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

An Extraordinary Six Months – Ellie’s Final Reflection

After officially finishing my semester of studies in Delhi, I can’t help but reflect on the amalgamation of experiences, feelings, and emotions that I have experienced while studying abroad in India. My short six months of studies and travel have flown by, and yet I have experienced such an array of confusion, juxtaposition, and contradictions that have made my experiences in India at times overwhelmingly indescribable and extraordinary. While reflecting on my past six months, one of the only continuities that I can honestly say extended throughout my semester abroad is a sense of inconsistency and unexpectedness that I had yet to ever experience elsewhere. My experience in India was undoubtedly meaningful and life-changing, but above all it taught me to expect the unexpected and adapt to life’s continual surprises.

Our first time dealing with “Delhi Belly”

Our first time dealing with “Delhi Belly”

Despite the countless lessons and understandings that my semester in India has left me with, one very concrete learning experience from my semester abroad is my decision to volunteer at a local NGO called Prayas. The Prayas Juvenile-aid Center for underprivileged is an organization that specifically houses adolescent girls within the Delhi area who have experienced sexual assault, violence, or other traumatic experiences in their lives that prohibit them from returning home safely. This organization provides psychological care, housing, general education, vocational studies as well as sexual health and wellness education for both the Prayas girls as well as local underprivileged slum children. At this organization, I volunteered weekly through lesson planning, teacher assistance, English language and grammar teaching, and academic material preparation in order to help the organization achieve its academic objectives.

A group of students from Prayas

A group of students from Prayas

My experience volunteering at Prayas was by far one of the most challenging and ultimately rewarding experiences during my semester in India. Despite numerous challenges I overcame with transportation, language, culture shock, cultural differences, and more throughout the semester, none of these concerns compared to how difficult it was to volunteer at an NGO in a foreign country. Although I initially predicted difficulties because of my own limited knowledge of Hindi, I never suspected the vast differences I found between NGOs in India and the NGOs I was more accustomed to back in the States- particularly within organization, implementation, administrative corruption, and overall quality of education. Despite these many differences that initially left me questioning my overall place and ability to help improve Prayas’s accomplishments, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was to step back and reestablishing my own goals towards a personal learning experience about Indian NGOs and facilitating the NGO rather than attempting to completely reorganizing the center within a short six months. Through this mindset, I was able to minimize my own imposition as a foreign volunteer and instead focus my own work around how I could best aid the organization in its own pre-established objectives.

Students participating in a game of “Ellie Ketihe” (or Simon Says) at Prayas

Students participating in a game of “Ellie Ketihe” (or Simon Says) at Prayas

Through my weekly visits to the Prayas campus, I learned how to establish meaningful and consistent relationships with my supervisor, the Prayas teachers, and the students despite very apparent cultural and language barriers. While many aspects of the organization were overwhelmingly heavy at times, particularly the living conditions and personal lives of the students I worked with, I aspired to encourage the students towards academic achievement and personal strength towards their futures. On a weekly basis, I prepared English-learning games, activities, and lessons in order to get to know the students better and make them more comfortable with myself as a volunteer. By the end of the semester, I struggled on my own to say goodbyes to the children I had become so close with. On the final day when tears were shed and hugs were dispersed throughout the classroom, I could only hope that my semester of volunteering made some sort of long-term positive impact within their lives and with the organization itself. While my experiences at Prayas spanned from motivational, inspiring, and at times heartbreaking, volunteering during my semester abroad was one of the most significant decisions I made while in India. I only hope that future students hoping to study abroad in India also choose to volunteer at Prayas or another similar NGO, as it was a truly wonderful way to both give back and receive one of the most meaningful foreign volunteer and cultural immersion experiences I could have imagined.

The Indian experience- riding my first elephant!

The Indian experience- riding my first elephant!

In addition to personal growth in my own physical and mental flexibility, endurance, and independence, India has left me with a plethora of uniquely hilarious anecdotes that I will bring with me throughout the rest of my life. From the time I had a bag of Kurkure (Indian-style Cheetos) stolen directly out of my hands by a monkey in central Delhi, the time I was pelted by water balloons while riding in an Auto-rickshaw the day before Holi, or the first time I walked out onto marble to see the magnificent Taj Mahal at sunrise, India has bestowed me with a set of inconceivable, unimaginably funny, exhaustive, and at times overwhelming memories that will always remind me of my semester abroad. My semester in Delhi has been undeniably one of the most significant and extraordinary experiences of my college experience, and I will always remember my infinite memories of confusion, shock, awe, and endearment when I think of the six months I spent abroad in India.

