, I realized the outcomes of my internship. I truly understood that you can’t control everything, and failure brings lessons. From there,you learn how to improve yourself. And fortunately, EduCARE India allows you to make some mistakes and encourages you to move forward and think about yourself. This experience has been amazing for me because it brought me a lot on both the professional and personal sides. An internship with this NGO not only gives you the chance to work on the field with a local approach and to immerge into the culture, but also to learn more about yourself. You are not going to change the whole world with your work there and you might be sometimes discouraged and overwhelmed, but you are going to make some steps and participate for a bigger change. And you should do it for yourself; it might totally change your vision, and self-development is important to lead to a better world, in my opinion.

It took me some time to realize how important are the benefits I got from this experience. I was first not able to express them with words; I just had this feeling of emptyness and plenitude, as well as weakness and strength. I was prepared for India and didn’t really have a cultural shock. But things out of my control happened, and I felt more vulnerable than ever, without passport, identification cards, money, and with a cast and crutches. It’s at that moment that I really understood the meaning of being patient and flexible. Having to deal with that many issues while having to work at the same time was hard. But at that moment I also felt thatI was stronger than ever, because I experienced that everything depends on your mindset and that you have the control of your mind. You are the only one who can decide for yourself and your experience thus depends on you. And you can work on your self-development to improve your work.

It’s normal that such a multidimensional experience generates mixed feelings and that some things get out of your control. But it is what makes an experience more enriching and thrilling, and pushes yourself to grow and evolve. So for future interns I would say; you’ll become more independent, stronger and fearless. But at the same time just “go with the flow”, learn to let things go, to take things easy, to be vulnerable, to recognize your fears and weaknesses, to accept help… It doesn’t make you weaker; it helps you to open yourself and gain another perspective. Let down your mental and physical barriers. You will achieve a lot this way, and you might achieve more than you notice, professionally and personally speaking.

Laurence Patenaude - Canada 
Women's Empowerment Project Manager in Gajner

Monday, 31 October 2016

Two Sides

There is always two sides when we are doing an internship for EduCARE India. 
The two sides when you are a project manager or project coordinator, where outside the intern’s house we behave (or we try) like locals. As a woman I cover myself, no smoking or drinking allowed of course, we put our bigger smile in our face and carry on the workshops, meeting or whatever we have to do. 

And then is the other side, our little oasis in the middle of India, our houses, where we can wear crop tops, shorts, treat our fellow male interns as equals and there is (almost never) language barrier.  But even inside the house there are two sides, the professional and the personal one. We live and work together and usually in the same place, some of the centres have an office and can separate those two lives but when that doesn’t happen the two sides usually merge and confront each other. We have to be able to have a serious meeting over the same table we will eat later, play cards or relax. We have to be able to keep focus and active while we work from our beds and houses. We have to be able to challenge our fellow interns and explain our ideas or why we think that theirs are wrong without becoming personal. We have to be able to take critics from the same person we will cook later with. 

Personally I love the chance to work in pyjamas but for some people the ability of separate professional and personal life is not that easy. 

Cool Office in Gajner

We also have the two sides when we travel. When we are out of our villages we are tourists but we already feel ourselves at home in India. You feel like a local, not freaking out anymore by the bumpy buses, lack of privacy, toilets standards in the stations or cheap guest houses, you know what are the prices and you know how to bargain, you know how to deal with trains, buses and any other transport in India but...but still you are not a local, your Hindi is below “tora tora” (little, little) and your face shows you are from the West so you are not treated as a local. Some rickshaw’s driver will want to charge you more, the fruit seller will try to charge you more, the stares remain and no matter how much you cover yourself you feel the attention. Also there are good things to this; Indians are usually extremely nice and helpful and they will try to make your stay and experience in India as best as they can, you will be offered the best food, drinks, blessings and usually having the best treatment as guests.

