Friday, June 27, 2014

Jeevika: Week Two

This week I got to attend some of the meetings and programs that Jeevika offers. On Monday I got to go the the Self Help Groups (SHGs) of the micro-finance program in the villages of South 24 Parganas. These areas were completely different from the city. It was great to see the programs in action in the field after reading so much about them. Swayamsampurna, the micro-finance program, is truly amazing, with so many women utilizing its resources. During the meetings the Loan Officer, who runs the meetings, talked about Alor Bata and Alor Disha, the women's rights groups, and asked if anybody had anything they wanted to talk about. This really demonstrated Jeevika's approach of combining financial empowerment and education on women's rights.

I also got to attend some trainings for the Alor Bata and Alor Disha groups. The most interesting thing to me was that even though the practices and violences that oppress women, such as child marriage, are different from the one's I encounter in my work at home, the attitudes and beliefs that contribute to these practices are far from different. I heard accounts of victim-blaming, sex-shaming, and sexism that were eerily similar to one's I've heard time and time again.

I have also decided that on top of the child marriage project I am doing with Jeevika I will be interviewing other women's rights organizations in the city. I am hoping to gain a more complete picture of what women's rights violations look like in Kolkata and how these change based on women's different identities and situations. The interventions that many of these groups are doing are innovative and genius, so I hope to gain a better understanding of these as well.

Here's the Jeevika website if you're interested in reading about their programs:

Monday, June 23, 2014

A few weeks in

Filled with naive notions of India prefaced by meeting the incredibly educated few Indians you run into on a US college campus and a few Netflix documentaries, I thought I had a good handle on what I wanted to research. I believed that poor Indian students were being pushed hard to succeed in school by their parents, more so than a typical student from a poor family in America. In a way...and certainty not a small way...I was wrong. That is not to say the parents don't care about education, but that there are much stronger factors involved.

The part of Indian culture I feel drawn into thought about is the entrepreneurial way of life in the country. With free education disappearing after 8th grade and...let's call them 'loose' child labor laws, the economic incentives of going to school become difficult to determine before a child even hits puberty. If a child wants to own a shop, drops out after 8th, and ends up owning a do we categorize that? Should we even be trying? Can one simply look at the income of the owner of a small shop and call him poor? Can we look at the 8th grade dropout and call him a failure because his goals were different from our own?

In this light, I have finalized what I will attempt to study. An interest of mine over the past few years has been students' belief in their ability to learn. Why do students hold on to a belief such as 'I am just bad at math' and use this as an excuse to not attempt to become better. But I also really want to know what the poor children in Ahmedabad want to do when they get older, if they see education as a vehicle to get there, and how much education do they think it will require. If they want to be a lawyer or a doctor, cool. If they want to own a shop or drive a rickshaw, also cool. But I want to know how these two things relate. Do students who believe their intelligence is malleable, that people are not simply born smart or dumb, have higher aspirations.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Jeevika: Week One

This was my first week working with Jeevika and I am already totally invested in its mission and its work. Jeevika is run by a group of people who have a very strong commitment to women's rights within their area. There approach consists of giving both economic and social empowerment to women. They believe that you cannot just give women the monetary means to succeed, this must be paired with awareness of the social barriers that restrict women. The coolest thing about Jeevika is that they involve the community women within all their programs and work to address the problems that these women have identified within their own community. Their mircofinance program is now almost completely run by the women who use it.

This week I've just been getting familiar with Jeevika's programs and viewpoints as well as the climate around women's issues in Kolkata and their district South 24 Parganas. The most prevalent problem Jeevika and the community women have identified is child marriage. That's what my research has been focused on this week. I'm looking forward to getting further involved with this issue as well as meeting some of the community women.

Kolkata itself is really something. The traffic is like nothing I've ever experienced. I take auto rickshaws to work and they will squeeze into spaces that I am positive they won't fit through. There are also so many people everywhere I go. I also saw a monkey on my way to work today!

My landlord and his family have been very helpful! They have given me directions around the city as well as shown me the market area, which is right by my house. I went shopping in the market and never has a mundane task been such an adventure! I'm glad I had someone with me who spoke Bengali or I probably would have got lost and had to sleep in the market. It was worth it though because I ate the best mango I will probably ever eat in my life. Tomorrow I'm venturing into the city by myself so wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Can I Stay?

