And it’s a wrap- for now. ~Alina’s Second Post

Written August 24, 2013

I can’t believe I’m flying back tomorrow. I’ve gotten used to the rhythm of life here. Lots of things have happened since my last post. Here’s a brief summary-

1. I had a terrible chest infection. I was down with a bad cough and fever for a good week and a half. I couldn’t really focus or work, but I did try taking lots of pictures of the clinic. I rested for a couple days in bed after realizing that walking around with a fever of 104 degrees wasn’t the best thing to do.

2. I received extra funding from Brandeis-India Initiative Fellowship to do a photo exhibition on ‘Children of Bhopal’ at Brandeis! This is something I am incredibly excited about. I am currently looking for a Photo Editor who can work with me on this (due credits will be given) so please let your editor friends know about this! I was really moved by Alex Masi’s photographs of Bhopal, and I plan to compile all the photographs and publish a photobook by the end of next year if I can secure funding.

3. Internet bailed out on us for a while at the clinic, and I found myself staying at the clinic some times and staying near Satyu’s house (to use his wifi) at other times.

4. I said goodbye to Rashi, Melanie and Jamie- three great volunteers at Sambhavna that I had really great conversations with. I also met Anastasia and Nina, two volunteers from the UK and had a nice time at the Indira Gandhi Museum of Mankind with them.

5. I flew to Jharkhand for a week. While I was there, I helped revamp Ekjut’s website. I created a demo site on wix and explained it to the web designer so that he could change the current look into the one I designed. Took some lovely photographs there as well.

ICJB Brochure 1

ICJB Brochure 1

6. I celebrated India’s Independence Day with the kids at Chingari. They staged wonderful plays!

7. I accompanied Vikas Tripathi, a campaigner with International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), in distributing pamphlets/petition to the survivors in the lead up to a massive rally on August 30th demanding their chief

ICJB Brochure (inner fold)

ICJB Brochure (inner fold)

minister to follow his words. The petition demands that the Chief Minister put the money where his mouth is and ensure that victims of the disaster each receive at least Rs. 5 lakhs from the state government.

8. I’m finishing the video and changing the final pictures on the brochure.

I’m really excited to talk about my experience in person at Brandeis and finally have my site online- where all of you will be able to take a look at the photographs I took, the videos I made and other work that I did. For anyone who wishes to work at Sambhavna or

Brochure for Sambhavna 1

Brochure for Sambhavna 1

Bhopal in the future, I’d suggest you keep to yourself when you have to, as your behavior can lead to multiple interpretations. Even as someone from Nepal, a place that has strong cultural ties with India, I faced situations where I thought I was being misunderstood and my actions being misinterpreted. Be clear, talk to people and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Also, I’ve

Brochure for Sambhavna 2 (inside page)

Brochure for Sambhavna 2 (inside page)

always believed that ‘passion makes perfect’, so whatever area of expertise you choose to develop, give it your all – or find something else you’re willing to give it your all.

That’s all for now.
Signing off,

September Issue – Kiran’s 3rd post

The 2009 documentary, The September Issue, closely followed the American Vogue staff as they produced the 2007 September issue for the magazine. The issue, which was a few months shy of the 2008 Recession, was the largest American Vogue issue in its 121 years of publication, with a total of 727 ad pages.

The film brought to light the delicate push and pull of the Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington’s working relationship as the respective Editor-in-Chief and Creative Director of the magazine. And, more importantly, for fashion outsiders, the film highlighted the significance of the September Issue when Candy Pratts Price rightly proclaimed, “September is the January in fashion,” during one of the earliest scenes of the film.

Since we are currently in the midst of fashion’s world’s new year, I’d like to take a closer look at the covers of not just American Vogue but also Vogue India.


Both covers herald the September issue as the largest and most glamourous issue to date. While Vogue India allows the term “big” to describe the magazine, American Vogue highlights the size of the magazine by making the number of pages, 902, as large as the magazine’s title. Our eyes, in a somewhat text heavy cover, are immediately drawn to the number 902. From there our eyes are drawn up, up and away until making contact with emblazoned, red Vogue. The angle’s of Jennifer Lawrence’s face, her pointed chin, plump lips, angled nose and winged eyes, act as a diagonal line which guides the eye directly from 902 to Vogue and back again.