Enjoying the Punjabi hospitality

And then we have the two sides of any experience, while my experience in EduCARE India has been beyond good and I have learned an endless list of things and skills there is always a darker side in any experience. I have been a really positive person all my life and I was not thinking about being any different in India but sometimes I have been overwhelmed by the situations around me. The delays, the heat, the monsoon, the animals, the bugs, the internet, water and electricity cuts, the few Indian or tourists that tried to take advantage of us in many different senses, the lack of commitment of some interns, the lack of response in certain cases from the community, the wanting of some privacy or some time alone, the small things that bring you comfort and that are impossible to find here... Those things some days and just some days make you see things in darker colours that they actually are (and I could continue but as I said positivity is a must for me).  
But if you focus in the other side like, the extremely and unbelievable beauty of India, the hospitality of its families, the amazing sleeper beds in buses and trains, the peer-to peer learning from other interns and staff of the NGO, the possibility of being your own boss, the smiles of the children, the feeling of the wind while you are in a rickshaw, the happiness when you meet again other interns from other centres, the successful projects, the laughs and nice nights around candles because electricity was not working (but everything is more poetic with a candle right?), the walks to the public taps for getting some water that lead to nice conversation with the neighbours and women, the amazing trips, the things you thought would never see (like me in Pushkar, I saw a cow with a chicken leg in her back!!), all the religions, culture, customs, landscapes present in India that are completely unique, and the list could continue for thousands of words...etc. 

Making friends around India

I have learnt to not be selfish here, to be conscious with what I advocate for and what I do, to behave ethically and to take in account the environment. I learnt what is to be a woman in a country where being a woman is a dangerous thing and I met some very strong women that are making the change in this country happen. I learnt how to deal with a different range of people, I met compulsive complainers here seeing everything as problems and not challenges but I also met fighters who will do their best and work hard to achieve what they want to. I learnt how to put away my ego and listen to the criticism of others about my work and the most important to learnt from it! 

As Communications Coordinator I have been working in front of my computer or having meetings with other fellow interns mostly of the time but I also tried to help in some projects of the centres so I could witness the grass-root action and be a part of it. I hope that communications is consider with the importance that it has in any organization and that is a respected field from now on in EduCARE India. When you don’t communicate, when you don’t participate and contribute in an organization you are taking a big step towards failure. 

For working in EduCARE India, we have to leave behind our preconceptions, our western minds are so conditioned that we forget that our way of living is not the only one and for sure not the best in many aspects. Ethnocentrism is not allowed if you come here. Open your mind, go with the flow, make an effort in understanding what and why are certain things happening around you. It is hard to leave behind the pre-conception that “the way we do it” is more acceptable because this way is only valid where we come from. Cultural sensitivity has to be present and patronizing the communities around you is not an option neither, here life has been different for thousands of years and while we are working towards the global needs through local action it is important to understand that the definition we have in our mind of some words it not the same and can`t be the same in India. 

All this time in India has been a gift, it helped me grow and change to a better myself. I could never forget all the moments I lived during this 7 months and I am really curious in seeing what EduCARE India is bringing on during the next months and years. I am very thankful for my internship with EduCARE India, all the learning that it brought to me and discover of a new world and a new way of seeing myself within that world.

I already miss my time there and all the people and places I got to know. I am already looking forward for my next time in India and who knows, maybe my next time with EduCARE India! 

Breathtaking landscape in Ladakh 

Mercedes Milán - Spain 
Communications Coordinator 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Working on Disaster Management in Naddi

Considering all the natural risks the communities we work with face (earthquakes – the fault line of the Dharamsala region passing through Naddi and McLeod Ganj, floods, landslides…), it is coherent for an organization likeEduCAREto have a Disaster Management & Emergency Planning Project to reduce the vulnerability of the population to such hazards.
To achieve this goal, my project consists in providing the communities with cognitive and technical tools in order to lower the effects of hazards.

More exactly, I am running workshops to raise awareness about disasters among the youngest through the school and the Girls Club. I am also setting up a training session for the adults in partnership with a Training and Capacity building coordinator from the United Nations Development Programme, also consultant to theDistrict Disaster Management Authority, for them to receive first-hand information about hazards and get advice on mitigation strategies they can easily implement.

The other side of the project is to build a community action plan so people can respond appropriately and efficiently in case of the occurrence of a disaster. 
This is probably one of the most challenging aspects of my project since it implies for us to be the link between the authorities in charge of the disaster management and the communities. Indeed, if the programme theoretically exists at the rural level, although the population is not aware of it, it is far from being functional. Furthermore, it has proven difficult to understand how the Indian administration operates and especiallyto identify the people in charge.The ultimate goal would be to have a village level incident response team that would be able to react automatically.

Also the monsoon doesn’t make our lives easier! But at the end of the day, the challenging environment we live in makes the job even more interesting!

