Saturday, 25 June 2016

8 things I’ve learnt during my EduCARE Internship

1. How to live sustainably 

Living in an Indian village and trying to set an example for the village, I discovered how unsustainably I – someone who claims to care about the environment and climate change – had been living. Since being here I’ve learnt to go without toilet paper, blow my nose with my hands and a bit of water, conserve and re-use water, cut down plastic bags and unnecessary waste and to switch my light off when it’s not in use (something my dad will be cheering about).

2. How to become a cooking extraordinaire 

I still live at home so I have come to rely on heavily on my mum’s cooking. Even when I tried to cook it would end up tasting horrible, but living in a house full of piggy’s for four months I’ve been forced to learn not only to cook but how to get inventive with what we have available. Now I can cook everything from cauliflower and bean tacos, pasta with cashew nut cheese, chapatti pizza and of course the standard mixed vegetables and rice.

Best cauliflower bean tacos of all Harike

3. How to look at the bigger picture 

When you work with a grassroots level NGO like EduCARE you learn to think about the bigger picture and how your actions now will affect and help the organisation in the long term. When I first started I was concerned mostly with my own project and thinking about the “HARIKE VIKAS CENTRE” was secondary. After four months here and many meetings I’ve come to realise they are one and the same. When implementing your project you have to always ask the question “How will this help us develop a sustainable VIKAS centre in the future? What will we get out of this interaction/project?” 

4. How to reach new levels of patience I didn’t realise were possible 

I am someone who starts furiously pacing when my bus to uni is two minutes late, writing an angry complaint email to Sydney buses in my head, when the bus arrives. So for me, India was tough. I’ve had to get used to the girls in my Girls’ Club taking 45 minutes to get ready every week despite us being there at the same time every week. I’ve had to sit on a delayed train for over 17 hours in 40-degree heat while my chances of seeing the Taj Mahal slipped through my fingers. I’ve had to deal with no sim card or internet for a week as I began a descent into madness. Now I know patience is a virtue that I should practice more often. 

5. How to sleep on public transport 

I’ve learnt how to sleep without a pillow on a moving train. I’ve learnt how to sleep on a public bus with plastic seats that don’t move. I’ve learnt how to sleep sharing a bed on an overnight train and I’ve learnt to sleep on the floor of a moving train. 

The very first time I discovered what it was like to sleep on an Indian overnight train

6. How to break stereotypes and trust people

When I first told people I was coming to work in India everyone had the same response:


And that’s good advice, wherever you travel in the world, especially alone. India is rated “exercise a high degree of caution” by the Australian travel website and it is possible to follow this advice while still opening yourself up to trust the people of India. There were times in my internship I decided to go with my gut feeling and put my trust in people. Whether it was the deputy stationmaster at Firozpur station, the guy in the seat opposite me on the train or the many MANY people who gave me directions and help throughout India these people always showed me what you can miss out on if you judge the whole country by what you’ve been told or think you know. Basically I’ve learnt to break down your own stereotypes of a country and open yourself up to new experiences. You’ll be surprised how many great stories you get!

7. How to understand my own privilege

I’ve always known I was privileged to be born in Australia, privileged to be able to follow my dreams and be who I want without fear but here in India I began to understand it a bit better. All the girls I’ve met have BIG dreams for the future, just like me, but unlike me most acknowledge they will probably end up getting an arranged marriage and working as a housewife to fulfill their parents wishes. Most of these girls are probably smarter and stronger than me, but they are held back by a society that celebrates the birth of boys while terminating the pregnancies of girls. By a society that accepts a level of violence against women as the women’s problem. The only difference between me achieving my dreams, and them theirs, is the fact that I was lucky enough to be born in Australia.

8. How beautiful India is 

From the shining golden temple of Amritsar that offers free meals and shelter to any person regardless of religion, race, gender or creed to the symbol of love that is the Taj Mahal. From the snow capped hills of the Himalayas in Manali to the green, calm waters of the Ganges in Rishikesh. From perfectly planned Chandigarh to the crazy, backstreets of Old Delhi. India is a diverse, colorful and beautiful country and over the past four months I have been lucky enough to experience it.

A typical tourist snap in front of the Taj at around 6AM

So there you have it, I’m leaving EduCARE a million times wiser and full of memories to last me forever. 

I’m going to miss playing with these loud, excitable and funny children

I wanted to finish this blog post (mostly because I promised them I would) with a special shout out to the Harike Dream Team who have become my friends, family and partners in weirdness over the past four months. From our deep chats on natural selection and the evolution of the tailbone or climate change that often devolve into animals having sex (and watching the geckos on the wall mate), shaving buffaloes in chest hair, buying an actual fish for a birthday (and then gutting, cooking and eating it) and quizzes to see which Harry Potter house we would be in, it has been the best four months I could ask for. I’ll never forget you guys or the infamous scandal of all India at the Taj Mahal.

Ariadne Sofianidis - Australia
Women's Empowerment Project Manager in Harike 

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