Second Chances: The Ritinjali Experience part 2

With the hot season still in full swing, after I finished much of the initial tasks that both Ritinjali and the Pallavanjali School had for me, I focused on the boys of the Second Chance School. Ritinjali’s Second Chance School focuses on the young people of Delhi who, due to familial expectations and urbanization, have fallen through the cracks of society.  The 36 boys currently residing in the Mahipalpur hostel are between 16 and 25 years old and range drastically in education level; from never getting the opportunity to attend school, to attending for a few years but having to drop out in order to work.  After spending just moments with the boys, their potential and desire to succeed becomes evident. Ritinjali strives to harness that positive energy and give these boys the tools for
success.  In the meantime, the boys provided me constant entertainment and source of incredible inspiration. I began a project to create a profile for each boy at the request of the new director who did not know all the boys and wanted background information on each of them.  Creating the profiles was simple, as I was really only seeking the basics, which proved to be good English and interviewing practice for them and good Hindi practice for me.  But usually it segued interestingly into a more complex story, a deeper conversation, a greater understanding of how the boys ended up here on the steps of second chances.  Getting to know the boys, hearing their stories, their challenges and their ultimate desires was eye opening, inspiring and often provided me with interesting insight     on an anthropological scope, as migration and cultural context proved to be apparent in many of the boys’ stories.


My favorite story

All of the boys are fantastic, hardworking and many of them have interesting stories and have already begun to attain success. But this one is my personal favorite.  Tsering Dukar is one of the 21 Tibetan boys residing at Ritinjali. The nature of the Tibetan boys in Ritinjali is a bit different, as Tibetans are dealing with the additional challenges of living in exile and being a refugee, which often leaves them without opportunities like education and employment. Dukar’s struggles began long before that. He was born in Tibet, and at the age of 7 was sent to a monastery to become a monk. But being a monk in a Tibetan monastery in Tibet is nearly impossible in the true and traditional sense. With Chinese occupation, monasteries in Tibet are forced to abide by the state sanctioned Chinese Buddhism and are punished for practicing Tibetan Buddhism. Dukar was unable to worship His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, and in fact any one found possessing a photo of His Holiness or worshipping him secretly, would be seized and then inexplicably disappear.  After years of frustration and hiding his devotion for His Holiness, Dukar left the monastery, his family and his homeland. At seventeen years old, he walked for over three weeks to Nepal where he lived for a couple years, but with both Nepalis and Tibetans alike struggling for employment and livelihood, Dukar found no work so he moved onwards to India. Due to political status, lack of educational opportunity, racial prejudice and communication issues, many Tibetans struggle to find success in India, and countries all over the world. Dukar is a prime example of that. Lack of education and job experience held him back from employment, but on a more basic level he also spoke neither English nor Hindi comfortably. Today, five years after he left his home, he is living at Ritinjali’s Second Chance School and truly getting a second chance for success. He is enrolled in a job ready academic program, getting up to speed on the education he missed out on, and now has an internship, which is helping to fulfill his dream of becoming a (49)

The first day I met Dukar, he sat smiling at me but was unable to talk to me, besides stating that he came from Tibet. After five short weeks of working with Dukar, this hardworking young man is now able to carry a conversation. Dukar is one young man who truly inspired me during my time at Ritinjali, as he worked hard every day and never let his struggles defeat him.


For my final weekend in New Delhi, a Painting Carnival was planned at the Second Chance School. The new director of Ritinjali wanted fresh paint to cover the old and tattered walls. We coordinated with volunteers to arrive with liters of paint, prepared to volunteer alongside us and the boys to paint all of the twelve rooms in the four story building.  Two very hot and sweaty days later, all the rooms were fresh with a new coat of paint and all they boys and volunteers celebrated with a big dinner.






The director of Ritinjali and I after a long day of painting

The Second Chance boys, who by the end really became more like my brothers, reminded me everyday to stay positive, work hard and most importantly enjoy the life we live. The inspiration they imparted will stay with me forever and I only hope I inspired them even just a fraction of the amount they inspired me.



