Saturday, 5 March 2016

Insanely incredible (and incredibly insane) India

Where do I start to describe my experience in India? The food?The colours and smells? Or perhaps countless number of cows roaming the streets? One thing is for sure, my time in India has been anything but dull!

During the EduCare Induction in Naddi, also referred to as “India light”, I got my first taste of this remarkable country. Beautifully located in the Himalayas, it was a great place to get to know India and meet all the other interns. I definitely experienced a bit of a culture shock in the beginning. Living with an Indian family in a mountain village with the dinner cooked over an open fire was amazing, but not something I had ever experienced before. However, as I was about to find out, I hadn’t seen nothing yet! A few days later I began my journey south to the state of Punjab. It was only a couple of hours away, yet the more south we got, Hinduism and Buddhism turned into Sikhism, mountains to green fields and peaceful Om-humming into vibrant Punjabi pop. I was sent to the centre of Paro, a tiny community with approximately ten shops selling more or less the same things (mostly Punjabi sweets) and with a bushorn so loud it could wake up the deaths. In this community, we worked primarily with a couple of migrant families living in a camp just outside the centre. It was incredible to get to know these people and their way of living. However, with the cultural differences, major language barriers and as most of the girls could not read and write, it was also immensely challenging. I came to learn though that the universal language of gestures and laugh will take you a long way (along with hours of badminton playing…).

Girls Club
One of the hardest parts of the internship was witnessing the poverty the migrants and so many other people live in. I often felt somewhat helpless thinking about all the issues I would like to address in the community and in India as a whole. While I was not at all expecting myself to perform miracles, it also hit me how many people and animals suffer in this country and how many of them I am not able to help. With many of the girls we worked with being engaged already as well, some of them underage, it felt as if their futures were already sealed. When these thoughts hit me, I always thought of what the Women’s Empowerment Project Coordinator told me before I started my project. She said that while there are some aspects of these girls’ lives that you cannot change, you can always inspire them to dream. I have been carrying this last part with me throughout my internship and it has given me motivation at times when I felt like I was just wasting my and the girls’ time. 

The 2-week Christmas break provided an opportunity to get our minds off the projects for a while. Me and a number of other interns travelled south to Mumbai, Goa and Hampi. It was great to be able to travel and see another side of India, and also to get away from the freezing Punjabi winter! As the Paro centre closed after Christmas due to lack of manpower, I joined the other Punjab team and their vicious buffalos (they really hated us) in Harike; a place characterised by its wetlands, crazy traffic but most of all its awesome EduCare team! Here I helped starting two new Girls’ Club projects in different communities. It was truly great getting to know the girls. I’m sad that I won’t be able to stay and witness their progresses. I am confident however that we have managed to plant a seed for empowerment that has the potential to tangibly improve the lives of the women and girls in the area. 

Girls Club in Harike

So, to sum up, what was acha and what was achanahi?

First and foremost the girls from Girls’ Club! Their smiling faces and constant “didi”-callings made my day every time we went to see them. I will definitely miss my funny, crazy but above all else highly competent team members who provided great support (and entertainment!) throughout my internship. I will also miss the slightly awkward (due to language barriers) chai-gatherings with local families, Indian head-noddings (so contagious!),the delicious Punjabi sweets and the cheesy Indian soap operas. In a way I will also miss the unpredictability. Making plans in India was virtually impossible, and even if you did, you would very likely be forced to change them. Coming from a country where being 5 minutes late is almost a crime, this concept of elastic time was sort of refreshing.

Community of Harike
What I won’t miss as much is the crowdedness and constant stares. Random people asking for pictures of me is also something I can definitely live without, just like the piles of cow poo on the streets, the deafening noises of bus horns,power cuts and sneaky kitchen mice. 

And will I come back? As an intern once stated, you can spend five years travelling around in India and still only experience a fraction of what this country has to offer. So yes, I will be back, a couple of years older and a million experiences wiser! 

Sabina B├Ąckman
Women’s Empowerment Project Manager in Harike

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