A group of IES students celebrating the Indian holiday, Holi

A group of IES students celebrating the Indian holiday, Holi

– Ellie Kaufman ’14

Social Justice and Industrial Accidents: Notes from Bhopal – Alina

Satinath Sarangi, managing trustee of Sambhavna Trust

Satinath Sarangi, managing trustee of Sambhavna Trust

There are many different ways that large multinational corporations affect local communities in developing countries- environmentally, physically and psychologically (Labunska et al, 1999; Mitchell, 1996). Yet it is only when this global industrialization results in a catastrophic event where people’s lives and health are at risk that the world’s media and legal systems pay attention. However, such attention is often short-lived and lacks any depth of study to monitor the lasting effects on people and communities. Such is often the story with industrial accidents in the developing world- countries with lower safety measures and a greater economic need to win over a large profitable contract are both more likely to harbor an industrial accident (Mitchell, 1996) and less likely to be able to appropriately manage and deal with one. At Sambhavna Trust in Bhopal, I am looking at issues of social justice and health promotion in the context of developing countries affected by industrial accidents, and in particular, the legacy of the industrial accident in Bhopal. I am looking for a definition of social justice that looks to the future, one that aims for a just reaction and response to industrial accidents. The industrial accident in Bhopal, India and its repercussions has been termed ‘the world’s worst industrial disaster’ (Hanna et al, 2005, p.6) and provides a great starting point to explore such a definition of social justice.

Five past midnight in Bhopal
At five past midnight on 3rd December 1984 a pesticide plant in Bhopal owned by the American company Union Carbide leaked 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas (MIC) into the surrounding environment (Broughton, 2005; Hanna et al, 2005; Mitchell, 1996). MIC is highly toxic and can be fatal. Short term effects on people’s health include burning in the respiratory tract and eyes, blepharospasm, breathlessness, stomach pains and vomiting. These acute symptoms can lead to death by choking, reflexogenic circulatory collapse and pulmonary pedema, as well as damaging the kidneys, liver and reproductive organs (Sriramachari, 2004). Through the night of 3rd December 1984 thousands of people died- the official number remains unknown; the Government of India declares the death toll to be at least 3800 (Broughton, 2005), while other estimations by independent organizations, NGOs and the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) vary between 10,000 and 30,000 (ICJB, 2010; Eckerman, 2005). A further 100,000- 150,000 people are estimated to have permanent injuries as a result of the MIC exposure and the stillbirth rate in those affected increased by up to 300% (Eckerman, 2005). The overwhelming majority of those affected were living in bastis (local term for temporary, substandard accommodation communes) surrounding the factory, where birth records were rare and number of inhabitants unknown. Mass cremations and burials began the day after the accident. There are varying reports on the specific causes of the gas leak though it is clear that poor maintenance of the plant since it ceased production months earlier, led to the magnitude of the problem; several key safety systems were switched off under Union Carbide Corporation’s instruction, including the MIC tank refrigeration system, in order to save money (Eckerman, 2005; ICJB, 2010; Hanna et al, 2005).

The Union Carbide Factory now

The Union Carbide Factory now

Ongoing Effects
The deserted Union Carbide factory still stands, unvisited except for the occasional journalist or trespassing children since the accident. The site of the disaster was never cleared or cleaned of its toxic waste. The factory continues to omit toxic, poisonous gases from the many abandoned sheds, storerooms and solar evaporation ponds holding up to 27 tons of MIC and other gases (ICJB, 2010; Hanna et al, 2005). These chemicals have leaked into the soil, contamination the groundwater source for approximately 25,000 Bhopalis who live nearby (Bhopal Medical Appeal, 2010; ICJB, 2010). A Greenpeace study found chloroform, lead, mercury and a series of other chemicals in the breast milk of mothers living in proximity to the factory (Labunska et al, 1999). The factory and the chemicals within continue to cause death, breathing difficulties, damaged eyesight, reproductive complications, growth stunting, accelerated cancers and a range of other ailments and malformations for survivors and their children (Hanna et al, 2005).

Patients waiting for their treatment at the Clinic.

Patients waiting for their treatment at the Clinic.