My farewell from Mahipalpur

The Trains of Mumbai – First Post, Kiran Gill

sunsetBack home in Boston, I never take the train. But in traffic-congested Mumbai, the trains are the quickest way to get around the city. Yet, whenever I inform resident Bombayites that I, an American born Indian, ride the train every morning and evening, I am met by equal parts shock and disbelief.

“You take the train! I was born here and I never dare take the train!” They exclaim.

I have been riding the trains for a little over two months and I would like to say I’m a pro who has mastered the art of train travel. But that would be far from the truth since riding the trains in Mumbai requires quite a bit of adjustment and, as an outsider, there’s a lot to learn.

Initially, I imagined scenes reminiscent of Bollywood films. Long, leisurely train rides which inspired camaraderie and storytelling in the passengers. Instead, travelers in the ladies’ compartment sit in virtual silence. Noses are pressed into books; the easily identifiable train-cardswhite headphones of Apple are firmly placed in ears while mouths are busy munching away at bags of chips, biscuits and mixed nuts. In contrast to the ladies’ compartment, there is an audible, indisputable roar of animated chatter, laughter, and even a few card games in the men’s compartment.

After acclimating myself to the train environment I realized there were a few unspoken codes of conduct. First and foremost, any and all of your concepts of personal space should be discarded. Throw them out of the window, or rather, throw them out of the open train doors, as Indians are not afraid to get all close and personal.

Secondly, seats are limited. It does not matter for how long or how close I stand to the incoming train because it is guaranteed that somehow about ten or so women will come out of nowhere, effortlessly push me aside and proceed to run towards the open seats. These women are quick, forceful and not afraid to push you out of the way in order to get a seat. And then, once they have comfortably adjusted themselves on the softened leather seats of Mumbai’s ancient, dilapidated behemoths of a train they will turn their face towards you and smile warmly. At this point, you have two options. You can acquiesce to your fate, admit defeat and spend the rest of your journey standing. Or, you can aggressively stay on the prowl for a seat. This requires, not only the ability to discern when a passenger is soon to disembark but also the lightening fast reflexes to snatch that seat up before any equally tired and travel weary passenger beats you to it.






Overcrowded and teeming with passengers, the decrepit trains of Mumbai, despite their shoddy appearances, are truly the backbone of the city as they carry more than 6/7 million commuters a day. The trains, are, surprisingly, incredibly functional and despite all of the crazy idiosyncrasies of Mumbai’s train systems they are prime for people watching and sightseeing.

Clothing drying on train tracks and heaping mounds of garbage that highlight the dark underbelly of capitalism are just a few of the sights that can be encountered on a train ride in Mumbai. It is also while riding in the train that I can observe the residential buildings and colorful shantytowns of Mumbai. On the trains I am able to observe the inhabitants go through their daily motions: brushing their teeth, stretching stiff limbs, diminutive women washing clothes with unimagined force and half-naked children laughing and playing with abandon. As these scenes of urban domesticity flit by in the slow, local trains of Mumbai I am able to briefly glimpse and occasionally make eye-contact with people I would not have been lucky enough to see if I had taken a taxi or, even, if I had decided to stay in the US for the summer.  And as a result, though riding the trains sometimes, okay, frequently, frustrates me, it is also one of my favorite parts of my day.

Compassion in India – Jessica’s Second Post

A few weeks ago as I was walking home from work, I spotted a small group of men crowded around a cow, which was lying on the ground immobile. As I passed I heard the word “accident” amidst Oriya that I could not decipher. One man was holding the cow’s leg tenderly, which stuck out at an odd angle, while another patted the cow’s side. I never did find out what had happened to the cow or what the men ultimately did. Maybe they

A lone cow walks down the street

A lone cow walks down the street

had hit the cow with their motor bike. Maybe they eventually walked away and went on with their lives. All I know is in that in that moment, among those men and that animal, I saw a display of pure compassion. For a country where the cow is considered sacred, this emotion was understandable; yet it left me puzzled, and it took me until now to understand why.

My final weeks at Solidarity for Developing Communities (SFDC) were buzzing with action, as we pushed to finalize the proposal for our new project on human trafficking and violence against women.  In Orissa, human trafficking of women for domestic labor, especially those women and girls from poor, mountainous, rural areas, is a particular concern. Our work included field visits to conduct surveys and interviews with survivors of trafficking, analysis of the data collected, and a community planning workshop with field staff and villagers from the field site.

