Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Chaos, Children, and Ferris Wheels

India is a country filled with millions of people, and in each region there a different

traditions, religions, and festival practices. One thing I’ve learned while being

here is that people in India take their festivals seriously. Returning to Punjab after

being in Dharamshala for our Quarterly Meeting, we arrived to find large festival

preparations and people buzzing with excitement. Right now there is an ongoing

10 day festival happening called Dusserha. Toy stands, food vendors, and small

children’s rides abounded within earshot of the community we visit every other

day. All the excitement from this fair has tempted the children with its presence

everyday, meaning that we couldn’t ignore it. The children in our community asked

us repeatedly if we could take them on the Ferris Wheel nearby, and they were so

persistent that it distracted them from our educational activities so much that we

finally had to give in.

After about an hour of begging, the 7 of us foreigners came trailing into the fair with

about 20 little boy and girls in tow ranging from 2 years old to 13. The excitement

from the children was chaotic. For these children, this is the opportunity of year.

Riding a Ferris Wheel is exciting, and scary, fast, and dangerous. They were terrified

of the height and screams abounded as we all reached the curve at the top. Of

course, this was a sight for the community. They aren’t used to seeing foreigners,

and they definitely aren’t used to seeing them with a bunch of children that live in

tents along the government’s trash dumping site. This was a big deal for us too,

as we hardly ever leave the camp with the people who live there and receiving

attention from the outside community felt a bit strange. But ultimately nothing

could distract us from the shear joy and excitement on the faces of these children.

This was as much a treat for them as it was for us. They probably never have the

chance to enjoy the fair even though it was only a few meters away, and we also

would have never ventured over there otherwise. We all had an amazing time

(despite the precarious condition of the Ferris Wheel), and it was a day I’ll never

forget. This was not only a once in a year event, for most of us it was a once in a life

time opportunity.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”~Howard Thurman

I have felt more alive in India than anywhere else I have travelled. It may be because of where I am in India. It may be the culture. It may be EduCARE. It may be the people. It may be the Dalai Lama living close by. It may be my proximity to nature. It may be a combination of everything I just mentioned, but whatever has caused this feeling is something I have embraced during my six month internship in India. So much so that it has made me question whether or not I should leave Educare. I must say goodbye at the end of September but this is not an easy goodbye for me and I might be back soon.

I was privileged to have an authentic conversation with Mr. B during my first in person meeting with him. Not everyone has the same experience and that is a shame but we immediately bonded over our shared gluten intolerance. I have a passion for food and health and the strong relationship between the two and Mr. B immediately wanted me to work on that. The project role I originally thought I was coming to work on wasn't operating yet, so this conversation gave us the chance to figure out what I wanted to do. Figure out what would make me come alive.

The cooperative cafeteria emerged from this conversation and the long term goals of this cafe made me come alive. They connect to my long term personal goals of starting a holistic healing center and the sheer excitement I felt after finding direction within the organization felt so right. After my conversation with Mr. B, I was so excited and this 30 minute conversation propelled my motivation throughout my time at Educare. I think that Mr. B and I come alive the same way, by being inspired by education/learning, and then sharing that knowledge in order to evolve and create progress in all aspects/subjects of life. I sincerely respect Mr. B's goals and hope that I've contributed in a small way to making at least one of them come to fruition. Whether or not anyone else benefits from what I have done here at Educare, I feel that I have come alive over the past six months. Which means the world is better off now that I've been here. I feel confident in knowing that I was and am exactly where I'm supposed to be in this moment in time. Thank you Educare for the space you created for me to feel this.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Gulshan aka God

Gulshan a.k.a. God for two of the other clusters here in India. He handles house maintenance, business relationships, the intermediate between the migrant camps and the interns, all around go-to person for Punjab and Rajol and Maitee. Not an easy job for anyone. He's got all kinds of "I once saw him stories". I once saw Gulshan break barbed wire with two rocks. True story, and I was looking around for scissors... We were taking abandoned barb wire which they call fencing here to use for the garden one of the interns is building. I turned around to see him smashing the rock down on the wire, I think twice was all it took to break it. Impressive to say the least.