Differently abled boy who receives therapy at Chingari Trust

Differently abled boy who receives therapy at Chingari Trust

Union Carbide’s response
Since December 1984 Union Carbide has consistently refused to identify the chemical agents that caused the accident for legal liability reasons- making effective treatment for survivors difficult (Bhopal Medical Appeal, 2010). In addition, the corporation has still not confirmed what was in the toxic cloud in December 1984 (Dhara & Dhara, 2002). There is a chance that the cloud also contained HCN (hydrogen cyanide- a more deadly gas formed when MIC reached 200 degrees Celsius) so patients were originally administered with sodium thiosulfate- a known therapy for cyanide poisoning but not for MIC exposure. Despite patients responding well to the sodium thiosulfate, Union Carbide withdrew an initial statement recommending its use when they realized the extra legal implications of cyanide poisoning (Mangla, 1989; Varma, 1989; Anderson, 1989; Dhara and Dhara, 2002). This is one of the many claimed ways Union Carbide attempted to manipulate, disguise and withhold scientific data to the disadvantage of victims (Broughton, 2005). To date no comprehensive scientific research has been funded or carried out into effective treatment for those affected by the accident in Bhopal (ICJB, 2010).

The lab at the factory, abandoned

The lab at the factory, abandoned

The American chairman of Union Carbide in 1984, Warren Anderson was arrested for culpable homicide just days after the disaster but paid USD 2000 in bail then fled India and has yet to return. Warren Anderson, along with other Union Carbide workers from the American contingent, continues to escape criminal charges. Major questions regarding safety, negligence, causes and clean up remain unanswered by those responsible.

The Indian Government declared itself the sole representative and legal spokesperson for the Bhopal ‘victims’ in an Act passed in 1985 (Broughton, 2005; Hanna et al, 2005). Union Carbide successfully brought the case to Indian courts, and after a five year legal battle made an out-of-court settlement payment to the government of USD 470 million (Broughton, 2005). Compensation channels were rife with corruption and incorrect data. Survivors facing chronic illnesses due to the gas leak received a maximum of USD 500 as compensation, if they were granted anything at all, which in most cases was not enough to cover the medical costs alone (Sarangi, 1995; ICJB, 2010). Outstanding criminal charges against Union Carbide and Warren Anderson regarding cleanup of the factory have ben brought to New York but never come to fruition. In February 2001, Dow Chemicals merged with Union Carbide forming the second largest chemical manufacturer in the world. Dow Chemicals (the name retained) claims not to accept any responsibility for a factory it never owned (despite paying liabilities for previous Union Carbide cases based in Texas, America) (ICJB, 2010).

Sambhavna Trust
Lying in the heart of the community of those affected by the Bhopal disaster of 1984 is the Sambhavna Trust. Just 200 meters from the abandoned union carbide factory, the Sambhavna (meaning ‘possibility’) Trust Clinic is the only facility providing free treatment to both gas and water affected persons. Since its establishment in 1996, it has provided free Western medicine, Ayurvedic and Allopathic treatments to those affected by the industrial disaster. Sambhavna also does community health outreach programs for those unable to travel to the clinic and records health data on patients to assist research studies.

Sambhavna is internationally funded by private donors and is locally managed. The clinic is also a member of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) and provides a key hub for people to obtain information and resources regarding the ongoing legal claims and their rights.

Researchers and volunteers in the library at the Clinic.

Researchers and volunteers in the library at the Clinic.

Social Justice in Bhopal
Talking to the victims of the disaster as well as the staff members, volunteers and doctors at Sambhavna, I am beginning to form a clear definition of what social justice means for the twenty five year long Union Carbide case in Bhopal and the health and wellbeing of those affected.

– Alina Pokhrel

References:

  • Anderson, N. (1989) Long term effects of methyl isocyanate, in Lancet, Vol.2, Issue 8662, p. 1259
  • Bhopal Medical Appeal, (2010) Online Updates and historical information. Accessed July 2013 from: http://www.bhopal.org
  • Broughton, E. (2005) The Bhopal Disaster and its Aftermath: A Review, in Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source, 4:6, accessed July 2013 from: http://www.ehjournal.net/content/pdf/1476-069X-4-6.pdf
  • Dhara, V.R & Dhara, R. (2002) The Union Carbide Disaster in Bhopal: A review of health effects, in Archives of Environmental Health, p. 391-404.
  • Eckerman, I. (2005) The Bhopal gas leak: Analyses of causes and consequences by three different models, in Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industry, Vol 18, p. 213-217
  • Hanna, B; Morehouse, M & Sarangi, S. (2005) The Bhopal Reader, New York, The Apex Press
  • International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), (2010), Online updates and historical information. Accessed July 2010 from http://bhopal.net/