Both American and Indian Vogue are famous for favoring film stars. This September marks Lawrence’s first Vogue cover whereas Deepika Padukone, a Vogue favorite, has been on the cover more than three times before. For Lawrence’s first Vogue cover her youth and freshness is emphasized to proclaim her naivety and age in the world of Hollywood. Lawrence’s rosy cheeks coupled with doe eyes are set amidst a sea of soft golden and yellow hues and also serve to herald the coming of fall. Meanwhile, Vogue India’s September issue makes no mention of the passing of seasons as India is not at the mercy of four seasons.

Unlike the emphasis of Lawrence’s face which draws us into the young actress and announces her vulnerability; the entire length of Padukone’s body, tall, lithe and long, adorned in pink Marchesa, stands right center on the cover in a position of total power. A lone chair behind her back and surrounded by the muted grey organized, yet opulent chaos, the purple crown adorning her head jumps from the page. The purple crown bears a striking resemblance to the Crown Jewels of England. And, dare I say, the velvet crown atop Padukone’s unruly mane of curls harkens to India’s distance past in the age of British dominated imperial colonization?

Interestingly, both the crown and the word INDIA framed within the O of Vogue are both on the same plane. India and the crown are cast as equals. Meanwhile, Padukone’s steely gaze and firm grip asserts her presence not just on Vogue but in Bollywodo as well. She has no equal in the world of Bollywood and she is also, unlike Lawrence, no longer a new-comer. After all, Vogue has already proclaimed her as Queen.

First Excursion: Aligarh, Hannah’s Second Post

Written April 19, 2013


To my friends and loved ones in Boston,

I could never have imaged that Boston would be a more dangerous place than Delhi. You are in my thoughts, and I am sending you all love from this part of the world. Please stay inside until this scary situation blows over, and I do urge you to keep in contact. Even though I might be halfway across the world, I am available as a resource for anyone who wants it.

So, I thought I might write a blog post to distract you all from your worries. I apologize for the prolonged hiatus. Computer problems and traveling have stunted my blogging. I know I’m behind on posting, but I’m working really hard to catch up. Be on the lookout for more posts within the next few weeks.

The first excursion, towards the beginning of the program, was to Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh. Aligarh is a small village in rural India, known for making quality locks. This was my first time escaping Delhi, and I absolutely loved being away from the crowds, the excessive noise, and the black smog and pollution of the city. Rural India was magical. Fields filled with grains, sugar cane, and drying cow dung (used for fuel) spanned as far as my eye could see. The air was so fresh, that for the first time since being in India, I could take in deep breathes to let my lungs expand.

While we were in Aligarh, it was sugar cane harvesting season. As we drove to and from various locations learning about the healthcare system, I chewed / sucked on sticks of sugar cane. Yummy! The trucks transporting the sugar cane had destroyed the dirt roads, making our travels very bumpy. I enjoyed it though, cause I got to eat my sugar cane!

We went to Aligarh specifically because it is the home of Aligarh Muslim University, one of the premier Muslim universities in India, and the alma mater of two of my professors on the program (basically, my professors have a lot of connections with the university, and connections are everything in India). The purpose of this excursion was to expose us to the various levels of the healthcare system. We spent the week visiting three levels of the system, and learning about the factors hindering its effectiveness.

In India, health is a state subject. Funding comes from the government, but specifics concerning how those funds are allocated and determined by the state. Unfortunately, the government only spends 2% of its total GDP on healthcare, a percentage which is amongst the lowest in the world. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the United States spends over 15% of its GDP on healthcare. Technically, India has a universal healthcare system, meaning that everyone supposedly has equal access to the healthcare system. This is not the case; factors such as caste, socioeconomic status, gender, education, geographic location, political connections, superstitions and spiritual beliefs, and corruption hinder people from accessing care.

