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

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Leaving India

Wow. I can’t believe this is the end of my internship. Part of me feels like I’ve been here forever, but at the same time it seems like I just arrived in Delhi yesterday. 

There’s so much I could say in this blog post, but I want to keep it simple and to the point. Expect the unexpected. Unless you’ve been to India, lived in a developing country for an extended period of time, or something similar, then you’re not going to be fully prepared for what you will experience here. Don’t let that scare you though because if you have the right attitude, you will benefit in many ways from this experience. 

Come with your expectations, goals, and inspiration because you’re going to need all of those things. EduCARE will do their best to make this a beneficial and enjoyable time for you, but you can’t forget that you are here to work. I came to India planning to work with alternative energy, but in the end I created a health project and it has a high chance of being successful in all of the centers. 

I loved my experience in India and I say this after I spent days in unbearable heat and a constant state of sweat. You just have to keep a positive mind and know how to re-center yourself when others bring you down. I love this beautiful country no matter its flaws. 

To summarize, I’ll never experience anything like my time in India. It’s as simple as that. Part of me wants to stay here, but the other part of me misses home and can’t wait to see my family.

Traveling around Rajasthan

Little nice neighbour in Gajner

Anna-Leigh Shuping - USA
Alternative Energy Project Manager in Gajner