My Advice for Volunteers in Dharamshala – Xiaoyu Liu

mapWhen I first decided to teach in India, I thought I could do a lot for the kids there: I could tell stories about the world as well as teach them classes like what my professors had lectured me in college. I believed everybody had a sense of critical-thinking and I could cultivate that by leading class discussions like what in my college classes. Also, I knew that kids were eager to learn knowledge from outside world, based on my somewhat similar volunteering experience in China. When I was teaching in a middle school in Guizhou, China, one day, I was in charge of a self-learning class in which usually kids did their homework and I read. When I took out my magazines, some kids rushed to my desk and asked to take a look. The next day, I brought some other magazines and the kids again took them away. I could tell that kids were eager to learn new knowledge and I firmly believed this worked out the same in India. Therefore, I felt I just needed to bring myself there and give them useful and interesting lectures to help them learn something. mountainsBut once I went there, I found my expectation would be hard to come true because there was something I missed in my plan. The first and the most obvious part was the language gap. Before I went to India, I thought English worked as an official language there, so the kids should be able to understand most of what I said in English. However, this proved wrong at a school in a rural area. The program I was working with was the Love Volunteer program and the local NGO I was working with was Sankalp which is an India-based organization that has many projects, including educational projects in Dharamshala and Jaipur, and developmental projects in Maharashtra. What I did was teaching computer skills and English at a local elementary school in Bundla, Dharamshala, where most of the villagers could not speak much English. Most of the kids in my class aged from seven to eleven, and their English level was only limited to daily talks, like “how are you,” or “where are you from.”

kidsrockSecondly, it really takes time to understand the local culture and to get along well with the kids. It is not only about loving them, buying them snacks and playing with them, but also understanding what they like or dislike, knowing the ways of their lives, and appreciating the local culture. There are so many things for us volunteers to learn from the local area and it takes much time to understand, to accept and to feel comfortable with it. For example, when I had my first day in class, all of the kids came to surround me and asked me to dance for them. I said, “What? Shouldn’t we sit nicely and I speak, you listen?” I expected to give them a good lecture but they just wanted me to dance. It was like a culture shock to me but I still did it for them. Gradually, as I stayed in India longer, I realized that dancing was one of most significant part of Indian culture. The dancing images are everywhere, from god statues to TV programs, and everyone is born a dancer; even young kids wave their bodies step by step with the music. After knowing more and more elements about Indian culture, I started to feel comfortable and then to appreciate what my kids did, although in my own culture people do not dance very much but sing a lot. Later, we had a picnic, and we danced there for hours during the lunch break. Although I was still not good at it, but I did not feel uncomfortable when my students asked me to dance in front of them anymore. After all, it takes time for one to accept new ideas from another culture. playingStill, though the volunteering experience was totally different from my expectation, I learned a good lesson from that. Then I further considered what role we volunteer from abroad were and what we could bring to the kids in India. There is something we cannot do, like what I expected teaching sophisticated concepts, but there is other thing we can do for them. For example, we can teach good behaviors and habits. This could be like teaching them do not litter, since some little kids believe that it is ok to throw trash anywhere. Rather than taking it for granted, we should remind them to pick it up and put in a trash can. Even though it is a small thing, we should take it seriously, and further educate them the importance of protecting the environment and keeping the public space clean.

tajmahal

I also suggest that those who really want to do something for the kids to apply for a longer program. One-month program is definitely not long enough. I would recommend staying there for at least three month, which could be useful in helping a foreigner to better understand the Indian culture and kids so that he can figure out the best teaching strategies. I took a one-month program, which was only a good start for me to make friends with the kids and then we waved good-bye. However, if under a longer program, on the one hand one can learn some Hindi to better communicate with the kids, staying longer results in more interaction with the kids, no matter through in class or leisure time, and better friendships. In the end, you are more likely to find out an appropriate way or approach to teach kids and help them really learn something – and you will learn a lot too!