Sam is ready for brave the elements

Aude Guiraud
Disaster Management & Emergency Planning Project Manager

Monday, 17 October 2016

Work for living and enjoying life

Here we are, close to the end of this internship. It is hard to describe in words what it means to leave a place that has given me so much and has made more clear who I am and where I want to go. Many people intentionally come to India to discover their inner self in the land of diversity and contrasts. They train through yoga and meditation in order to find their path in life. Me, I came to India primarily for my CV and a genuine work interest. It turns out, it did not solely made me grow professionally, but personally also and I would say most importantly. 

I must admit the first weeks in this foreign place had not been easy. Leaving behind familiar faces and places for the unknown and not knowing how long you will be away kept me awake at night. The pressure of a remunerated job, a life stability and eventually the generation of a family are social expectations that all societies put on us. And I am not getting any younger through the years flying by…The social pressure trap had caught me unexpectedly! 

NGO work, particularly at these levels and settings, are not regarded as serious positions most of the time. Many people I know would tell me ‘You have satisfied a desire, you visited an exotic country, worked/volunteered a little, but now it is time to get back on track and work seriously’. It is indeed the truth that the developmental sector has much to offer, but in term of salary lags still behind other fields. However, and personally in my case, it was not at all what people say or perceive of it.

In these past 6/7 months I have worked more than 8 hours per day on average, I have undertaken many different roles, learnt a lot (more that I could possible expect and wish for) and stressed out much (as in all jobs, regardless of the field). I still vividly remember the major power crisis of Gajner, one day before the Coordinator Retreat, when most of the computers fried due to a power surge. Or the rushes at 7 in the morning to welcome the new interns, in the rain and still wearing a pijama. I have put 100% of my effort and at times more in the job and I do not see it as less valuable of any other position.

In fact, the minimal supervision from the beginning and the flexibility of working in a diverse setting where rules are alien to you, could be considered a hurdle as much challenging as any possible corporate responsibility.

Perhaps in this typology of work we do not see immediate results. Perhaps the systems we put in place are to be altered constantly as they are to be adapted to ever-shifting conditions. Perhaps the failures and setbacks are more often than successes. However, this does not diminish the importance of the job and the dedication that each person, be a volunteer, intern or employee put into place.

Let us do what we like to do and enjoy life and work in the meantime. Nowadays we are totally losing sight of it. WE MUST WORK FOR LIVING AND NOT LIVING FOR WORK!

EduCARE India, as well as India, has gifted me with an invaluable opportunity that will always remain in my heart (and my CV). Who knows what the future holds? I will not say ‘Goodbye’, better a ‘PhirMilenge’!

Martina Fraternali - Italy 
Education, Training and Development Coordinator

Thursday, 13 October 2016

India and its transportation

Indian transport has a reputation for being a bit wild and having traveled around the country before, I was ready for anything. My weekend vacations have involved eventful travels, sometimes frustrating, sometimes amusing and sometimes downright scary! So I’m going to summarize some of the craziest things that have happened to me so far while using public transport in India…..

One of the first weekend trips that I took was to Amritsar to meet a friend from university. I took an overnight bus and slept in a small compartment attached to the wall, much like a display cabinet, it even had a sliding glass door. In the middle of the night I was woken up by angry shouts. Looking out the window I could see a crowd of furious men screaming at the bus driver Things escalated quickly and before the long they were throwing bricks at the driver who quickly retreated into the bus. They then started pelting the bus with stones and bricks, one of which smashed a window! I was pretty confused as to what was going on but after a conversation with another passenger I learned that there had been an accident and that the bus had hit someone. I’m still not sure of the details, I only hope that it was a vehicle rather than a pedestrian and that no-one was badly injured. It just made me sad to think about the impunity in India and the fact that a bus could have knocked someone over and just driven away from the scene. 

On a slightly lighter note, my journey back from induction, while long and boring, was broken up by a few amusing incidents. Firstly, the sheer ridiculousness, of a bus having to swerve to the opposite side of the road to make way for two cows having sex made me laugh. Cows can really get away with anything here. Secondly, after the bus driver took a wrong turning he proceeded to drive full pelt down the motorway in the direction of oncoming traffic! And no one in the bus seemed at all fazed! 