Man...where do I start? And why am I leaving already? Just within the past few weeks, I've met some of the best people, been to some of the best places, and made some of the best memories of my life.
If I were to be honest, at the end of this experience, it is not the project that I am working on that matters the most anymore, it is the people. Even though this blog should be about my story or my project, it is the people whom I have met on the road that made every bit of it meaningful and unforgettable.
First of all, my manager is a really passionate guy who puts 100% in everything he does. Especially working in waste management within the mountains, which can get really frustrating at times, he is always so wholehearted and motivating nevertheless. And I have to thank him for hosting me at the NGO and work along with me for my projects.
There are two guys who came to intern at around the same time as me. I am really thankful for them as they would go the second mile whenever I am in need. From daily translation, making phone calls, using their connection for my project, to booking the cab and taking care of things for my return trip, things wouldn't have been so smooth and so different from day 1 when I was alone trying to figure things out on my own. P.S. One of the guy's brother happened to go to Ohio State...and he himself had actually gotten into Ross but decided to stay back in India.
There is this girl who came from taking a break from work in Mumbai. Now that when I look back, it is actually pretty crazy that we crossed path. Because coming to India, being a videography noob, all I had in my head was getting nice shots and I completely underestimated the technicality and necessities in making a successful film or documentary. And this girl, out of billions of people with thousands of possible careers, happened to have recently worked as an associate producer, and we happened to have met at this specific time and this specific place. That being said, she nevertheless had no obligation or whatsoever, yet she was still willing to help me in so many things that I haven't even thought of. From translating during the interview, subtitles, teaching me about production, giving me suggestions that haven't even crossed my mind, to figuring out ways for post editing (since I lost my laptop and won't be able to start editing until I go home), I wouldn't have been able to complete any of these without her. And even though we spent most of the time together sitting around at cafes, reading or doing nothing, I genuinely enjoyed every single minute of it. It is the kind of company that you simply know that you have each other and yet are able to just be on your own.
We came from different places, having different goals and dreams. So different yet similar that we are able to understand each other, to share this time together that almost seemed surreal.
I am going to miss spending birthdays at the foothill of the Himalayas, cooking huge dinners, making random stupid jokes, learning abusive language in Hindi, and all the spontaneous trips together.
I just felt really happy, the kind of happy that I haven't felt since quite a while ago.
I can't tell you exactly what it's like unless you try it yourself. I guess that is the perk of traveling alone in India.

Well, back to real life, as much as I don't want to leave, I can't wait to go back to start the actual work and show y'all the fruit of this trip. Also, keep an eye out for the coming of a water filtration crowdfunding project that is going to need the kind acts from all of you.

Thanks a lot for this opportunity. :)


Since I came here I have been tutoring/teaching some nursing courses and leading workshops for Continuous Nursing Education targeted to the entire nursing staff. This is part of my project, since one part of my research focuses on analyzing the implementation of different teaching techniques. The evaluation of the intervention is the biggest challenge in my research project at this point, since I cannot print material. I have to rely on the participants feedback and in pre-test post-test measurements that I write by hand. Because I have to do them by hand, I do not always have the time to make many of them, and I only evaluate a portion of the participant progress. I have been trying to use some statistical analysis to calculate the percentage of the population that I should be evaluating, but the number I obtained was too big to be actually used in practice, so I will have to contempt myself with accepting this limitation of my research project.

For another part of my research, I am being an observer and surveying what happens in the ward on day to day basis. I am focusing on hand-washing and mediation administration for now. Taking hand-washing as an example, I first monitor what are the nurses actually doing. Then I do some teaching in case there is a deficit in knowledge. After they have received the information the participants are assessed. Ultimately, I want to observe if the teaching session make a difference in the practice, so I will monitor the ward once again in the coming weeks.

Of course, my presence in the ward is a limitation on its own. The nurses are probably trying to do their best when I am there. However, as they get used to see me there everyday, I hope they will act as close as what they normally act even with me being there.

After 5.30 everyday, I am free, and I have about 2 hours of sunlight to walk around town. Local people have invited me to eat, and so far (despite actually trying my best) all I have learnt in Kannada is how to say: Did you have food?
I had food.
Food was good.
(Instead of saying hello, people ask you if you had food here)
In addition, I know the few food items people actually consume here roti, chapati, dosa, sambar, sagu... I keep forgetting how to say rice, but everyone know that word.