Community Planning Workshop

Community Planning Workshop

Most of the work was detached from the emotions of the problems; making action plans and goals and budgets were pretty cut and dry processes. Still it was work exciting for me, to not only apply the project planning skills I had learned the past year in my graduate program, but also to see the communities coming together to work for a common goal. During our planning workshop, two survivors of human trafficking were invited to participate and share their stories. The emotion and pain of the women and girls who have been oppressed at the hands of fellow Indians came out with their words. Beyond the clear exploitation from human trafficking, the stories told of the injustice that women face across so many aspects of their lives—childhood, education, work, marriage, and everything in between. Here is one of these stories.

storyThis is the story of a girl named Basanti. As a young girl, Basanti was unable to study at the village school due to her family’s poverty. She spent her days helping with household work and doing labor for her family. After a long wait, her parents decided to send her to a nearby village school.  Finally, at age seven, Basanti was able to study just like the other children! Yet her hopes came crashing down when she lost both of her parents.  At the young age of 14, Basanti was left in charge of herself and her sick younger brother. But with no family and only seven years of schooling, she had no means to support herself or her brother.  She turned to the other villagers in her community for help, and within some time one of the villagers responded. If she needed money, she should go to Kerala. There, she could earn Rs.10,000 per month! So, with no other choices and prospects of a good income, Basanti left for Kerala in order to save her brother and herself. She had not yet finished her studies.

At her employer’s home, Basanti worked long days with little break. To make matters worse, after months of work Basanti had not been paid her salary; a broker had been taking all of her money. Frustrated and vulnerable, Basanti contacted the villagers from her home community, begging them to send her money. With just enough money for her journey, she returned back to her village with empty pockets, as powerless and when she had left. The other villagers paid her no attention, a common response to those women and girls who had left the village. She was not pure anymore, having gone far away for a long time. Who knew what she had done while she was away? At the same time as her return, Basanti’s brother passed away. Basanti had no one and nothing. She was helpless and became angry.

A few years passed, with Basanti barely able to get by, something wonderful happened: she fell in love and married a boy from the village. With her husband’s modest earnings, they were able to live their lives. Another few years passed, and Basanti gave birth to her first child. But as fate always seemed to have it, Basanti’s husband became very sick and within six months he had died. It was a terrible and troubling situation for Basanti, yet this time Basanti had somewhere to turn. She became involved in the Village Peace and Development Committee. At the present, Basanti is alone with her child, but she has a determination that did not exist before. She believes that women are strongly mistreated in society and she is dedicated to helping women and girls lead the happy, healthy lives that they deserve.

Reflecting back on the incident with the cow and our project, it suddenly struck me as odd that a culture which can display such respect and reverence for a cow could show such disregard and outright abuse to its own womankind. I could not find logic in this treatment, only unfairness and inequality.

Thankfully, there are organizations and even some institutions that are striving to even the playing field for women in India. While it was thoroughly disheartening to hear the abuses that these women have undergone, it’s encouraging to know that SFDC is so dedicated to providing services for female survivors of human trafficking and violence against women. This project, Empowering Women and Communities to End Human Trafficking and Violence Against Women in the Gajapati District of Odisha, India, is only a small step to help women gain the rights they deserve, but it is a step nonetheless. This project is one small way to demonstrate the compassion that all Indians are capable of displaying, in hopes that someday there will be no more stories like that of Basanti.

Workshop Participants and SFDC Staff

Workshop Participants and SFDC Staff

I have now returned to the US, leaving SFDC to move this project forward on its own watch. I am confident that this will happen, and hopeful for the positive impacts that will result.

*If you are interested in supporting this project, please contact Jessica Friedman at

Slowly but Surely – Ariel’s Second Post

July was a month of change and progress. As soon as I said good-bye to Katrina, I said hello to Holly, the program assistant who will be taking over the Hariana Migrant Community Empowerment project when I depart in two weeks. It is essential for the program, especially the children that we have consistent faces to continue to build trust and solid relationships with the community. With each passing week, we have observed progress with the children. Not only do we have a solid group of kids who attend every session, but they are interested and eager to learn. Several weeks ago, when we were playing games with the kids instead of participating, they picked up our note-books and began to copy our work and recite the English alphabet and numbers. At this moment we realized that we needed to integrate more learning into our games and activities. The next week we attempted to teach some Hindi letters and were met with both excitement and short attention spans. Through trial and error, we are learning how to better plan and integrate lessons into games.