Finally, what should have been a perfectly ride home from the neighboring town Suratgarh turned into something entirely different. This was definitely one of the more frustrating rides that we took. After an afternoon shopping for groceries and materials for our projects we decided to try and catch a bus rather than a rickshaw home as the bus is so much cheaper. A bus was beginning to leave the station and I shouted to the ticket man to ask him if it was going to Rangmahal, which he confirmed, so we ran to the departing bus and jumped on just as it was taking off. The problem is there are two Rangmahals close to Suratgarh….  It seemed like the bus was taking a strange route out of the town so I asked the passengers if we were going to Rangmahal-Jogi (our Rangmahal) or Rangmahal and everyone confirmed that we were going to the right place. However, we took off in the wrong direction! Me and Mae were getting really confused by this point and a bit nervous as we continued down the motorway, getting further and further away from our village! So I kept shouting “RANGMAHAL JOGI??” and everyone kept responding “YES!” So I told myself that maybe they were just taking a strange route. They weren’t. Finally, we got kicked off the bus at  the other Rangmahal. Even at this point people were telling us that we were at the right place, even though it clearly wasn’t!!!  A few people who finally understood what we were talking about told us that we would have to catch a ride back to Suratgarh and get the correct bus home from there. By this time we were so fed up that we didn’t bother trying to save any more money and agreed on a rickshaw. ;)

So thanks Indian transport! You’ve made the travels to my destinations become a very noteworthy part of my vacations!

Louise King - UK
Project Manager in RangMahal 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Straight from my heart

Before I could realize, I was done with my first year of college. It seemed the year went very fast. Travelling, studying, socializing, that’s all did.I got a nice two months break after my first year. Many of my friends were making plans, some planning to intern. I found the idea meaningless, as just after completion of first year, there is hardly anything learned to apply! I wanted to do something good before the start of my second year. Something which will make me satisfied, I didn’t wanted my summer break to go waste.

I decided to volunteer for an NGO. As I belong to Ladakh, so I wanted to intern there. I had no ideas of nearby NGO’s. I started researching and looking over the internet. Then I contacted EduCare. I called them initially to know whether they were looking for interns. Surprisingly, I got positive response and was selected as an intern for the project to be held in Ladakh. We started exploring the villages from 21st of June, 2016. We ended up visiting seven different villages and finally decided CHANGA as the best location for the center.

On the first day, I meet with Yangkyi who was an intern as well. We went to Leh to discuss our plans for our project. We bought a map of Ladakh and spotted few villages to explore and we also made a schedule to be followed in the next following days.

Both of us decided to meet at ChoglamsarZampa and it was difficult to get transportation because there are no government buses which goes to these villages. This was the situation which was bit problematic throughout our journey.  Our first destination was Thiksay which is quite big and they also have a big monastery. We further moved on to Rambirpur which is 10 to 15 minutes away from Thiksay by taxi. In the following days we explored Rambirpur, Nang, Stakna, Kharu and Changa.

We ended our research of finding the village for the center on 1st July, 2016. While exploring all the villages, we felt that the villages were self sufficient because almost all the families grew their own vegetables and crops. On top of that they had AmaTsokspa which is a Women Association operating in most Ladakhi Communities. These associations were doing there small business of micro finance project to earn extra income.

When we went to these villages, we met Lambadar which is like head of the village and members of AmaTsokspa. But in Changa they don’t have any Women Association because few years ago they had a disagreement among themselves due to funds which were received from outside. So the group was dissolved. Another thing we felt why Changa was a good location because of its proximity to Kharu Market and in that way we thought that we could work on the Waste Management issues in Kharu. We realized that Kharu Market was a good location but we were conflicted because the accommodation was expensive but later when we explored Changa because it was near to Kharu Market, we learnt that it is equally a good location because of the reasons mentioned earlier.

We really thought that we could do a lot in the village by forming a small Women Association which involves women in micro finance project so that women in the family is dependent.

Everyone here collects the waste and dump it or burn it. So this is one of the areas which needs a lot of attention because we felt that the villagers were not conscious about the environment destruction that is causing. In terms of Health facilities this village only has a small medical centre which is runned by the nurses and the nearest hospital is in Thiksay which is 15 kilometres away from the village and if something gets severe they go to SNM Hospital in Leh which is 35 kilometres away.

So as an organization we were not sure what we could do in terms of health facilities or medical facilities but this was the issue that needed a lot of attention. Waste Management is an issue all over Ladakh which needs to be looked after. But hopefully we could begin from Changa and Kharu Market and reach further.

I believe that community involvement is not an option but a necessity. Every one generates waste. That’s understandable. But we can change the amount, the kind and the fate of the waste that you generate by taking.  After exploring the villages, I met Mr. B.S Bhullar and all the other interns. We had a small meeting where Mr. B told us about the organization, how it works and about our tasks.

