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 

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