He sleeps at the male intern house for weeks on end and then goes home to his wife and two kids maybe once a month to spend time with them. He helped to organize the food for the quarterly meetings that include everyone in the organization. I asked him why he had stayed with the organization for so long. He said, “I love what I'm working on. I can't imagine doing anything else.” I asked if he ever thought about moving back home and working near his family. He said, “I can't go back there because no one understands what I’m doing here. They think I’m crazy.” He doesn't like the feeling of judgement and he knows what he's doing is important and when he's working he feels free of the judgement. He likes being around similarly minded people who are crazy too. Made perfect sense to me, and he was so honest and real in our first conversation that I immediately felt like he's a friend.

He also had so much joy from little things like me. We did a drawing exercise together as part of cross cultural workshop and he laughed for 10 minutes at our drawing we made, made me laugh so hard I cried. I miss crying from laughing, there's something special about your body reacting so fully to an image, and another person’s reaction. I appreciate Gulshan. His dedication, passion, kindness, and joyful spirit. One of many special people I've met here in India that is a part of this organization. I hope to meet more “crazy” people like myself and Gulshan in the future.

- Katherine Rothschild, USA
- Hospitality project manager

Friday, 25 July 2014

What it's like to be illiterate

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve never known what it’s like to be illiterate. At some hazy point in your childhood, you were unable to read, but you did not need to interact with the written world back then. Until recently, I also didn’t have any but the most general of ideas what illiteracy was like. Moving to a country where not only do the people speak a language that I’m not familiar with but also write in a script that is completely foreign to me gave me a taste of what illiteracy is like. During the most recent work I did on one of my projects, I faced the rounded script of Gurmukhi directly.

A fellow intern and myself are standing in front of a sign for the Forestry Department that on one side is entirely in Punjabi, and on the other, English. It’s the last sign we’ll see with any English, and we are without our typical (amazing) translator. We have to navigate the maze of the area on our own. We quickly gravitate to anything with a sign – the larger the sign and the bigger the letters, the more likely we figure it to be important. We pass a sign that even has a special welcoming shape, and assume we are likely headed in the right direction. When you can’t read, you quickly learn other rules for getting around. Something with a sign is more likely to be important or something you can enter, as someone put it there to tell you something; the bigger the lettering or a sign is, the more likely it is to be important; and shapes both on and of signs can give you basic information about a place. However, when you can’t read and you’re not trying to find your way somewhere, you pay hardly any attention to what’s written around you. For my first two months here, I assumed most things were written in both Devanagari and Gurmukhi (the alphabets that Hindi and Punjabi are written in, respectively), because I never paid signs enough attention to notice otherwise. It was only when I started learning Devanagari that I realized nothing around here was written in Hindi. Being able to read also gives people a type of mysterious knowledge. Everyone always seems to have secret information that comes to them as if from thin air, in what appears to be some form of Indian telepathy – until you realize that they can read many of the signs around you, and that’s why they know what bus to take or when all the stores will be closed. It is information transported silently from one mind to another, but it’s via paper rather than telekinetic waves.

Having the ability to read expands a person’s world dramatically. In trying to teach an alphabet to the individuals in the camps we work with, we are attempting to provide them with the ability to interact with the world around them on a different level. To have access to the same information that others in the society around them take for granted. Exclusion from the community they live near is a major issue for the migrants we work with, and in a small way, being able to read will allow them to become more a part of that community than they are now. And of course, being able to read will also make books accessible to them – one of the most powerful educating tools. Literacy will give the communities we work with the opportunity to better not only their own place in life, but hopefully that of their family as well.

I always thought of being able to read as something that was simply enjoyable; having now experienced illiteracy, I realize how important it is. How being able to read can expand someone’s world.

- Kayleigh Walters, USA
- Organic farming and SWASH project manager, Punjab 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

My life as an EduCARE intern

My life as an EduCARE intern could be compared to what I presume being a Celebrity Unicef ambassador would be like. Travels through striking lands. People taking photographs of you while you shop for food at a local market. People asking to take “ek photo” as you travel in touristy locations. In general you find your self the gaze of many stares. I can now relate to Selena Gomez and David Beckham in a way I would have never have expected, as I’m sure they draw equally if not more attention as they serve the global community.

Most importantly the greatest aspect of being an EduCARE intern is the opportunity to work with a unique Indian population. Currently I find myself working on a Maternal Health and Education initiative in migrant camps located in rural Punjab. My job title requires that I go into the migrant camps, hang out and talk with the residents and then try to determine how the organization can help them create a better quality of life. This week I am working on developing a Health and Sanitation workshop for adults in the camps which will teach the migrants on cross contamination processes of food and water. From there on out I will work on developing Maternal Health workshops.

