Chelsea Krema :: India
My first lesson in India is that a positive outlook is key. Very honestly, adjusting was a difficult process. I was lucky in that the food did not upset me and I was able to sleep. But being in a place where everything is different, is fundamentally challenging. I had my moments of loneliness and homesickness, but I think they were important steps in the process of adjusting. I won't say that I am done adjusting (it has been 12 days and I think adjusting could take all 3 months!), but I have begun to find my place in this new life.
Father Puthumai, the Catholic Father who acts as the Director of the Social Welfare Institute (my internship organization) has been welcoming and very helpful. He has been very intentional and mindful and the foods I eat and the slow ways I am integrated into Indian society. Raiganj, the town I am staying in, is very small. There are probably 130,000 people here, but for India that is tiny. The community is very rural and surrounded very closely by many villages and tribal communities. I am living at the Social Welfare Institute, a compound of sorts, with offices, a dining hall, classrooms, rooms for the Fathers, and a room for me. The nice thing about living here is that there are always people about, which makes feeling lonely more difficult. I have truly blossomed here as a friendly extroverted person, as compared to the more shy introvert I was in the states. I am learning to eat with my hands, tolerate spicy foods, wear Indian salvars, ride in a variety of questionably safe modes of transport, smile to people who stare at me, cross the street in Indian traffic, speak Bengali words, and speak English very slowly.
My work so far has been teaching a Spoken English course from 8-10am every weekday morning. I am teaching graduate students, who have been taught English but have a very poor mastery of the spoken language. As I am typing this the power just went out, another piece of India society I am learning to accept, constant and consistent power outages. There is also very loud traffic noise here, because every vehicle honks every 3-5 seconds as they drive down the road. The traffic noise is interesting when mixed with the bays and moo's of the various animals that line the streets. But back to the internship. I have been teaching class for roughly two weeks now and I really enjoy it. My students are interactive, and it has been one of the best ways to learn about Indian culture, history and customs. I am also learning to appreciate the difficulty of communication, and the value of good communication.
In the afternoons I usually putz around the office until someone submits to my requests for help. I am very good at computers, compared to many of the office staff, so I have been helping with typing reports on programs and editing reports as well. This has been a great way to learn about the projects and programs that SWI runs, and has also helped me to get to know the staff.
I have been on four field visits so far. Twice for a Health Program in one of the villages, where 50 village people attended for two days to listen to speakers give talks about sanitation, nutrition, pregnant mother and infant care, immunization and various other health related topics. After that program we all walked the streets of the village in a rally. The group was chanting "Health is our Right" (in Bengali). I have also been to the villages for a Skill Development Training, where poor dropout girls are taught to sew dried leaves together to make plates. The plates are used as disposable dishware and are a way for the girls to earn money to support their families. Father Puthumai left a few days ago for a short trip, and he gave me a project: to write and create my own program for a Revolving Fund Campaign for Self Help Groups. I will write the program, prepare the budget, and research US funding agents. Then I will submit it to them for their feedback, this way I am able to learn hands-on the effort that it takes to prepare the programs. I have enjoyed the challenge this offers, and have had some very valuable conversations with staff members about their work.
As for the people I have met, there are the three Fathers who live at SWI (Father Puthumai, Father Markus and Farther Herman). I take my meals with them everyday, and they have all been very welcoming. I have 10 students in my class, and I have met about 10 persons who work for SWI. There are also Sisters of the Divine Savior who work at SWI, and they have been very supportive. All in all my experience thus far has been about learning, listening, and adapting. All very important and valuable life skills!
I wrote my first reflection about two weeks into my experience in India. Now as I sit and type this I am beginning my last two weeks in India. Quite a lot has changed, and the time has flown by. As far as work goes I have been all over the place from Jalpaiguri to Kumarganj and I have learned about everything from disaster preparedness to revolving funds.
For a quick summary of my work:
• I have taught English class every weekday from 8-10am.
• I attended the Quarterly Meeting for all upper level staff members of SWI.
• I helped prepared excel reports for all skill development programs in the past 6 months.
• I attended a quarterly meeting for District Coordinators of the Community Based Disaster Preparedness Program.
Then I attended a CBDP training program in one of the villages.
• I finished a project proposal, concept note, budget and logical framework analysis for a Revolving Fund Project for 100
SHG in N. DIanjpur District.
• I read and reviewed all of the Government Schemes in W. Bengal.
• I helped complete an (20 million rupee) annual budget for 11 organizations running CBDP programs.
That is my production contribution or ‘work,’ but just as important for my time here is my learning. I began a list somewhere in the middle
of my experience, and here are a few entries from my “What I have learned in India” list.
• On a personal level I have learned better self-control; because scratching mosquito bites does not make them heal any quicker, it makes
them itch more.
• Being that English is not the spoken language in Raiganj and that I am teaching a spoken English course, I have learned a lot about
communication. Communication doesn’t always mean words or languages and good communication is infinitely valuable.
• Comfort comes from good people, not from things.
• I have a new understanding of the distinction between want and need. I need clean water, nourishing food, shelter from the elements
and love. Everything else is a luxury.
• Adjusting, as I first called my transition process, was about learning to be humble. Upon arrival in India I didn’t know how to eat correctly,
use the toilet correctly, cross the street, or any of the daily activities that even children know how to do. Not knowing how to function in a
society is humbling.
• Sometimes being in Raiganj feels like an experiment in testing my limits. I find myself so frustrated at times because of what I don’t
understand. I have learned that knowing my limitations is not about frustration; it’s about inspiration for improvement.
• I have seen poverty in India. I have seen villages where people starve and where a wealthy family is one that has one bed for their
family instead of sleeping on hay. I have a lot more to learn and understand about poverty, but so far I know that poverty is feeling as
though you have no control over your current circumstances, no escape.
As I enter my last few weeks here I am infinitely thankful for the opportunities I have had. I owe a large portion of my gratitude to the staff at SWI and to my host Fr. Puthumai. They not only welcomed me into their work environment, they were also willing to answer my endless questions and incorporate me in their projects. I guess my most overwhelming reflection is gratitude.