Our main agenda was Waste Management where we could aware people and the community about the harmful effects which it causes and how it degrades the environment. We also worked upon Women Empowerment which is a burning issue all over the world. We wanted to create an environment for women where they can make decisions of their own for their personal benefits as well as for the society.

We found a small happy family in the village where we decided to stay. We also wanted to promote home stays in the village from which the women could earn and not be dependent on others. They were five members in the family which includes father who is a carpenter and had a shop in Kharu Market, mother who was working sometimes in the bank and looks after farming and cattles, the older son who is studying in 6th grade in LamdonSchool at Sakti, the younger son who was a monk in Hemis Monastery and the youngest daughter who goes to play school in Changa. We tried our best to interact with the family so that we could understand them better and so that they could be comfortable with us.

At first we told the family about our organization and our agenda. What we want to do for the betterment of village. Then we started exploring and mapping the village so that we could deeply understand everybody’sproblem. There was a Lambardar which is like the head of the village or the panchayat who looks after the village and takes all the decisions. But there was no AmaTskospai or Women Association, unlike other villages.

So we worked on this idea of making a Women Association where all the interested women could work together for a common goal. The main purpose of forming this group was that the women become self-sufficient, independent and save some money. We started planning a small business for them like knitting socks, caps, gloves by providing them the material and paying them the labour charge by selling it outside. So we were gathering all the interested women for this.

While exploring the village, when we asked the villagers about their savings. Most of them said that they don’t save and their daughters don’t have bank accounts which was quite surprising for me. So we focused on this issue and told every possible family in the village about the scheme and bank accounts. We told them that they should start saving money which would help them in a long run for their health issues and in emergencies. We also told them that they should also open bank accounts for their daughters so that it could help them in their education and marriage.

About the Waste Management we told them about how to manage waste from its inception to its final disposal. We told them not to burn the wastes but collect them, segregate the waste and dump it. We taught them to keep their environment clean for the goodness of their health.

I was left with with few days since my college was going to open. So during those two three days we mapped the village and did a survey of the village. We came to know about their occupation, problems, hobbies, passion, aspirations, etc. We covered almost all the half of the village including the school and the medical centre.

My internship got over on 20th July, 2016. I wished I could stay there for some more time so that I could be a part of their happiness. My volunteering at EduCare taught me many things like.

To see person smile and to know you contribute something for that smile gives ultimate joy and internal satisfaction. Not everything is done to get returns, social work and charity has a value and many other things. I cherish each and every moment spent with the villagers. My personal advice to each and friend of mine is to experience the joy of giving.

Straight from my heart 

Kunzang Angmo - India
Project Manager in Changa Centre 

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Incredible India

Educare was not my first experience in India. I had the chance to spend 7 wonderful months in this country before, and I have been so marked by this culture and these people that I started looking for a way to be back as soon as possible even before leaving. One of my friends, who was already a fellow for Educare told me that the organization was always looking for new volunteers, and especially it was looking for someone to be in charge of PR and Marketing.

When I get the approval for the position, it was such a relief. I knew that I was leaving India being sure to come back and even if the things were more complicated to get my visa and it took a long time, noting could stopped me.

So I arrived in Naddi and fully enjoyed my stay with the Com Team. Spending my weeks working for the organization and my weekends enjoying my favorite place in India. Thanks to the NGO, I got the opportunity to experience a total freedom in my work, which is more than rare for a student. It makes me want to give my best to achieve the objectives in collaboration with HR, other team members or even alone.
But working in India does not only have positive aspects. This country definitely teaches to have patience and resignation. Oneself has to admit that the things can’t always be controlled and to let everything go sometimes. There is always obstacles, delays that sometimes pop up when working on a project, and oneself just has to deal with it. It improves your ability to face any issue, your sense of humor and teaches you to trust in a better tomorrow.
But it’s so worth it … I never found a country in the world where I feel at home like this one. Never met people that makes me feel better than these ones. Never been afraid of living in a place as much as this one. And I promised myself to do what it takes to come back as I did since I’m here …