Here is a picture of the hospital
And that is all for now!

Research Update

Here's a bit of a breakdown/update of my current projects.

Shakti Shalini
I've been learning quite a bit about the organization's past, and have come to greatly respect it's current staff. They are all currently working on a volunteer basis, as the organization's funding sources have dried up (this is largely where I come in, I have been applying for multiple grants), but continue to support women in distress by providing shelter, legal aid, and counseling to all that ask for it. The organization started in 1986 and the changing landscape of NGOs and increased use of technology has really taken them by storm. According to the Chairperson, Mrs. Sudha Tiwali, when the organization began they were able to secure different funders solely by word of mouth. Today, the extensive grant applications (primarily in English) have proven to be quite a challenge. It really is quite frustrating to see such an amazing organization held back by language barriers and the homogenization of international funding policies. 

On the ground, I have been working at Shakti Shalini's women's short stay shelter in a nearby community called Nehru Nagar. My partner and I have just finished our first pre-survey and workshop on girl's education. It was initially difficult to get the girls to show up to the shelter for these workshops, but our promise of English lessons has really drawn them in. Just yesterday, I asked the girls what was one thing they wished to fix in the world, and I got some really amazing answers, ranging from gender inequality, violence, crime, etc. The youngest girl actually had the most amusing answer (and honestly one that I really feel a lot of agreement with). She wished to "break the boys' eyes, because they scan us so much." 

This organization is filled with forward-thinking young people. It has composed a large amount of literature on feminist leadership, as well as conducted wide-ranging studies on reproductive health, LGBT issues, disability, etc. It is quite different from Shakti Shalini, but I have come to realize that I really cannot rank one organization above the other, because they are both doing such different, (yet connected) incredible work. 

My project here relates more to women's health, as I am analyzing a study done on adolescent girl's knowledge of reproductive health across three Northern Indian states, and then comparing it with literature from across the globe on the same subject. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Kolkata: Pre-Departure

I woke up this morning and my first thought was "oh my god I'm going to India in two days". I was waiting for it to sink in and I guess today was the day. I also got my typhoid shot this afternoon and my arm is really sore, which led me to procrastinate typing this all day. Luckily that was my last out of the house preparation for the trip. Now I am just focused on packing. I didn't realize how much I was going to need! My mom has equipped me with an on the go pharmacy so I am considering a second suitcase...

I am traveling to Kolkata to work with Jeevika Development Society. They are an organization that works towards empowering women in the areas surrounding Kolkata. I will be working with their women and girls' rights program to carry out a survey about the attitudes towards the marriage of young girls. They have been so helpful and kind over e-mail as well as being very organized. The correspondence I've had with them so far has really helped me remain calm throughout this whole process. I am looking forward to finally meeting all the people within the organization!

Right now my feelings are of excitement, uneasiness, and uncertainty. I was talking to my good friend the other day about my trip and the only thing I could really say about it was that this is the first time in a long time that I have done something where I have almost no previous experience to draw from or compare it to. This is equally scary as it is exciting. So right now I am eagerly awaiting my trip and the adventure I am about to embark on. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Today was an eventful day.
I am living at the hospital, so I did not need to wake up a lot earlier to have a cup of "chai" before starting the rounds. Every morning the doctors go around the wards and discuss the patients' progress. The nurses and other health professional also participate, it is an excellent way to get an update on the patients.
After the round, which took about one hour, I was ready to start working on my project. I am collaborating with the nursing tutors in the implementation of new teaching techniques. For now, I am basically surveying the skills of the nursing students that are working in the hospital. I did that for a little bit and then I shadowed two operations, a hernia repair and an appendix removal.
After the operations, I had lunch and then I decided to drop by the labor room. A lady was giving birth, so I stayed. I was shadowing the midwife and assisting. The baby was born at 3.00 pm, but it wasn't until 3.05 pm that he started breathing. Those probably were the longest 5 minutes of my life. Everyone in the room was getting ready to start resuscitation, when the little chest started moving. It was a very emotive moment.
After a quick break, I was ready to join the member of the organization that go to the areas where the tribes live to perform in front of the them and promote health care. We drove to a village that was about 50 minutes away. The performance was in Kannada, but I was still able to understand some of what was going on. The topic of that day was prenatal care, but they also inform the tribes on topics such as childhood marriage, alcoholism, etc. The performance was full of music and the locals were enjoying it. No doubts it was an excellent way of reaching the people.
When  I came back I had dinner, the same thing that I have everyday for lunch and dinner: chapati, rice and some type of vegetable.
I am now working on a presentation for continuous nursing education, every week I will present on a different topic for all the nursing staff. Also, everyday of the week at 3 pm I am tutoring a class for the nursing students.
It is very exciting to be here, I am learning a lot and hoping to be making some contribution!