Me and my friend Noel in front of the CHC

Me and my friend Noel in front of the CHC

The healthcare system is divided between the public and private sector. The private sector provides care to almost 70% of people residing in cities (the wealthy). The remaining segment, mostly rural populations, depend on the government to provide care. A huge problem plaguing India’s healthcare system, especially in rural areas, is a lack of doctors. Although India produces the greatest amount of doctors in the world, few decide to practice in India. Of the few who decide to stay, very few want to practice in rural settings. The government attempts to combat this problem by making mandatory placements, for new doctors as well as those in need of punishment (usually because of political altercations), in rural locations. Although the government attempts to place doctors in rural locations, most refuse to live in such harsh conditions. Unfortunately, many doctors avoid this “punishment” by paying off government officials. Corruption in India is everywhere. I would say, although its not politically correct, that nothing in India is illegal: some things just have fines.

Health Announcement

Health Announcement

The current focus of public health within India is on mothers and newborn children. There is minimal, if any preventative care available for anyone else. The system is divided into three levels. The first level is the sub-center. The sub-center is “suppose” to cater to a population size between 3000 and 5000 people. The center that I visited provided care to nearly 12,000 people. An Auxiliary Health Nurse (ANM), resides at the sub-center.

Continue reading and see more pictures on Hannah’s blog:

“Every child in the country deserves to be educated well” – Ankita’s Second Post

My time in Rajhoon has flown by and how. I have gained a completely new perspective and appreciation for everyone who has contributed to this experience. Words cannot do justice to everything I learnt and felt during my internship but I have attempted to summarize my experience below.

With my host mother, Sunitaji

With my host mother, Sunitaji

My host family – I was lucky to be given opportunity of staying with a local family. I was definitely apprehensive about how my host family would treat me since I was the first volunteer to ever go to this village. The villagers weren’t used to having outsiders live and participate in their community so I thought I would have to try hard to integrate myself. Thankfully I was proved wrong. My host family was incredibly welcoming. My host mother Sunitaji treated me like her own daughter! My family consisted of Sunitaji ‘s two sons Ayush (age 15) and Nilesh (age 20) and her in-laws whom I called Dadaji and Dadiji (grandmother and grandfather). Ayush was very excited to have an older sister who could help him with his homework and explore the region with him. Whether it was daily chai-and-gossip sessions with Sunitaji, hearing Dadaji’s army experiences, being overfed by Dadiji or evening chess with Ayush – this family felt like my own.

Payal and me on my last day of teaching

Payal and me on my last day of teaching

My students Despite all the problems with how the school functions and how little they have, the children were little bundles of happiness and excitement. They used to welcome me at the gate, jumping on me as soon as I reached school. Most of these students were used to their teachers shouting at them and caning them so they were shocked when I told them I would do neither. The girls were definitely more mischievous than the boys. They would be the ones screaming in class, running around and pulling each other’s hair while the boys sat quietly and paid attention. Even though the children often disrupted the class, it was also refreshing to see how excited they were to learn. One of my favorite students was Payal. She has a speech impairment that prevents her from talking but that doesn’t stop her from grabbing the chalk from my hand, marching up to the board and carefully writing out the alphabet. She is the first child to drag me into school in the morning, and the last child waving at the gate when I leave. She, just like all the other students, made my one month of teaching worth all the effort.

My day My day began with breakfast with my host mother. We used to sit in the courtyard and have tea with some roti and vegetables every morning. After getting ready (which included a freezing bath with one bucket of water), I would walk downhill through the fields to get to school. This walk took me around 15 minutes during which I would often meet villagers, children and a lot of cows. Once in school, I would teach each class for 45 minutes. During their lunch break, the children would drag me into the courtyard and teach me local village games which I had never played before. I would head back to the house for lunch, rest for an hour and then start my 3 hours-long evening classes. These classes were held in a shed the NGO had converted into a small computer room. It had three computers and a blackboard. Children between the ages of 3 and 20 from both Rajhoon and neighboring villages used to come learn art, craft, English, computers and dance. Most of these children came from low-income families who had no access to any of the above. The excitement on the children’s faces when they opened a new pack of crayons or better still, a box of markers, was heart warming. Class would be followed by evening tea and chatting with the village women who would come to the house to see me. The day would end with routine game of chess with Ayush and then dinner. I would spend the last few hours before I slept preparing a lesson plan for the next day and catching up on some reading. My days were long and tiring but without a doubt some of the most fulfilling ones I’ve had.