– Xiaoyu Liu

Celebrating World Blood Donation Day in Varanasi – Aliza’s first update

Namaste from the exotic, hectic, sweltering, holy city of Varanasi, India! On my daily rickshaw ride to The Dove Foundation, the vibrant colors, smells, and sounds of Varanasi bombard my senses. The Dove Foundation is the largest youth-led non-profit organization in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
The foundation aims to provide quality healthcare, education, and to expand educational and employment opportunities to youth members of marginalized communities, with a high emphasis on urban slums. At 3 years old, the Dove has already established three programs including Project Arambh, which has received the 2010 MTV Staying Alive Foundation Award. Project Arambh provides HIV/AIDS and reproductive health education to the low-caste community of bicycle rickshaw pullers in India. The Dove Foundation also runs two other programs: The Youth Education Program (2011), and the Community Involvement Program (2012).

I found the Dove Foundation through internship site leads posted on the Brandeis India Initiative website. I emailed Abhinav Singh, the listed Dove contact person, over winter break showing general interest in their organization. I soon received an enthusiastic response that we might be able to work together. We had many Skype interviews over break and continued to talk about what the Dove has already done, and what present needs I could meet with my already developed skills set regarding fundraising, publicity, and outreach.

As a Communication Intern for the Dove, I will help develop the organization’s online fundraising campaign; create a short promotional video about their various programs sponsored by their organization that will be distributed on social media sites and their WebPages; facilitate programs for members of the marginalized communities that The Dove assists; write and edit web content and brochures; and manage the Foundation’s social media sites.

When I first arrived at the Indian Medical Association Building, where Dove Foundation is based, I was thrilled to finally meet Abhinav Singh and Mohita Keshare, my two internship coordinators with whom I had been corresponding with since last winter. Both introduced me to several other Dove volunteers, all less than 35 years old. The youthful spirit and energy of the group of volunteers is contagious, and makes working for this organization much more fun, and I’ve already picked up some interesting slang from my co-workers.

The first week, the Dove organized the World Blood Donation 2013 mega event. My first day at work involved advertising the Dove Foundation’s blood donation campaign in Varanasi’s bustling IP Sigra Mall. This was fantastic exposure. I met up with other Dove volunteers, and learned several phrases in Hindi about the blood drive:

Didje to-fa dzindi ghee-ka: Donate blood, save a life!
Ya “Blood Donate” carne aye gha!: Come Donate blood now!
Also… Apke sahg-nam kiya-he? : What is your name?


me at the blood donor rally

The following day, I visited a local ashram/orphanage with Dove volunteers to create a skit for a street theater performance with the young children for the Dove Foundation’s World Blood Donation Day rally. For this, I learned more lines in Hindi, and felt warmed by the bright faces of the young boys.

The rally was the most exciting part of my first week. An open-backed van mounted with several large speakers pulled into our office parking lot for the rally event. We decorated the van with vinyl posters and white and red balloons on all sides. The van blasted music as it drove towards the IP Sigra mall, where it a large crowd gathered. After we performed our skit for a hundred or so pedestrians, the van drove to its second destination, the gates of Benares Hindu University, for a flash mob performance to promote World Blood Donation Day 2013. A procession of motorcycles roared along the van’s path and volunteers holding signs followed the van as it reached the destination. As the van made frequent stops to announce its campaign to the community, volunteers distributed informational pamphlets and free coupons to a local restaurant.

At the gates of the university, loud music began to play and a group of fifteen dancers gathered behind the van. The crowd circled around them, and the dance troupe broke out in a choreographed hip-hop piece. In addition to publicizing World Blood Donation Day, and passing out pamphlets, and acting in a Hindi skit at the rally, I also took pictures.

Overall, my first week at the Dove Foundation made me even more excited to be working for a group of energized creative individuals for the rest of my summer. I anticipate learning much about how non-profits function in non-western countries, in addition to understanding the conditions and issues facing the marginalized populations the Dove Foundation assists. However, I did not anticipate donating my own blood for World Blood Donation Day.

– Aliza Gans ’15

Little Stars School – Jonathan’s first update

After landing at the Delhi airport and stepping foot on Indian land for the first time in three years, I had experienced a wave of heat that I had not anticipated. The final destination, Varanasi, where I had once studied before was a 12-hour train ride away and I was getting very excited to work on the computer game I planned to develop over the summer.

Everyone was telling me, “Don’t go to Varanasi, it is too hot,” or “Monsoon coming- two months is too long in Varanasi.” Especially with the heat I had experienced in Delhi, I was getting a little anxious. I had hoped for slightly better weather, as I knew the weather would have some impact on my daily energy, mood, and workflow. Now I realize, monsoon season is not so bad. After all, millions of people are living through the monsoon conditions every year, so I figured I could do the same.