"Cleanliness is Close to Godliness"

It's been a little more than  a week here in Ahmedabad.

Although things with the internship have been slow to start, I have been given the project of International Recruitment with respect to web media. I am very excited to start working on this project as well as starting on my research project.
During one of our retreats, we went to the Environmental Sanitation Institute,Sughad. Volunteers and Full-time employees went in to learn on ways to implement sustainable sanitation. While each of us was going around and speaking about their own experience with hygiene or sanitation, one of the volunteers mentioned that many of the young girls in Municipal schools-schools funded by the government- were discouraged to attend schools because of the situation of toilets. For instance, many of the school restroom for girls have no ceiling/privacy and as such girls do not feel comfortable relieving themselves in school. As the volunteer stated, this problem can be easily alleviated. The volunteer's name is Nikita and she is a University student, in the future I wish to go interview the volunteers that work with municipal students and ask them about circumstances that impede students attending school. From this point, I intend to analyze the interviews to find any culture specific problems, like the one of hygiene and the disproportionate effect on gender.  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Week 2

Wifi has been a bit of an issue, so here is my slightly belated week two in Delhi!

Last week I found a place to stay for (I believe) the rest of the time I'll be in India. I am staying in an area called Jangpura, only about 7 min (by bicycle rickshaw) away from where I am working. It is a really cool place, and I think the universe knew what it was doing when it put me there, because I am staying with three super great human rights lawyers, one has even started her own NGO that works with maternal health rights. I am learning so much and meeting so many interesting people everyday, as every time I walk in the door there is a new person sitting on the terrace.

My research project is also coming along quite well, as I am helping Shakti Shalini apply for different grants and awards, which has given me the opportunity to examine their funding sources and learn how they network with other organizations pertaining to women's rights. I am also working with my friend Sakshi on the community project I mentioned earlier, and we are currently attempting to get a sex ratio of the community, before we begin our workshops with some of the women. It is quite tedious and slow moving, a fact that is exacerbated by the 100+ degree weather. However, I am still excited and hopeful that we will be able to establish a women's group in the community by the end of our time here.

I have also contacted a second NGO that I will now be volunteering at, in addition to Shakti Shalini. It is called CREA, and is a feminist human rights organization that focuses on fostering feminist leadership in young girls and women-run organizations. CREA has much more of an international focus, as it obtains it's literature (and I believe funding?) globally, and participates in international exchange programs. This will be an excellent comparison to Shakti Shalini, and will allow me to examine the differences in goals, methodologies, perspectives, funding, etc. between a local and international women's rights NGO.

One last (slightly hilarious and extremely embarrassing) tidbit. This morning, I went to take a shower in a different bathroom than I normally do, but didn't notice until it was too late that the door actually didn't have a handle. I then called everybody in the house's name for about 15 minutes, but nobody heard me. At this point I began leaning out the window, wondering if I was going to have to scale the wall in order to get out of the bathroom (the place I am staying is a rooftop this idea was a tad bit terrifying). Apparently multiple neighbors had been hearing me yelling for a while then, so as i got further out the window, an old lady with a broom below me got more and more frantic. I'm pretty sure she thought I was planning on jumping out the window, so she was waving and yelling and pretty much freaking out. She was then joined by multiple other old ladies, and I was unable to pacify them, as I don't really speak any Hindi. I was attempting to calm everyone down and explain that I was stuck, when finally the neighbor stuck her head out the window and understood what I was saying. It took another 10 minutes, and then finally a group of large men came, broke the first lock, and opened the second door. I'm pretty sure my life is turning into a sitcom....but at least my new lawyer friends will have a good story to tell at their next party....*simultaneously laughs, cries, and and sighs*

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Introduction, some pictures

Meeting Sindhu Suresh, Director of Vivekananda Institute of Indian Studies 

Meeting Dr. Rekha Shanmukha

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Two Weeks In

A little over two weeks in now and the novelty of certain things have worn off. I leave for work at 9 and leave work at the earliest around 8 so the days go by pretty quickly. Although I never fall asleep before midnight back home I can barely stay awake past 10 here. Not sure if it's the heat or what but I haven't slept this early since well before high school.