Making funny faces with some of my evening class students

Making funny faces with some of my evening class students

I have taken extremely long to write this blog post because I find it impossible to put into words how incredible my experience was. When I started out on this project, I was apprehensive. While the NGO has worked in bigger towns in the region, this was the first time they were in a remote village. Since I was the first volunteer in Rajhoon, I was worried about how the villagers would accept me, how I would overcome the language barrier and whether I would manage to teach the children well. But all my fears disappeared a few days into my stay. I learnt so much about how to teach children of varied academic levels in the same classroom, how to be patient and understanding with the children and most importantly, how to be happy with what you have. I have traveled to so many cities around the country but I felt like this was the first time I truly saw what India is all about. The lack of technology and phone network gave me the chance to really soak up the village experience. Instead of sitting on my phone or laptop in my free time, I was visiting temples and attending local events like the ‘mela’ – a huge fair of rides, food, toys and clothes stalls. I have met so many inspiring people during my stay in Rajhoon. It has been an unforgettable few weeks of teaching, learning and loving.

That being said, it still hurts to see how flawed the Indian education system is. I have grown up reading about thousands of children in India being denied not just their right to education but their right to good quality education. But when you see it first hand, it hits you much harder. Every child in the country deserves to be educated well. One month of teaching may not have made a huge difference but I hope it’s a start. I wish I could have stayed longer, and I hope that I can go back to the village some time in the future. I encourage everyone who can use the opportunity Brandeis gives its students through the Brandeis-India Fellowship to make a difference in India. I can say with certainty that I come away from this volunteering experience having gained far more than I can ever hope to give back to the children and families of Rajhoon.

Monsoon Style – Kiran’s Second Post

– Written July 15, 2013

I’m going to be honest with you… I agreed to spend 3 months in India, during the rainy seasons, with a limited understanding of the monsoons. And, when I say “limited understanding,” I mean, “I had no idea what to expect,” as my concept of the monsoons was based off of the film Monsoon Weddings and it rains for a total of five minutes in the last scene. Leaving Boston, I had no idea what to expect and over the last 6 weeks I’ve come to realize there is a disconnect between my personal monsoon essentials and those of the people who actually live here.

My monsoon must-haves consist of a Barbour coat or a hot pink raincoat paired with Hunter Wellington Rain Boots, sunglasses and oh yes, can’t forget, an umbrella. In short, I look a little like this…

Albeit, sans dog.

Some may scoff at my decision to wear a Barbour coat in scorching heat of India but when torrents of rain fall from the sky at an unrelenting pace and the wind starts to rush by your face… It gets a little cold. Sunglasses may also raise a few eyebrows but don’t let the word sun deter you from rocking your shades because the previously mentioned wind gets a little nasty and who knows what might fly into your eye. (Also, I’ve developed the habit of wearing sunglasses in all types of weather.)

Expat or native – an umbrella is a must! In addition, I’ve seen many people place their cellphones in plastic bags, akin to Ziploc baggies, and use them as such.

Now, regardless of what I wear in India I will draw stares but it is my knee-high rain boots which really steal the show. Whenever I don my Hunters, I will notice men and women alike staring at my feet. My shoes, I have realized, have the ability to elicit baffled expressions, friendly smiles and much to my dismay, even a few snickers. Just as my footwear is such an oddity to Indians I am equally surprised and amazed that no one in India, unless they are an expat or incredibly stylish, wears rain boots in the rain. Instead, sandals, flats and even crocs are deemed acceptable footwear. I’ve even seen many ladies wear heels or sandals with wedges!

It baffles me. But, there are pros and cons to both options. Unlike the exposed sandals and chappals, my feet remained comfortably dry and mud free. But, while I clunk around in massive, cumbersome rain boots everyone else is walking around without massive bricks attached to their feet.