Weather aside, it has been great here in Varanasi. I have been reconnecting with many friends, teachers, and families, and making new friends. At the Little Stars School, I got to work right away. However, there have been a few drawbacks which have changed the direction of my original project.

I had anticipated the internet to improve in the city since the last time I visited; it hasn’t improved at all. Electricity outages are also a common problem, and this has greatly impacted my ability to work on desktop computers in the school. Every time there is an outage (which averages three to four times a day), the computers shut off immediately. This stops any updates or installations from completing, and more importantly, it damages the file system halting functionality of many of the computers. Nevertheless, computers have been repaired, largely on my part (thanks to skills gained via LTS helpdesk at Brandeis) and a computer repair man who has made one appearance.

Due to these hurdles, it has been difficult to work on the game. The game, originally called SnappyQuiz©, was designed as an online interactive and social quiz game to learn English. No internet meant no quiz game. I certainly could have continued to work on the game, but it would not have served the same purpose since the internet connections were so poor. It is important to know, though, that each computer in the computer lab at Little Stars School does have internet capabilities. So, the opportunity was there, and had the internet connection been reliable SnappyQuiz© would have been a reality.

I quickly changed the game to be locally run on each computer. The new game, which produces a random word from a dictionary of 20,000 words and times how fast you can type that word, is called TypeTime©. The rough, original, game was a great success. Three versions later, the game now saves high scores and has been widely praised at the school and at some of the homes in the surrounding community. While the game was designed exclusively for Little Stars School, people unaffiliated with the school have asked me to install the game on their personal computers, which has been flattering.

I designed the game according to what the kids at the school wanted. They said, “A typing game to learn how to type in English faster.” As it turns out, the people who found this game most difficult were the parents of some of these children who are even less educated and less familiar with computers. So, I made an “easy” and “hard” version of the game.

Despite the hard work and having made this game entirely from scratch on my own, I had so many ideas for new games. So, I began work on ABC Race©. Following the same structure of TypeTime©, ABC Race ©, times how fast you can type the letters of the alphabet, randomly arranged on the screen each time. The kids at Little Stars School loved this one!

As of now, the games are installed on the working desktops on the computer lab at the school. I come periodically to make changes, updates, and show new kids how to play. The kids at the school really get into the game and try to help each other, which has been an entertaining scene to watch (video evidence available).

Other days, I help Asha, the school founder, with administrative work, which is certainly a large part of donations and the overall success of the school. This includes redesigning the school’s logo for professional use, constructing the annual report for the recent year, making answer keys for English class books (this took a lot of time), reaching out to donors and organizations via email, and assembling a short film about the school, including interviews from important figures behind the scenes at Little Stars School.

This work has already proved to be helpful to the school and rewarding for me.  Not to mention, it is always fun to interact with the kids at the school. I anticipate the remainder of my work making an equally positive impact before I leave.

As for the city of Varanasi, it feels like another home and it will be sad to leave a place where so many people have acted as a family to me here. Though, I have left before and I will probably return again. Maybe Varanasi will see some new Brandeis students in the future. I expect that I have established a welcoming environment for them.

One of the girls at little stars playing the updated version of TypeTime.

One of the girls at little stars playing the updated version of TypeTime.

A girl from Little Stars playing ABC Race

A girl from Little Stars playing ABC Race

Girls collaborating together to type words and keeping scores on the board.

Girls collaborating together to type words and keeping scores on the board.

Reflections on Orissa: Daily Life, Meditation, Festivals and Beaches – Jessica Friedman

This summer, I am interning at a community-based NGO in Berhampur, Orissa, called Solidarity for Developing Communities (SFDC) which works on peace building and education projects among Dalit, Adivasi, and OBCs. I will be helping to develop a proposal for a project for empowering survivors of violence against women, particularly domestic labor trafficking.

LIFE AND WORK
Life in Orissa has been an adjustment for me. Beyond the heat, the noise, the smells and sights, it has been a trial adjusting to life in the Indian workplace. While my service in the Peace Corps provided me a multitude of experiences from which to draw and my visit to India last summer gave me a preview of Indian culture and lifestyle, it is still always a mental and physical shock to enter the unknown—unknown language, unknown customs and behaviors, unknown work styles, unknown events and activities, unknown people. Thankfully, within the past month that I have been here, some of those unknowns have gradually moved toward the spectrum of “known,” or at least they are becoming more familiar.

