Hello from New Delhi! My name is Ellie Kaufman, and I am currently a junior at Brandeis majoring in Art History and Anthropology with a minor in South Asian Studies. I decided to spend my Spring 2013 semester in India through the IES Delhi program. This program allows us to take a variety of liberal arts electives through our program center ranging from “Indian Women in Fiction and Film” to “Indian Classical Music Methodology and Practice”, as well as a few other options at local Indian universities. After our first two weeks of orientation, I decided that my semester course load would include a Survey of Indian Art class through the National Museum Institute in New Delhi and the following classes through the IES center: Yoga Philosophy and Practice, Cities of Delhi, Indian Socio-Economic Development, and Service Learning. One thing that I really liked about the IES program was the amount of experiential learning classes they offer- both my Cities of Delhi and Indian Socio-Economic Development classes include weekly field trips that range from archaeological sites within Delhi to rural village excursions within Northern India.
For my Service Learning class, we are required to choose a specific NGO we are interested in volunteering with on a weekly basis for the course of the semester. For my service, I decided to volunteer at Prayas Juvenille Aid Center: an NGO in Delhi working with underprivileged children and women within the local communities. This center focuses specifically on issues such as juvenile justice, child labour, trafficking, abuse, and child protection, as well as provision of alternative education and economic empowerment. At this organization, I have done a combination of both hands-on volunteering- such as teaching math lessons and playing English learning games during recess with the children- and a variety of more technical work, such as making a new informational brochure and helping out with their new website.
Through this experience, I have learned so much about the importance of community development and participation in regards to social justice as well as the many ways in which NGOs in Delhi differ drastically than what one would expect back in the States. Something that I think has been the most challenging throughout this experience is the amount of cultural and language barriers that are so evidently present within service learning environments. While I have spent the past two months getting to know the children, teachers, and administrators at this center, I still at times feel disheartened by the amount of additional help I know I would be able to contribute if I was a native speaker of Hindi. Despite this challenge, I still aspire to continue helping these students to the best of my ability- through simple games of “Ellie Ketihe” (the Hindi version of “Simon Says”), English Pictionary, and daily conversations about our favorite hobbies, foods, and daily life experiences in Delhi.
In addition to weekly hours dedicated to my service learning site, I have definitely found a routine of sorts within my new life in Delhi. Throughout the week, I go from my home-stay in Greater Kailash II, a relatively upper-class neighborhood in South Delhi, to our program center in New Friends Colony. Unfortunately neither my home stay nor our program center is located by a metro stop, which means that I commute every day by way of auto-rickshaw. This transportation, depending on the amount of haggling necessary until we settle on the price of 60 rs, usually takes a short twenty minutes before I make it to our program center. At my home stay, I live in a loft with Auntie Chopra and three other students from our program. My Auntie has lived in her loft for over thirty years, and has four daughters that are all married and living in their prospective homes, from right down the street to all the way in California. While it may seem a bit lonely, there is never a dull moment at the Chopra household. Auntie is always having her daughters, son-in-laws, and grandkids come and visit for weekly dinners and significant events (such as weddings, anniversaries, and religious holidays). Auntie Chopra treats us all as if we were her own Betas (the word for Daughters in Hindi) and eats dinner with us everyday after we return from our classes and daily excursions into the busy city.
For the majority of weekends this semester, I have participated in program-directed weekend excursions and/or planned a variety of independent travel plans around the surrounding areas of India with other students at our program. Within the first two weeks of India, the program was taken on an excursion to Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan to see tigers, spotted deer, and a variety of other endangered species. Further into the semester, we also visited Varanasi, one of the holiest Hindu cities located in Uttar Pradesh, and walked along the ghats of the river Ganges. During free weekends, we have planned trips to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal and ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur to shop in the Pink City and ride elephants up to the Amber Fort, Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra to walk along strawberry fields, and Alleppey in Kerala to lounge on the beach and eat meals off of freshly picked banana leafs. Three other weekends have been dedicated to rural excursion field trips for our Indian Socio-Economic Development class, where we travel to rural villages and do community-based mapping exercises to analyze and observe the structure of villages in terms of education, public resources, job availability and quality, and caste dynamics in areas of socio-economic distress. For these trips, we have visited Tilonia, a rural village within the deserts of Rajasthan; Chamba, a village within the Himalayan mountains in Himachal Pradesh; and Bulandshahr, another larger village within the state the Uttar Pradesh. Through these class-based field trips, we were able to submerse ourselves into the experience of rural India while also hearing first-hand narratives from the villagers and NGO administrators that we met (thankfully we had our professors to help with the translating).
Throughout my past two and a half months in India, I have been overwhelmed with a plethora of meaningful- and at times entirely contradictory- experiences. I have learned so much regarding everyday life within the city of Delhi and through my travels around various states, and yet I still feel as though there are so many more places I want to visit and concepts I want to understand before my time in India is complete. What I have learned quite evidently is that India is a place of juxtaposition and uncertainty, sublimity and pollution, fortuity and misfortune, tradition and modernity, and astounding diversity. Through these past few months, I have learned that a little flexibility, determination, and openness has allowed me to experience the truly amazing, indescribable, and multifaceted country that is India.
Namaste, and until next time!