Namaste!! We arrived in India early Sunday morning! So much has happened this week, I don’t know where to start. This week has definitely been my favorite week of the program so far and I couldn’t be happier to be here! Like a typical day on this program, we were not given much time to rest before we were out and about on Sunday after we landed.
After leaving the airport we checked into our hotel and met our country team. Our country coordinator is Abid, our field assistant is Rajshree, and our homestay coordinator is Bhavna. I have a friend who was recently in India on a different IHP program who raved about how great this team is! We were told that to show respect in India you say ‘Ji’ at the end of someone’s name, so Abid is Abid Ji and so on and so forth.
We had some time to freshen up and then we headed to the SIT program office for our welcome and introductions. We had lunch at the office and it made me even more excited to be here for 5 weeks, it was delicious! We had a little bit of an orientation on some basic safety things and the India team gave their presentation on where we have been to our country team. We went to the Dilli Haat market for dinner. The Dilli Haat is an open bazaar and food plaza that has a ton of different vendors to buy clothes, jewelry, accessories, art and more along with a bunch of spots to enjoy some of India’s wonderful food. This place technically has street food, which we are not supposed to eat, but we were given the okay here. My favorite thing that I got was Kulfi, which is Indian ice cream. Sooo good!
Tuesday morning, we had breakfast at our hotel and then headed to a health clinic for a health orientation on how to stay healthy while were here. We headed to our classroom spot afterwards. The classroom space that we will be using in India is in the building of an NGO called Action for Autism (I will talk more about this later). We had a brief survival Hindi lesson and a homestay orientation. While English is spoken by many people in India, Hindi is also an official language of the country. Besides Hindi, each state of India has its own language as well. We found out who we will be living we and where we will be staying and then headed to Hauz Khas which is a neighborhood that is rather upscale. We walked around and grabbed dinner there.
We checked out of our hotel on Tuesday morning and headed to our classroom for a guest lecture on an introduction to India focusing on its social, political, and economic history. Dr. Azim Khan is an academic director and has done some amazing work with social activism and human rights. He is also one of the homestay fathers! India is the 2nd largest country by population in the world and Dr. Khan mentioned that the United States population is only 27% of the size of India’s population. Crazy!
We had a culture and safety orientation after our tea break. Yes, we have a scheduled tea break everyday!! Some of the keys things we discussed in the cultural orientation were how the typical relations between men and women are and how women are still viewed as second class citizens in India. This will be interesting to observe over the next few weeks. We then split up for our neighborhood day activity. This was a little similar to how we did this day in Uganda. My group went to Khan market which had a bunch of beautiful clothing shops, places to eat, and this awesome stationary shop. Neighborhood day is similar to a scavenger hunt where we have to find out how much specific things cost and ask people different questions. I spotted this beautiful kurta (an upper garment similar to a dress and typically worn with pants/leggings that originated in India) in the first boutique we went in, but resisted the temptation to buy the first thing I looked at.
Tuesday night we headed to our homestays! My roommate is Betty, she is from Myanmar and goes to school in Pennsylvania, and we are staying with a family in Jasola. We live right next to the SIT office and a few minute walk away from our classroom. This means I get to sleep until 8 everyday, wooo! My families surname is Singh, which I thought was fun because although many Indians have this surname, one of my good friends from Lehigh has this surname as well. I live with my host parents, Manmeet and Niki, our younger siblings, Mansa (10) and Gobin (8), and their grandparents live in the apartment that is connected to the upstairs by a spiral staircase. My family is Punjabi, and they are Sikh, a less dominant form of religion in India. Most of the houses are apartment style here, and ours is beautiful. My family has also traveled to the US and has been to Buffalo before, both of my parents have cousins in Buffalo, so I feel like I was meant to be staying with this family!
If anyone reading this hasn’t tried India food, I recommend you stop reading this and go to the closest Indian restaurant. All of the food is AMAZING! While there is a ton of different kinds of food, and differences between southern (spicer) and northern Indian food some of the staples that we have been eating have been roti, dal, curried potatoes, cauliflower and other vegetables, paneer, different deserts, and other curries. Because of all the spices, everything is so flavorful, and I love it!
Wednesday morning, we had our first technology class with our local professor, Ms. Saloni. Saloni is a social entrepreneur herself, and we spent this class discussing the business she founded, Desicrew. Desicrew is a socially motivated outsourcing company that connects global clients with low cost back office centers in rural India. Desicrew is largely women’s employment, however boys from the south of India have applied and they are working for places like Huffington Post. She talked about how the sales pitch in many social innovation business’ is wrong and that there is too much emphasis on the value system and customer wants are often forgotten about. She also mentioned that the fastest way out of poverty is consistent employment.
