Safia Sayed – 29 hours before takeoff…

The irony of studying human rights from the classroom is learning again and again the importance of local context and input without ever having the chance to make use of that lesson. All of my experiences working with women’s and human rights have operated across distance, whether that be physical, cultural, or both. These experiences have privileged a viewpoint rooted in my own culture and upbringing. I’ve never had the chance to see how human rights worked in any other context, but I saw the opportunity to do so with the Summer in South Asia fellowship. I’m therefore excited to be working with Samadhan, an NGO whose human rights advocacy focuses on women and girls. While I don’t precisely know what my work there will be like, I’m looking forward to both some new perspective and for a more hands-on experience than I’m used to.

Samadhan is located in Dehradun, a northern Indian city at the foothills of the Himalayas. Although I’ve been to India twice before, (when I was 9 and 14) I hadn’t heard of Dehradun until I started investigating potential NGOs I’d like to work with. I was hoping Dehradun might be a bit cooler than the rest of the country and was somewhat consoled by the 77 degree Fahrenheit reading I found yesterday when I Googled the weather in Dehradun—until I realized it was taken at 2 AM. At the same time, Google—and everyone I’ve spoken with about Dehradun—also provided evidence of how beautiful the area is. I’m so excited to explore an entirely new part of India and all the beauty and culture it has to offer. Me and my frizzy hair will just have to deal with the humidity and heat.

Another component of my month-long experience in Dehradun will be a research project. Given that I’ve spent the past semester using data to study empirically the effect of the Mexico City Policy—a US policy that restricts aid in maternal and reproductive health to NGOs abroad that promote or provide abortions—I’m hoping to have conversations with health providers in Dehradun on their impression of the policy. I think it’ll be illuminating to supplement the quantitative work I’ve been doing with some firsthand perspective. My literature review has also revealed a lot of work on contraceptive access in Dehradun and the larger state of Uttarakhand, and I’m eager to continue probing this body of research and adding to it in a meaningful way.

Another thing I should probably mention—I leave tomorrow. I only finished finals the day before yesterday, so I haven’t had much time to process the fact that I’m leaving so soon (or to pack for that matter). This is kind of weird for me. I love to plan things out extensively, and I am not a procrastinator. But while the fundamentals of my trip are good to go, I haven’t thought (or panicked) about this trip and the fact that I’ll be leaving the country for a month as much as I might have otherwise.

I’ve decided to embrace that, and all the uncertainty that the next month holds. For as much as I don’t know about what my time in Dehradun will be like, I do know that it’ll be an adventure, learning-experience, and opportunity for personal growth like I’ve never had before.

Now, where’d I leave that sunscreen…