Some of the girls drawing and working

Some of the girls drawing and working

After two months we are gaining enough trust with the community to initiate focus groups and evaluations. These will help us focus our energy and efforts on immediate community needs, rather than guessing what we think should happen.  The first focus group was simple, but helpful. The women expressed interest towards learning more economical crafts, such as tailoring (which is a common job) and taking more initiative towards improving their health and sanitation. Since we also see health as a prominent concern, this will be a major focus in the upcoming months as Holly and John, the Young Men’s Association project manager, have opted to provide more education on these topics. Both the men and women also expressed positive reactions towards us working with their children. It seems that they really appreciate our presence and want us to continue to educate and socialize with the kids.

Three of the women from the Young Women’s Association

Three of the women from the Young Women’s Association

Follow-up focus groups will help us stay on track to gain better insight into their interests, needs and how we can work together to help them achieve their goals. Holly will also be working with the children on an education survey to learn more about their past schooling as a base for future lessons. We are very optimistic that our continued progress will bring slow changes in the next few months!

Playing games and having fun in the Sun

Playing games and having fun in the Sun

Midpoint in Monsoon – Aliza’s second update

My Big Fat Indian Birthday, #21

My Big Fat Indian Birthday, #21

Hello again from Varanasi, India. As I type, the monsoon rain is pounding heavily on my window. It sounds very romantic, but upon leaving the Guest House this morning, I found the road to be completely submerged in 7 inches of brown water! I should have added street canoeing to my defined learning goals in my fellows application! Here’s the weather where I’m at!

My month in Varanasi has certainly afforded me many life lessons as well as career skills. I am (quite literally) flooded with new experiences every day. There are two ways in which I can measure my growth throughout this past month: first, as an intern, and second, as someone adjusting to living in a completely new environment. As an intern, I am more familiar with the Dove Foundation and how it functions. Yesterday, I had a meeting with my supervisor, Mr. Abhinav Singh. He explained to me that the Dove Foundation provides effective programming for the community only by catering to their specific needs. For example, I had originally planned to videotape an event for Project Aarambh, which provides support and health education for young rickshaw pullers with, or at risk for STDs. The day of the program, it rained heavily and effected road conditions, which made it difficult for the rickshaw pullers to attend the event, so it was cancelled. Very last-minute weather conditions affected the plans for dozens of people. However, if we followed through with the program in a heavy rainstorm, then we would have stressed the community of individuals we were trying to help, which is very counterproductive. If Mahatma Gandhi were alive and working for the Dove Foundation, he might say, “Be the change you wish to see in the world, but if you want people to catch on, make sure it’s convenient.” So, if there is one thing this internship has taught me (among the many other things) it is to be flexible…you have to be willing to make small changes if you want to make a bigger change.

There is no formal office complex where all volunteers convene on a daily basis, so I have been learning how to effectively communicate and collaborate with different members of the Dove faculty if they are out of town. This means making many phone calls, sending a lot of emails, and using DropBox and Google Drive to upload and share documents. These are certainly some of the media skills I will use later on in a future career or even more immediately at Brandeis. I’ve also polished my graphic design software and video editing skills. Spending hours using Adobe InDesign and Photoshop to create a professional-looking brochure, new High Definition Dove Foundation logo, and a final report for the 2013 World Blood Donation Week has made me more confident as a graphic designer. I also edited a short film to be uploaded on the Dove website, highlighting Dove events from the past month. It’s been a little tricky getting a large-file HD video to upload on YouTube here with very spotty Internet, but my major goal for this internship is to give the Dove Foundation a series of completed projects, which they can use for the future to help them advertise their mission and gain support within and beyond India. I’m even more excited to work with the energetic, creative Dove Foundation team to get it all completed!

-Aliza Gans ’15

New high definition logo I created for the Dove Foundation

New high definition logo I created for the Dove Foundation