Sometimes you just can’t explain why, but you know that something’s made for you. And that’s what happened pretty fast when I reached these mountains. There’s something mystical in the atmosphere that instantly calms you down and makes you feel like you belong to this place. Something that makes you feel like a better version of you, a soother one. And even if people keep in mind that India is a patriarchal nation, I never felt as free to be myself than here. It’s not about wearing short skirts or loose t-shirts, it’s about meeting people who look through your eyes to touch your soul and respect your heart. There is a strong belief here that what truly matters is to have a beautiful heart and soul. And for our own good, we should try to act more often like this in Europe.
Anyway, India was like a “lifesaver” for me. A place where I can truly feel myself, no matter if I am alone or surrounded by people, a little peace in a large world in war. I spent almost one year here, and I know I am changed forever. Maybe I will find another place where I feel this good while traveling. But I know that I’ll need to come back here. I have the opportunity to go directly to India after my studies and I honestly can’t think to another plan. Let’s see where the future leads me and what will be the next steps of my life…

Namaste India.

Juliette Dabe - France
PR and Marketing Coordinator

Sunday, 2 October 2016

My time in Punjab

Prior to my arrival in Delhi, I hadn’t done too much reading about what it was life to spend a significant amount of time anywhere in India, especially Punjab. I had gone over EduCare’s pre-arrival instructions and manuals, but wanted to surprise myself in terms of what the experience would be like, and what I would ultimately receive from the time I would spend here. Now, as my internship is coming to an end here in Harike, I can look back on the experience and reflect on what I accomplished, what I was unable to accomplish, and ultimately how I view the experience as a whole. 

As I sit here typing, I am realizing that it is difficult to put an experience like this into words because living here is all about the smells, sights, and interactions with locals, travelers, and animals; all of which have been so distinctly different from anything I had experienced before. Every intern comes to EduCare with different expectations and ultimately is greeted by a different experience as a result, but I do believe that the internship is what you make of it. For me, the experience became all about the local Harike community members with whom the team engaged on a daily basis for their projects, Hindi lessons at the government school, etc. Finding ways to reciprocate the kindness that was shown to us in the face of strong language barriers and cultural differences was difficult, yet the openness and willingness to allow us into their daily lives and routines was heart-warming as well as astounding. 

I was fortunate enough to work with a team of thoughtful, intelligent, and hard-working individuals at the Harike center, who adopted a more team-centered approach to the projects instead of the traditional division of roles based on personal goals, which allowed for the successful facilitation of projects such as a the reusable scrap-fabric bags project, which combined aspects of microfinance, SWASH, and women’s empowerment. 

For me, this project became the center of my attention while at the center, and allowed SWASH, microfinance, and women’s empowerment interns to meet and interact with a number of families in the community in a combined fashion that helped cement working and trusting relationships between the center and the community in ways I had not thought possible during my first month in Harike. That is not to say that the project did not face adversity, as the comings and goings of interns, coupled with the difficulties involving communication that often ended in smiles, shoulder shrugs, and awkward laughter undoubtedly tested our team. What living in Harike allowed me to do was take me out of my comfort zone and force me to act on tasks I might not have previously acted upon had I stayed in the states, such as waking up in the morning and walking to a local family’s house, not knowing if they actually wanted me within the presence of their home, while understanding that I would be unable to speak with them about such an issue as my Punjabi language capabilities were nonexistent. 

These barriers pushed me to become a problem-solver, organizing Hindi lessons with the Hindi teacher at the public school in order to help the team potentially communicate at a basic level, and thereby strengthening ties with the local schools where the team would present workshops on various topics, including waste management and domestic violence. 

10 days from leaving India and I can now communicate semi-effectively with community members in Hindi (although many only speak Punjabi), something I never would have expected to be able to do before arriving in this country. What I will miss most, in addition to all the Paneers and fried street food of course, will not only be individuals, both in the organization and in the community, but the daily lessons I received on cultures that at first seemed so foreign to me, but now have become reminders of how fortunate I have been to experience life in the state of Punjab. 

Moreover, what the experience has also given me is the knowledge that issues such as widespread trash littering the streets and waterways, and domestic violence in the home may be more apparent in this country, but that does not mean they do not exist in the places I come from. In this regard it falls on me to take responsibility for my waste management and my actions towards other human beings and the natural environment, because although my country may be better at disguising the presence of these problems, they ultimately still exist. Working in India has simply reminded me of this, and my responsibilities as a global citizen of this planet, not just one or two countries. 

So for this experience, I am thankful.