I have picked up another project at work. Yuva has a program called Evolution in which businesses donate money to sponsor a municipal school. Yuva then goes in and upgrades certain infrastructure, provides sports equipment, teacher training, and other inputs to the school. I will be working with a team to design a study which will lead to a report to send to the businesses which have donated money. This type of report is very different from my other project, the Public Goods Game, which has a more academic approach.

I am finishing up the design of my study for the fellowship. The schools start back up again in June so I will begin administering the surveys soon. The more I learn about the Indian school system the more what I want to study changes. I was surprised to learn that after 8th grade school is no longer free. There is also a much larger dropout problem than what I initially imagined.

On a bright note, Yuva had a big event for all of their volunteers on Saturday which was fun, I went to 3 different functions for the same Indian wedding and danced in the streets (because they aren't crowded enough), Lydia is now here, and I am currently 20 for 20 on days not getting a sunburn.

First days at the hospital

The first days at the hospital were very intense. I was getting lost in the building and not quite sure about what I should or could be doing. By now I am feeling a little bit more comfortable, but I still need a few more days to really understand how most things work. 
For the first part of my project I am getting familiar with the health care practices that are present in this hospital. I am shadowing nurses, doctors and educators, as well as talking to local people (when they speak some English). 
Language is not a barrier when talking with other health care professional, since English is the common language, but it becomes one when talking to local people. I realized it will be useful to learn some Kannada (the local language), so I got a book that might help me with that. I am not expecting to become fluent by the end of this experience, but it will be useful to know some basic words. 
I am now working in a project with one of the educators, we are developing new leaning material for the nurse students. I just started working on this, so I will have more updates coming soon! 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Arriving to Saragur

I was assigned to a work in the Vivekananda Memorial Hospital at Sargur, a hospital that provides affordable health care to the tribal and rural population of the area.

Sargur is a small town in the state of Karnataka, 55 km away from Mysore.

Arriving to Sargur took me a like bit longer than expected. When we were about to land in Delhi, where the plane was picking up more people and continuing to Bangalore, a sand storm started. The plane had to land in an alternative airport, in Lucknow, to refuel and to wait for a couple of hours till it was safe to fly back to Delhi, get more people on the plane and be on our way to Bangalore. I ended up staying inside the plane for 15 hours when to total flying time was supposed to be 5 hours. The only food available in the plane was nachos, at least they tasted really good.

I ended up arriving to Bangalore a day later, and then taking the train to Mysore. At this point I was not very concerned when 20 minutes before arriving to Mysore the train stopped. Apparently, there were some issues with the train engines, so we waited for two hours before the train was on its way again. This delay gave me some time to try to talk to some locals, to try some train food and learn some words of Kannada (local language of the region). Overall, it was a fantastic experience that the train was delayed.

After Mysore where I had my formal orientation to the organization at the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, I had to take one more bus that was supposed to take 1 hour (it took 3), and drive 8km on auto-rickshaw before arriving to Sargur.

It took me a few days, but once I saw the hospital, the landscape and once I talked to the people I knew it was worthy.

Picture coming soon.  

Monday, June 2, 2014

Although I am already in Ahmedabad, I wrote something down on the plane ride to India:

Date 05/28/14
Location: Somewhere over the Atlantic  Ocean,

  My biggest worry would probably be disrespecting the people and/or culture, even unintentionally. My primary objective is to learn, in every sense of the word. Yet, this is easier said than done. To put my expectations of learning as primary creates a hierarchy of priority, which is what I fear. I do not want to prioritize my feelings over the feelings of others, as such I want to holistic take everything in. Even so, I cannot express how excited I am to actually experience living in India.

As part of my project I will be working with a local NGO called YUVA Unstopppable that strives to involve the youth in socio economic matters especially pertaining to children. As of right now, I am not too sure of what I will be doing. Other than my title-Operations Associate-I have no expectations of what working at a local NGO will bring.