Afterwards, we had a session on Action for Autism, the space we have our classes in. The founder, Ms. Merry Barus, explained that AFA is non-profit, education, and training and advocacy organization that provides support and services to individuals with autism. AFA is the parent organization that had the goal to “put autism on the Indian map”. Ms. Barus explained that her motivation for starting the organization began with her experience of having and autistic child. The organization has helped make a large impact on the changing awareness of autism in India over the past decade.
In the afternoon, we headed to Goonj for a site visit. Goonj is an organization that takes used clothing and cloth and then sorts, mends, and distributes them to the needy in India. The cloth is also used to be remade into bags and sanitary napkins. They also accept paper that has one clean side and reuse is to make different products, brochures, etc for the organization. Goonj’s goal is to look forward to a parallel economy that is not cash based, but that is trash based. This organization is huge. We had a tour through all of their different sections and everything is very well organized. One of the cool things that they do is put together wedding packages for couples that can not afford the extravagant costs of an Indian wedding. Their sanitary pad movement is also very huge and has made a large impact on many communities in India. Goonj has become quite the established organization and has over 250 partner organizations in over 21 remote parts of India. We were able to have a question and answer session with the founder. He was quite resistant to answering questions about impact measurement, which was interesting because that’s something we have took a critical eye to when evaluating the different sites we go to. However, our social entrepreneurship professor, Manisha, knows the organization very well and explained that they have been answering these questions for a very long time so they tend to stray away from them now.
In the evening, I headed back to Kahn market and bought the Kurta that I spotted the previous day. We are going to the Taj this weekend, and I needed something to wear, so I couldn’t resist. This market also had a beautiful stationary shop, so I stocked up on handmade cards.
We had a lecture on the caste system in India on Thursday morning. Our lecturer, Dr. Arshad explained that the caste system is a 3,000 year old institution and that although it is an institution, it is a characteristic of Hindu society and has spread to major non-Hindu communities. A few things that stuck out to me we’re that castes we’re traditionally linked to occupations, and that marriage must take place inside the caste. Essentially, marriage sustains the caste system. In present day, there have been initiatives from both ends of the caste spectrum to organize the depressed classes. Our lecturer mentioned that a few forces of change are the speeding up and intensification of economic change, and modern educated Indians being attracted the liberal ideas of individualism and meritocracy. Many of the organizations that we visit in India try to challenge the caste system and it will be interesting to see the different approaches because how does one change a century old system that is still embedded in Indian society.
We had our first design thinking and development class afterwards and focuses on tradition and modernity in India. We talked about the two different visions for India that were held by Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and the idea of McDonaldization. McDonaldization is the process by which the characteristics and principles of the fast food industry start to dominate other areas of social life. The main principles of this are predictability, calculability, efficiency, and control. To be honest, I was a little confused about this. Lastly, we discussed traditional craft in India and how it may be becoming a crisis for livelihoods because modern industrial design is the opposite of traditional craft practice.
We had cohort time at Lodi Gardens in the afternoon. Our rickshaw driver definitely did not know where he was going since he asked other people while we were driving which way to go multiple times. The traffic here is still pretty intense. However the main difference with the traffic in Uganda, is that it moves in India!! So, we get places a lot quicker. Rickshaws are a popular mode of transport here and there are a few different types. Delhi also has a metro which is SO nice. It is very clean, air conditioned, and has outlets. It’s much nicer than the metro in New York. They also have a women’s only cart, which is interesting. Lodi Gardens was very beautiful and peaceful.
We headed to another market afterwards, called Central Market. This one was a bit different from Kahn, because it was much more open and most of the places did not have fixed prices. It was quite chaotic, but there was so much to look at and I really enjoyed it.
Friday morning, we had a social entrepreneurship class and discussed the key traits of social entrepreneurs. Our professor, Manisha, said that the ultimate goal of social entrepreneurs is to create a world where everybody is a change maker and to create equal systems. She explained that social change sustains on trust, not technical or intellectual finesse. I had never thought about it that way before. We debriefed the week and then had the rest of the day to ourselves.
Of course, we went to another market. This one was called Janpath and had a different vibe than the other two. I bought a beautiful pair of shoes and a few other things. After we graded dinner, we went to the Akshardham Temple and saw the light show it has. This temple was absolutely stunning! Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take phones or cameras in, so I wasn’t able to take any pictures. The light show was also amazing! I’m loving this place more every day.
We got up early Saturday morning to head to Agra and see the Taj Mahal. It was about a 3 hour drive. The Taj was just as beautiful as it’s said to be. The outside was spectacular. Of course, it was pretty crowded. The inside of the Taj felt a bit underwhelming compared to the outside, but it also felt like we were being pushed through an assembly line because there were so many people trying to get through. Nevertheless, it was really great to be able to go!
I couldn’t have asked for a better first week in India and I can’t wait for what the next month has to offer!
Thank you for reading and stay tuned for more!!