Safia Sayed- Welcome to Dehradun

Well, it’s been a crazy week! Between the day-long flights here, starting a new internship, and being on the other side of the globe away from home, it’s safe to say that I’ve been feeling more than a little bit overwhelmed. What’s gotten me through the week, however, has been the incredible hospitality I’ve encountered at every juncture of my journey, from family members who hosted me during a brief stopover in Mumbai, to the family who has opened up their home to me for the remainder of the month, to everyone at Samadhan, the NGO I’m working with.

Now that I’ve been working with Samadhan for a week, I have a much better sense of the work they do. While Samadhan offers a range of legal services targeted at women in domestic violence situations, their main function is in running a 24/7 helpline that victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child marriage may call. The building housing the NGO functions as a rape crisis center, and the women who live here have not only been rescued from the most horrific situations, but are also currently helping to run the NGO and studying to be lawyers, so they can someday bring justice to the communities they once escaped.

Working at Samadhan has taught me many aspects of the Indian legal system, particularly pertaining to women’s rights. So far, I’ve conducted research on the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women as it applies to India, and the State Police Complaint Authority. I’ve particularly enjoyed being able to talk to my fellow interns about my findings and compare them to what I know of the American legal system. For example, I had no idea that Indian policing also suffers from over-targeting of minority populations, in this case of Muslims and Dalits.

I’ve also had the chance to learn about what’s really going on in India with regard to women’s rights. I have been able to listen in on calls to the helpline—calls that originate not just from the state of Uttarakhand of which Dehradun is the capital, but from all over the country. I’ve also gotten to hear about the past cases Samadhan has dealt with—of which my boss and the NGO’s founding president is a walking encyclopedia—and to even watch video footage of rescue operations. I’ve always known that India faces a pretty significant sexual violence problem, but I never fully understood the reality of the situation until now. The sheer number of cases my boss has to relate is astounding, and pretty emotionally draining as well.

The biggest learning experience so far at Samadhan, however, was in living at the NGO for a week alongside the residents of the rape crisis center. Most of them don’t speak much English, and yet they’ve done so much to make me feel welcome and cared for, from making sure I’m eating enough at mealtimes to passing along a wordless smile at every opportunity. Given what they’ve been through, it amazes and inspires me that they’re able to constantly radiate so much warmth and kindness, and on top of that to pursue legal studies in becoming fierce advocates for gender equality.

As much as I loved spending time with them and communicating as best I could—picked up a smidge more Hindi!—I’m also excited to continue my work with Samadhan during the daytime while living with a local family in Dehradun. I’m enjoying getting to know them so far, especially the kids who are my age and younger, and who graciously let me win at Ludo earlier in the day. It’s also nice to have local perspectives and guides as I start to explore the sights of the city. Stay tuned as the explorations unfold!

Julia Stuart – Before My Travels

My best friend’s favorite childhood restaurant in New York City was a colorfully decorated, authentic Indian restaurant. However, when she took me there for her birthday, the only food I could will myself to try was the naan (and the mango lassis of course!).  Its funny to think that I’ve come such a long way from then, barely able to gulp down the least foreign pieces of India cuisine, to now, heading off to a completely Indian diet of home-cooked meals where I could be served practically anything. I realized that since that day at that restaurant, I had changed. I had branched out in my eating habits, taken a real interest in yoga, made many Indian friends, and even watched my fair share of Bollywood movies. These signs pointed me toward further exploring India. So, I took up a research position at UMich, looking at evapotranspiration levels in India. The work was exciting, and I have learned a great deal, but I have always thought of myself as an independent, worldly explorer. I wanted to have some sort of direct experience. I wanted to incite change. I don’t know that I will ever be able to put into words why I’ve decided that this change is what I want and what I need, but when I sat in on last year’s fellows’ talks about their experiences in India, I knew that was what I wanted and what I needed. The Summer in South Asia Fellowship is my launchpad for becoming that independent, worldly explorer I’ve always seen myself as.

That’s what I thought, until the application process became a huge roadblock. I spent all of first semester and winter break emailing and skyping with NGOs in sustainability-related fields (my area of interest), trying to secure an internship. Many provided no response, a few made offers, but in the end, none were able to provide me an internship. I was beginning to lose hope when  a friend of mine in my research lab got me in contact with an organization she used to work for, the Foundation for Ecological Security, which manages natural resources. Within a week, I had an internship secured. My assigned project was to help restore water catchment areas, create water bodies, and establish an official managing body. As my engineering project team and research both center around water sustainability, I am heavily invested in this topic. I also have gained many skills from these involvements that I can bring to FES’s project. On my project team, we took a similar approach of deeply researching and gathering data on Nicaraguans’ lack of water access to create parameters for our rainwater catchment system. From this process, I gained experience in analyzing literature reviews, implementing brainstorming techniques, creating objectives trees, pairwise comparison charts, and numerical evaluation charts, and creating CAD models. In my research, I learned about the interactions of precipitation, evapotranspiration, and runoff. I also analyzed NASA’s MODIS satellite evapotranspiration data using ArcGis, R, and MatLab which gives me great insight to the water shortages especially prevalent in arid areas like Rajasthan. From my background knowledge and the project description, I concocted my research question: “What are the factors that contribute to water scarcity in Rajasthan, and is FES effective in combating these factors?”. All of the pieces of this puzzle fell into place. Elated, I submitted my proposal, only to be heartbroken a few weeks later. 