Kiran Gill spent the summer in Mumbai interning at Vogue India. Read more about her time in India on her blog:

Building Relationships – Rhea’s Second Update

officeHello again from Delhi, India. As I type, I can hear raindrops pelting the metal roof of the Udayan Care Head Office. This weather makes everyone in the office want to leave their desks and enjoy the rain with a cup of masala chai. Just as we start getting into work mode, we are all summoned to the conference room. It turns out that it’s the Managing Trustee’s birthday and everyone’s invited to come eat cake and drink some more tea! After the celebration we break for lunch and finally, at 2pm, start doing some work!

As a Communications Intern, my job for the remaining 3 weeks of my internship is to help the Assistant Director of Communication with the Udayan Care Newsletter for July 2013. It was a really fun experience because I got a chance to interact with most of the people at the Head Office because information had to be verified and collected from every department. Unlike my independent project on Donor Recognition, the Newsletter gave me a lot of opportunities to really understand how a non-profit works and how many people are involved in every decision that is taken!

After collecting information from the various departments and revising the articles, the Newsletter was finally completed and sent out to the various list-serves. My month and a half in Delhi definitely served me well. I enjoyed working for Udayan Care so much that I continued working from my hometown Indore, India by helping with the August Newsletter. I feel blessed to have had such an amazing work environment, where I was never treated as an intern but as a full time employee of Udayan Care.

My final meeting with the Managing Trustee, Mrs. Kiran Modi, was life changing in some ways. We discussed my final present on Donor Recognition and went over the July Newsletter. She asked me how I was placed work wise for the Fall semester. I told her that I had 4.5 classes and would be swamped with work but she insisted on me committing to intern with Udayan Care. I was absolutely overwhelmed with this opportunity. My goal would be to serve as a liaison between Udayan Care and various universities abroad. I also got my very own Udayan Care email address! I’m looking forward to a long term relationship with Udayan Care and working with the Udayan Care Team to reach our goals!

-Rhea Sanghi ‘15

One Week in Rajhoon – Ankita’s First Impressions

Written June 15th, 2013

Hi Everyone! My name is Ankita, I am a rising junior studying Psychology and Education Studies. This summer I decided to teach in a village in Northern India through the organisation Love Volunteers. I was put in touch with a local NGO called Sankalp which works in the field of education and child care. My journey began in the desert city of Jaipur, Rajasthan where I had my orientation. A few days of interacting with Jaipur volunteers, learning more about my host family and the village and exploring the city resulted in a great start to my summer internship. I did encounter a few hiccups during my journey to the village (including almost missing my train due to traffic) but after a fifteen-hour train ride and beautiful seven-hour drive through fields and mountains, I finally reached Rajhoon – my home for the next month.

Rajhoon is a small village of 35 families located in the interiors of Himachal Pradesh. Surrounded by lush, green fields and snow-capped mountains it is without a doubt one of the prettiest places I have seen. I found the village extremely secluded and rural. It has two small stores, unpaved roads running through fields and more cows than people. It is unlike any place I’ve been to before. The closest town is almost an hour away and the only mode of transport is a bus that drives through the village twice a day. This is the first time I have been so disconnected from my friends and family!

I am staying with a host family, which has welcomed me with open arms. I do not feel like I am a stranger from what my host mother calls “the big, fancy Bombay”. In one week I feel completely at home around my host family and the house. Since the house has an open courtyard that leads to the main road, most of the villagers have to walk through the house on their way to work or school. I have already interacted with a large number of women who stop by and say hi when they cross the courtyard. So many of them have told me how excited they are for their children to finally learn something in school, since the teachers do not do a good job.

My classroom in school

My classroom in school

My main job is to teach English at the village public school. I have been assigned grades 3 to 5. I was surprised to see that there are only 4 – 8 children per class. The school itself is a small building of a few classrooms, a kitchen and the headmaster’s room. It overlooks an open field and is surrounded by tall mountains. The classrooms are minimally furnished – they have a blackboard, a teacher’s desk and chair, and a small torn carpet for the children to sit on. Since this is an elementary school, there are children studying in Grades 1 to 5. However, there are only three classrooms which means children of different ages end up studying in the same classroom. Since it impossible for one teacher to teach different grades in the same room, children are rarely taught grade-appropriate material. The fact that the school has only two teachers across five grades has worsened the level and quality of teaching.

