Alexandra Card-Working on Words

While in Delhi I am working at an NGO called Safai Karmachari Andolan. This NGO focuses on eradicating the practice of manual scavenging and rehabilitating those who have been employed in the practice.

My first day at work involved a bit of shock when I learned that my boss had anticipated that I would be able to speak Hindi. Luckily, the majority of the people in the organization speak some English, though for most it is not a comfortable mode of communication. This has posed some interesting challenges. For example, one part of the project I am working on involved me working with 4 other people. I was not able to contribute as much as I would have liked because the majority of the discussion was held in Hindi. This has shown to me that being a valuable intern to the organization will manifest itself differently than how I generally view contributions to group projects. Coming from an academic space, where words and coherency are very important, it has been a very different experience being unable to understand much of what is being said. I am currently still feeling out exactly where my place is in certain scenarios.

Overall the environment of the organization has been very welcoming. The office has a nice dynamic, with people coming and going throughout the day. Despite being unable to have super in depth conversations with people due to language restrictions, I still feel as though I have made genuine connections with people in the office. I recently completed a project that involved making a software program for collecting data regarding deaths that occurred from manual scavenging. The process of doing this provided some insight into the work that Safai Karmachari Andolan undertakes. Going through the files of information on people who had died and designing a form that would be used to collect data from family members brought the issue of manual scavenging and the impact of the organization into a more stark and close view. It’s humbling to see how the everyday work of my coworkers is able to have such an impact in ending the issue and rehabilitating those who have been impacted by it.