As an EduCARE intern you have the unique opportunity to develop and implement programs in an exciting environment. Although this poses quite a challenge, demanding personal introspection and awareness, it is also an opportunity to live something many only dream about. Being an EduCARE intern provides you with the space to be “the change you wish to see in the world”. Along with that I have already met so many amazingly qualified interns, whom you get to experience India right alongside. Just last weekend I went to Amristar with two fellow interns. So far, travelling around India nurtures a more holistic perspective on just how diverse the Country can be.

If the work and the travel isn’t enough, as an aspiring anthropologist I live in a beyond ideal environment. First I have the pleasure of sharing a home, with 4 other interns, with a local couple, Ma Ji and Uncle Ji. This has really opened up a doorway to being a member of the community that I don’t think many foreigners get to experience. Ma Ji serves as grandmother in our home away from home, always keeping an eye out for us, and being their to help us if we have any problems. Along with this our house is nestled amongst a ton of trees which are home to multiple Rhesus Macaque Monkey troupes. At time these monkeys can be outrightly obnoxious, trying to steal our food and knocking our clothes of the clothes line, but it is still an incredible experience to be cohabiting with such lively primates!

Living in another country as an intern has served me an abundance of opportunities and experience I could have never imagined. From being a celebrity to living with monkeys to all that’s in between it is truly a wonderful experience. I look forward to seeing how the next few months will unfold. 

- Alexandria McCall, USA
- Maternal health and education project manager, Punjab

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Challenges of living in rural India

This past month in Punjab has been especially hot (115 degrees Fahrenheit or 45 Celsius). Higher temperatures often put a strain on the finite amount of resources available in rural areas. In day to day life this means people want and should be consuming more water but because everyone wants more water, and the amount of water available actually shrinks in the summer water shortages occur. This recent month of heat has made all the interns more aware of how we perceive resources and our access to them.  To give you and idea about the daily access EduCARE interns have to resources such as water, electricity, and even cars, we challenge you to try to complete the following list below for a week:

  • Spend less than 5$ USD a day
  • Hand wash a full load of clothes and hang dry them
  • Spend a night (minimum of 5 hours) without electricity
  • Cook all your meals only on a stove top (don’t use oven or microwave)
  • When you have to use the bathroom walk outside and then go back inside to use the bathroom (suppose to be like using an outhouse)
  • Only eat fruits and vegetables that are in season
  • Don’t use your own personal vehicle, other option can include but are not limited to: hitch-hiking, public transportation, and hitching rides with friends
  • Only listen to radio channels, or watch television that is in a foreign language
  • Only shower every 3 days (washing face and feet is allowed)
  • When you want a hot shower take a cold shower, when you want a cold shower take a hot shower
  • Don’t ever wear shorts EVER (that means in your house)
  • Turn off all electronic devices when you leave a room
  • After you have used a dish immediately wash it then put it away
  • If its yellow let it mellow if its brown flush it down (when in the bathroom only flush solid waste)
  • Don’t use any water from a tap, if you want water first fill a bucket and then use only that water.
  • Don’t eat any meat, eggs, or consume any alcohol
  • Don’t leave your house after 7 pm, unless you are staying at a friends house for the night
  • Only use the internet every other day
  • Collect all plastic trash and then sort it
- Kiana Cateriano, USA 
- Health and education project manager

Thursday, 5 June 2014

World Environment Day

This auspicious day not only holds up to its name for me, it was the day I realized my passion and what field I would like to study in.

It was not just a day to celebrate but to also be conscious of the state of the environment around us. It was a moment of epiphany for me, a flash of my destiny to dedicating my life to the welfare of the planet which is so important. We cannot wholeheartedly celebrate the arrival of a newborn as our world is still in crumbles. Almost like trying to redecorate the interior of a home when its outsides are shattered and broken or there are no proper walls.
According to the United Nations, this day is used to stimulate worldwide awareness of environmental climate changes, degradation and fragmentation of our landscapes, pollution and wildlife threats. The theme of this year’s WED is focused on ‘Small Islands and Climate Change’ as the consequences of global warming have had its impacts on small islands like the eco-tourism of Barbados (as said by WWF).

As I was once an Environmental science student and currently the project manager of the Community Forestry Project of EduCARE India, I feel fulfilled as I am not only encouraging the community members to plant trees for their financial and social empowerment, but I am also doing my part to make planet Earth greener and safer.

- Monica Fatogun, India
- Social & Community Forestry Project Manager, Naddi