From the language analysis test I gave the students, I realized that most of them do not know how to read or write English. I have been instructed by the headmaster to follow the school curriculum which means I have to teach the children how to answer questions based on stories in their text books. But students in Grade 3 do not know the alphabet; those in Grade 5 cannot read. I plan on starting from scratch and teaching them the basics of the English language before attempting to get through their textbooks.

Me teaching students English

Me teaching students English

One of the bigger challenges I have faced till now is the language. Having grown up in Mumbai, I am reasonably fluent in Hindi. I didn’t think I would have a problem communicating with the villagers because the NGO told me Hindi was the spoken language in Rajhoon. However, that was not the case. The villagers speak a language called “Pahaadi” which is a dialect only spoken in the hilly regions of Himachal Pradesh. The elders in the village seem to know enough Hindi to talk to me but the biggest challenge is the children. My students know broken Hindi but for the most part, they speak in their local language. It is definitely going to be challenging to teach them when we have no common language of communication.

One week into my internship and I have already fallen in love with the people, the place and my work. My task to teach these students seems far more daunting than I expected. I am nervous but very excited for the coming few weeks!

Volunteering at Udayan Care – Rhea’s First Post

Hello from the chaotic, excessively conjested yet vibrant capital of India, New Delhi! I’m currently at the Lajpat Nagar Head Office of Udayan Care where I am interning for the next 6 weeks. Udayan Care is a 19 years old non-profit organization that has 13 foster homes for boys and girls and a scholarship program for girls wishing to pursue higher studies. It aims to empower, educate and provide educational and employment opportunities to the disadvantaged youth in the National Capital Region. The unique factor about Udayan Care is that each foster home has no more than 15 children and has at least 4 mentor parents and numerous volunteers to support the children. It also has a program called the Udayan Shalini Fellowships initiated in 2002, that aims to ensure no girl with the drive to learn is denied her dream, due to lack of support.

I found out about Udayan Care through a family friend and immediately got in touch with the Volunteer Coordinators over winter break. Initially, I applied to volunteer at an Udayan Ghar but my plans changed when I went to the Head Office in June 2013. I was introduced to the Managing Trustee, Kiran Modi, and she asked me what I did at Brandeis. Amongst many things, I told her that I worked for Brandeis Phonathon. Kiran thought it was best for me to get in touch with the Communication Department considering my experience with Brandeis Phonathon.

rhea-udayan-staffMeenakshi Kohli, the Director of Communications was given the responsibility to ensure I find a project as she decided that I would be more of use to the Communication Department than the Ghar program. It was decided that Udayan Care needed some research to be done on online giving and I was the best person for it, given my experience with Brandeis Phonathon. However, after discussing the pros and cons of the project, we decided that it would take me more than six weeks to collect substantial information and thus, the idea of doing a research project on online giving was dropped. We then met Kiran Modi again and she gave me a project on Donor Recognition. I was supposed to do research on how to recognize donors online and offline. After collecting the statistics of the average donor, I went through various websites and found various ways to recognize donors. I put together a PowerPoint presentation and presented it to the Director of Communications, Director of Fundraising and the Board of Trustees. This presentation marked the end of the first half of my internship.

Although I didn’t interact with people from my age group, I got a chance to mingle with the employees  – the backbone of Udayan Care. I was transformed to a different world when we spoke about their backgrounds, love for Udayan Care and need to give back. It was great to have some serious and some very mindless conversations with my co-workers over lunch! More than that, it was inspiring to sit in a room full of individuals devoted to such a great cause. Children from various homes would be in and out of the Head Office and it was a pleasure to see them come running into the office to greet us and thank us for all the work we were doing. It was such an amazing feeling to see how our jobs were not only impacting our lives, but also their lives. Overall, the first three weeks spent with Udayan Care made me even more excited for what was to come and I was looking forward to working with a group of creative individuals who taught me so much about how non-profits functioned and life!

– Rhea Sanghi ’15

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