In fact, I could easily say that life has quickly fallen into a routine here in Berhampur. Mornings at the apartment I share with my Nepali roommate are simple: wake at the sound of my alarm or at the feeling of instant prickling heat once the ceiling fan shuts off due to daily scheduled power cuts, quick bucket bath, pull on my kurta, mangoes and bread for breakfast, and out the door we go. The SFDC office is just around the corner from our apartment, past papaya trees and cows and dying dogs, past young girls on bicycles riding to school with their dupata flying behind them, past strong men hurling bricks from a crumbling house and old men staring idly from the doorstep of their house, past the noise and concrete and dirt. I am amazed every day at how many things there are to see just within that one-block walk to work. And once we arrive at work, well, work is work. Though the pace is slower and more relaxed, it is still just the ins and outs of community development work at headquarters. I do research, edit documents, work on concept reports and officeproposals, compile surveys, and help with other office-based work, only interrupted by tea—delicious Indian milk cha served by Manu in tiny teacups and boiling hot (it is the only time I allow myself milk, being lactose intolerant… that and kulfi flavored ice cream). My favorite part of the day by far is Sacred Space meditation. Taken from a newspaper column that provides daily inspiration through philosophical and religious quotes, Sacred Space is an hour set aside each day for meditation and discussion about life’s little secrets, and some big ones as well. Having participated in a Vipassana meditation camp in Jaipur last summer, I look forward to these meditative and reflective talks to awaken my mind and spirit and interrupt the monotony of office work.

KARUNA SHANTI ASHRAM
A trip to SFDC’s Karuna Shanti ashram last week was also a welcome change of pace. While we call the program an ashram, really it is a +2 Science College, or the Indian school system’s post-secondary school, college preparatory program for those entering science-based university programs. Tucked in the far corner of a small village off of the main highway, it is green and peaceful—everything that Berhampur is not. The college houses only a few classrooms and dorms for the students and teachers. It is simple (and still in construction) but a joyful space for learning. It was a refreshing visit.

ashramPURI
On the other side of the spectrum was our trip a few weeks ago to Puri, a city 4-5 hours from Berhampur which I visited with my roommate. Puri is a famous religious site, home to the Shri Jagannath Temple. To our surprise, when we arrived in Puri after an uncomfortable train ride, the city was celebrating the Shri Jagannath Festival. We arrived in the main square outside of the massive temple to throngs of people praying, singing, and dancing wildly to drum beats. People stood on the balconies of surrounding buildings just to catch a glimpse of the festivities. Considering we did not know there would be a festival in progress, we also had no clue what the festival was celebrating. So while I slowly took in the scene before my eyes and tried to make sense of it, my roommate made friends with a man who turned out to be the news anchor for the national TV station—they were filming the event live from atop one of the buildings and he was scouting the crowd for people to interview. The man let us in on the details of the festival, the one day of the year that the temple’s three Gods are taken out of the temple in order to be bathed. The man also requested that we join him atop the building to be interviewed for the live TV coverage. We shyly agreed and were led like movie stars to the roof of the building just next to the Gods’ alter. News personnel were dashing around the rooftop and rows of people were sitting at the front, having paid a fortune to watch the festival from close. I tried to maintain composure despite having very little knowledge about the festival, and in spite of the heat that made sweat drip into my eyeballs and salt my chin.

festivalAfter the interviews, we hurried away from the festival to the comfort of a plate of puri or fried puffed bread with curry. Finally, we made our way to the “sea beach” to do some shopping and to enjoy the ocean. The beach itself resembled those in the Northeastern parts of the US with gray-green water, except instead of sea gulls roaming the sand there were cows, dogs, and even a few camels. Instead of bikini-clad girls, women were dressed in full saris or kurta which they wore into the water and somehow did not drown tangled in the heavy cloth. Vendors sold cotton candy and tea. There were hundreds upon hundreds of people, and it smelled of the trash that littered the beach entrance rather than the sandy salty smell of ocean. It was, in a word, the most peculiar beach I had ever seen.puri2

After a hearty seaside meal of mushroom curry, garlic chicken, dal, and rice, my roommate convinced me to enter a cremation ground just across from the beach. Although I had seen cremations before, I was surprised how open the grounds were. Anyone could pass through, and bodies were not contained in any way. Also, when I had seen cremations previously, the bodies had been nearly turned to ash; here however, the body parts were clearly visible and I felt like I was intruding on something very personal. It was disconcerting and I was glad to leave.