Justin Cole - USA 
                                                                                         Microfinance Project Manager in Harike 

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

My stay in India

My name is Jeanne, I am 19 years old and I study Agriculture in an engineering school in France. I arrived in India the 1st of June after the longest flight ever. I met Gautier at the airport in Delhi, he is also French and in Harike as the SWASH manager. I am on the organic farming project.

My first impression after my first step in India was: the heat. The exit of the airport was an oven and it was only the beginning of our travel, we had to go to our hotel with all our luggage, what a good start! We were assaulted by the taxi drivers, the auto rickshaw drivers, the hotel managers and many other people that wanted to sell us something. After an hour or an hour and a half of metro, walk and getting lost many times we finally reached our hotel. There another nightmare was starting, understanding the formalities of the hotel and trying to not be over charged, even if both Gautier and I were not really fluent in English. We can say that it was an interesting exchange!

Despite all that I began to like Delhi, all the different smells, the trash, there you can smell  incense and at the same time the smell of the street food. Here and there, there are street dogs, cows, squirrels, pigeons or even a zebu pulling a cart. But the most significant maybe, are the people. So many people who are doing so many different things, food street vendor everywhere (momos freely, corn, samosas, ice-cream, juice...), barber, street ironing service, ear cleaner, trash picker, beggar child, woman, old person no one is spared to this condition, and this day and night. One other thing that you have to get used to as a foreigner is people staring at you as if you had a problem on your face! As well as sometimes people just do a little walk with you to ask you where do you come from? What are you doing in India? Did you see the Taj ? Or you have to go there it is beautiful and then go back among the crowd. For me that is Delhi and I love it.

Playing cards in the train!
The next days, I discovered Harike, a “village”! 8ooo inhabitants, many shops, dhabas, chemists, tailors, boat makers, 4 different schools, at least 4 Sikh temples, one Hindu temple, one post office (never open), many fruits and vegetables stalls and even more. I was very surprised to see that. It was not really what I had imagined. I had the same impression when I discovered the intern’s house, I was expecting more privacy, more comfort, more everything but I finally like this place. After a week or two you feel at home and find your own way to live here. Then it was time to meet the communities and our neighbors, the first contact was strange and I didn’t feel comfortable to be welcomed like we were. But now it has become normal to have chai or cold coffee everywhere, even at the fixed price store they give you a soda. The Punjabis are very friendly and welcoming when you take a step toward them to try to discover them. I am learning a lot about the religion, the way of living, their point of view about their country, about ours (Punjabi are completely crazy about Canada and Australia!), the food, the history of the country and many other things.

Before I left for India every one told me, “You will come back changed!” I don’t know if it is true but the only thing that I know is that I will come back with a nose full of smells, eyes full of colors, ears full of horns and Punjabi music and finally a head full of memories. 

Jeanne Tardieau - France
Organic Farming Project Manager in Harike

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Six months with EduCARE India

Living and working in India for six months did a lot for me. I learned to appreciate the things that seems so common, like access to electricity and clean water. I met the most amazing and inspiring people, and was overwhelmed by the Indian hospitality and generosity. India also turned me into this crazy stealing-toilet-paper-from-hotels-woman, so I would not have to blow my nose again with a newspaper in a country where tissues are scarce. It often pushed me to my limits, with a hole in the ground as a toilet, or people looking over the walls when you already have limited private space. India drove me nuts sometimes, but mostly gave me memories that will last a lifetime. 

I was part of the team that started up the new centre in Rangmahal. Since the villagers had not seen any foreigners in sixty years, I often felt like I was living in a zoo. More often than not at least twenty people would watch me eat, dance, even work. But as they got more used to us, this curiosity turned into a genuine interest in us as persons. Over time, people addressed me as sister or daughter instead of foreigner. Even though the communication was like those of cavemen, I could feel I was building strong relationships with people in the community. 

Slowly we started setting up projects. I saw the girls growing more confident and developing their personalities. Also they learned to appreciate each other more, and even new friendships developed amongst them. This was a beautiful thing to experience. We were also able to spread more awareness about topics like menstruation, stereotypes and domestic violence via workshops at the school. Topics that were taboos at first, now became subjects that were openly discussed amongst the students.

Despite these amazing experiences, there are also still some things I question about the organization. The organization is very dynamic, with interns coming and going every few months. For me it is hard to understand how a organization as dynamic as this one can create a sustainable change. I think the organization would be more effective with a solid team of employees, supported by a team of interns that bring new innovative ideas. Furthermore, I believe it would benefit the organization to have more Hindi speakers. The language barrier makes it often hard to give your projects a push, and you have to work around this. However, this is not possible for everything, which leaves you being stuck at a certain level.

