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

Second Chances: The Ritinjali Experience part 2

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

 

My favorite story

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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My farewell from Mahipalpur

The Trains of Mumbai – First Post, Kiran Gill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 jfrdmn@brandeis.edu.

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

Second Chances: the Ritinjali experience part 1

After an entire semester abroad in Nepal centered around studying Tibetan, I was nervous to move on to another adventure in India. But somehow here I am, in the 110 degree New Delhi heat.  After my arrival, I found myself wandering the streets of Mahipalpur, South Delhi, searching for Ritinjali, the NGO I would be working with for the next 5 weeks.

IMG_1163Ritinjali is a small, volunteer based organization dedicated to rehabilitating young people and helping them to achieve success.  It has five learning centers in slums across New Delhi and Gurgaon, in addition to two centers catered to young adults. My curiosity peaked as I approached the office and two seemingly Tibetan boys passed me on the way. Intrigued, I continued on to the office and learned more about what the coming weeks had in store for me.  Rather serendipitously, the residential center, also known as the Second Chance School, where the office is located, which houses boys as they receive educational and vocational training to ready them for jobs, just three weeks prior received 21 Tibetan boys! Feeling confident and somewhat star-crossed, I took my work with Ritinjali with stride. Since it is the hot season, many learning centers and schools are closed as many families return to their villages to escape the unforgiving Delhi heat.  Due to this, my responsibilities in the NGO are focused on administration and marketing work, in addition to some independent research.  For starters, I have begun compiling information for their annual report. With 9 different projects in addition to special events, it took time to go through the monthly reports and gather the pertinent information to neatly compose a concise annual summary of each project.  While it was not particularly exciting work, it was definitely an important step towards learning the ins and outs of the non-profit sector.  My final product can be found here.

As for daily life in Delhi, I rent a room just opposite the Second Chance School in Mahipalpur, Mata Chowk. I eat my meals with the boys of the Second Chance School, who cook wonderful food every day! There are 21 Tibetan boys and 15 Indian boys, making my total number of current brothers a whopping 36.  The Tibetan boys are attending Pallavanjali School and are enrolled in a job ready program that is aimed at doing just that. The Indian boys have been residing longer and are all in job trainings, internships or have secured their own permanent jobs.

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Some of the Tibetan boys outside Pallavanjali school in Gurgaon

My spare time has been centered around helping those Tibetan boys with less English skills with their homework, as they’re a bit behind since they don’t speak either English or Hindi well. This endeavor is both challenging and rewarding, especially since they insist on returning the favor and extending my Tibetan language learning.

I have begun going to Pallavanjali School with the Tibetan boys in the morning, which is an hour and forty minute commute involving a bus, the metro and a school bus. The commute alone is a cultural experience. Something about transportation in India never leaves me bored. The alternative to taking the first bus from Mahipalpur to the metro station, as it appears to me, is essentially just flagging down a seemingly random vehicle, offering 10 rupees per person, and then packing as many of us in as possible. I usually try to do a headcount, just for my own curiosity. The record remains at 15 of us in a tempo. Not including the driver. Me and 14 Tibetan boys. I imagine we make for quite a scene on the streets of New Delhi.

But anyway, the administration at Pallavanjali asked me to create marketing material for the PIAIP program, which the Tibetan boys are participating in. Pallavanjali is a school that was created for young people who do not function optimally in a traditional academic set up.  This could be because they are differently abled, have special needs, have never previously attended school or have more specific needs. The PIAIP program, or Pallavanjali Institute for the Actualization of Individual Potential, was created specifically for young adults to help them hone soft skills and set them up with internships to develop the hard skills that allow them to be successful in the outside world. Some of the material I created can be found here.