We left for the train station, thinking our adventures for the day were over. But we still had a train ride with general class tickets to survive. General class train seats, as compared to Sleeper Class or AC Class are known for being hot, crowded, and uncomfortable. That was an understatement. For 5 hours I balanced on the edge of a seat, inches away those unlucky people who had not found a seat and were forced to stand for 5 hours. With every stop, more people got on so that legs and feet and arms could not be moved without getting in someone’s way. Occasionally, a shouting match broke out between men fighting for a seat or for a little more leg room. One man crawled into the luggage space and looked quite comfortable until the space was needed for actual luggage. Everyone was drenched in sweat. When we neared out stop, we were instructed by other passengers to get up so our seat could be taken by those that had been standing. For 30 minutes we stood like that, pressed chest to back with an inch of space for breathing and hands going numb from holding heavy bags. I could not fathom how those people had stood for 5 hours. Finally we pushed and pulled our way off the train and were led not onto the platform, but to a 6 feet jump onto the train tracks and into the pouring rain. The rain felt like a dream and I wanted to stand there and have the water wash away the sweat and exhaustion but I was in the middle of the train tracks and could not stay there. It was, without a doubt, a trip to remember.

“On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.” — Friedrich Nietzche (from daily Sacred Space column)

Volunteering in Hariana, Punjab – Ariel Magid

After a year of hiatus, the Hariana Marginalized Community Empowerment project is successfully underway. Hariana is a city in Punjab, India and the migrants we work with are originally from Rajasthan and have been living at the outskirts of the community for years, unable to successfully integrate due to caste and migrant status. We work to empower these communities through educating them on health, nutrition, their governmental rights, environment and building their livelihoods through relevant activities.

The After School Fun Club with their masks

The After School Fun Club with their masks

At our initial meeting with the Hariana community (days after my initiation) they were very excited to be working with us again and have been incredibly receptive and welcoming towards the interns and our endeavors. On Mondays we work with the children in an After School Fun Club. Our objective for this project is to build the kids grasp of English and math skills through fun learning activities. The children really love learning and are always anxious, sometimes overly, to show us what they can do. Since many of them are unable to attend school, this is the highlight of their day and certainly ours too! This past month we focused on building their math skills through dice and matching games. In addition, we had fun painting pictures of their families and making cool masks.

Next month we will continue have fun with the kids and improve their basic skills. As we are still in the trust building phase, it is a slow climb towards progress, but already some of the children can recite their ABC’s and numbers 1-15 without any of our assistance so the potential for growth is great.

On Wednesday afternoons, we work with the Young Women’s Association Self-Help group. The Self-Help group is a savings/loaning program in which the women save a specified amount weekly and can use this money towards loans paid with interest. The savings part is still underway, but we have made strides with the Young Women’s association.

Some members of the Young Women’s Association

Some members of the Young Women’s Association

Our primary objective is to empower them to utilize their own skills and resources to improve their livelihoods through education, communication, self-esteem building, nutrition, and sanitation. Sanitation and health issues are a large problem with the young children, so to improve these conditions I plan to implement some sanitation and nutrition workshops. After some learning experiences we found out that the women are particularly interested in learning Hindi, as interns with a vague grasp of the Hindi language we have engaged our logistics coordinator, Gulshan to teach them every other week or so. When they are not learning Hindi, we enjoy doing activities such as making friendship bracelets and learning English. As we continue to build their trust, I am eager to see what the women have to offer EduCare and what we can do for them.

This month also marks the end of Katrina’s internship. Katrina was my counterpart In the Hariana Camp and took the initiative to re-establish it before I arrived. She has been an integral part of rebuilding the project and will be missed dearly by the community and her fellow interns. For the next six weeks I will take over as the Project Manager of Hariana Marginalized Community Empowerment project – I am very excited to see our progress continue and have many activities for the Fun club and Young Women’s Association.

– Ariel Magid, MCE Project Manager

Ariel with three girls

Ariel with three girls

Katrina and one of the girls

Katrina and one of the girls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more about Ariel’s volunteer work in India at her blog: http://indiaari.wordpress.com/

Update from Ellie Kaufman

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.

blogphoto2            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.

blogphoto3            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).

blogphoto1            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!
Ellie

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