Working for EduCARE was a great personal experience. I feel that in this half year, I gained five years of life experience. I got the opportunity to develop deep relationships with Indian families and experience the diversity of India by travelling to different districts. I definitely fell in love with this amazing, complex country and will have to kick off from all the chai. 

Lovely India, thank you for everything!

Iris Workum - The Netherlands
                                   Women's Empowerment Project Manager and Coordinatorin RangMahal

Sunday, 18 September 2016

What did I learn in India?

As Marcel Proust said:

«Le véritable voyage de découverte ne consiste pas à chercher de nouveaux paysages, mais à avoir de nouveaux yeux» // «The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes» 

- My look upon the world has changed, regarding : 

How I perceive the inequalities (poor/rich differences, people living in the street, gender inequalities especially regarding girls that are forbidden to pursue their education after a certain age, arranged mariage…)

How I perceive India, and the culture : I didn’t have that many expectations, I maybe was
beautifying the Indian culture and that issues that they had…

I realised the importance of education, regarding women's empowerment and the destiny of these women.

- My look upon myself has changed :

I’ve realized, (even though I was kind of aware of it) that I would like to be a teacher and that education is something really important to succeed in life and to gain more self confidence, self esteem and self accomplishment.

Talking about the people I have met, how they have changed my perceptio and my way to look at things.

For having lived in India for almost three months now, I can assert that my view on wealth and gender inequalities that are deeply rooted into the Indian culture have changed. Inequalities, especially regarding inequalities of income and opportunity, have always been topics that have upset me. I knew before coming to India that it would be hard for me to see certain things as children pulling on my clothes and begging for money and disabled people sitting on the street. And, indeed, on the first weeks, it was. I was aware of the caste system as well and I felt really bad when thinking about it.

I also knew that coming to India I will witness  gender-based and unequal rules, such as our way of dressing. I was aware that I would work with some Indian girls that start skipping school after primary or middle school in order to do household chores, that I would meet married women, young and old, who have not chosen their husband and I felt quite challenged about it.

Then I came to Harike. I have met the women and children at the temple community  with whom we are working with and the girls from the migrant community. I have encountered a lot of people in the streets, on public transport, in shops, at school, at the temple, at their homes, as well as interns from India and abroad with whom I had great conversations. Observing and witnessing these people’s lives and talking with them gives a different approach to how I consider inequalities, which is a different perception than when I was watching dramatic documentaries or reading sad testimonies regarding « these poor and unlucky Indian people ».

The first time I stepped in the migrant community, I felt pretty shocked and upset by all these houses made out of sheets of metal, straw, and wood. The children, beaming with joy, quickly ran to me, and the girls smiled so much as they welcomed me, that I progressively forgot how poor they are compared to how rich their hearts are.  In my eyes, they progressively have become strong and deserving girls that aspire to be teachers or beauty parlour women that are eager to learn and get over gender inequalities.

Over the Girls Clubs meetings, I got to know the girls better along with their aspirations and goals in life, especially concerning Jyoty and Kyran, the two most engaged girls and sisters.

In the temple community, I am working with Neetu, 14, who is attending the Girls Club and Babu, 20, who is a woman engaged with us to make products and attend English lessons. Although she is very young, Neetu is not allowed by her family to go to school. She stays at home to do household chores. Babu, one year younger than me, has a baby and can barely read or write. However, they are both really eager to learn and be engaged with us. Even though I feel lucky to go to university and to be able to earn my own money afterwards, I do not feel I am anybody to judge their lives. They are surrounded by their families and seem to be happy in this way. They will definitely continue to be engageg in English classes and Girls Club though, because education is the key that leads to self-accomplishment and self-esteem and that could empower them.  bMy previous angry and rebellious feeling toward these unfair situations is in a way fading away as I accept the reality as it is.

Furthermore, sharing opinions, ideas, and facts, about the Indian culture and mindset with some Indian people, has progressively changed the way I consider inequalities in India.

My pitiful view progressively broke down and became a realistic opinion. No one is totally a victim, no one is completly guilty, and everyone is just trying to survive and to be happy. As an EduCARE intern, I can try to bring these people some new perspectives, and attempt to rebalance these inequalities. That is the least I can do.

Delphine Lavernhe - France
ASP and Girls Club Project Manager in Harike