I did not receive funding from SiSA. I would not be a worldly explorer this summer. I tried to apply for a few other sources of funding, but knew that if I didn’t have a strong enough application for SiSA, I didn’t really stand a chance. Nevertheless, you know I somehow made it to SiSA fellow status since I am writing this post, and you are correct. Soon after, I was notified that I had been placed on a waitlist, and a spot had opened up. I was overjoyed, dropped everything, and called my mom. It’s when you actually say the news out loud that it becomes real. “I’m going to India”. That was a wild day.

And the whirlwind hasn’t stopped since. After having to renew my passport, file for my Visa, open a new banking account, find a homestay, fill out a million forms, get the proper vaccines and prescriptions, pick up enough deet and hand-sanitizer to last a lifetime, and assure my friends and family at least a dozen more times that I know not to drink the water or go out at night or travel alone… I’ve finally reached the point where I’ll be taking off in a few days. I’ll be IN UDAIPUR on Friday. I’ll be living with my host family, a mile down the road from FES. From my research, I’ve deduced that it is very much a tourist destination. It is, luckily, the coolest (temperature-wise but otherwise as well) area in Rajasthan. Udaipur is known for selling some of the most brilliantly colored textiles. And, it is home to several lovely lakes, temples upon hills, and a wildlife sanctuary. I still can’t really believe it. It hasn’t quite registered yet. But I feel extremely prepared, and more excited than I have been for anything before this. I can’t express how rewarding it is to have worked so hard on this for almost a year, and to see it coming to fruition. I almost want to stay in this state of excitement for longer, just to soak up the anticipation. However, I’m also getting anxioius. India, here I come

Alexandra Card – Detroit-London-Delhi

Less than 24 hours stand between me and my departure to the airport for my flight to London, the first stop on my journey to India.  I currently am experiencing a mixture of excitement and anxiety about my upcoming trip as I think about what is to come.  Less than one week ago I was in Ann Arbor taking my last final exam.  I’m feeling a little bit of whiplash with the quick change of events.  The past week has mostly involved me trying to spend as much time with friends and family in my hometown before I leave.  My time in India will be my first time out of North America and my first time viewing a world that does not look like the typical American landscape.  I am most nervous for the logistics of getting to this new place and navigating through an unfamiliar city and new culture.  However, I am lucky to already have a couple contacts in Delhi who will hopefully be able to assist me in learning how to adapt to a different lifestyle.

In India I will be working in New Delhi at the NGO Safai Karamchari Andolan, which is led by Bezwada Wilson.  The organization works to eradicate manual scavenging in India and looks to find more dignified occupations for individuals who worked in manual scavenging.  I first became aware of Bezwada’s work upon hearing him speak at a Social Justice in South Asia Conference hosted by the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan.  I previously had been unaware of what manual scavenging was, but Bezwada’s passionate words and first hand experience dealing with the effects of manual scavenging led me to research more into the subject.  As a pre-law student interested in going into civil rights law, the issue and its role in Indian society and law is very intriguing to me.  I am very grateful to be able work with Bezwada and learn from his personal experiences at the forefront of a social justice movement in India.

I will be living in Jangpura, a neighborhood of Delhi, with a child rights lawyer named Anant. As someone who is involved in another field of civil rights law, I am also interested to learn about what Anant’s job looks like and what sort of issues he tackles.  His apartment also has an outdoor terrace that overlooks a lovely public park, which is an added bonus.   The apartment is a bit of a distance from my work, so my morning commute will likely involve two rickshaw rides and a trip on the metro.  However, I have been told that a commute is part of the experience of living in Delhi.

The next two and a half months are unlike anything I have done before, so I’m not quite sure what they will bring to me.  However, I am excited for something that is completely new and the opportunity to experience a different part of the world firsthand.

Gretchen Andrews – 48 Hours ‘Til….

I’ve been in Phoenix for a couple days now since finals ended, and I can’t believe I thought these 6 days would be lax… It’s been a whirlwind planning two separate programs abroad since I’ll be studying for 3 weeks in Japan before flying straight to India! I’ve had an exhaustive to-do-list, so I don’t feel like I’ve had time to process that I’ll be exploring 2 incredible countries within the next 4 months. I know I’m thrilled deep down, but I’ve been so focused on preparing all my travel documents, shopping, running around minute clinics, and more that I haven’t had much time to breathe. Not sure if I’ll ever really feel “ready” to go, but I’ve always felt this way before going abroad.

With some networking advice, I was able to find an internship at Parodevi Pictures in Mumbai, India. Here, I will produce feminist videos and podcasts, and write articles about healthy attitudes toward bodies, sexuality, love, and relationships. The creator, Paromita Vohra, has led symposiums at the UMich on her films that dissect gender inequalities and perceptions in India. In India, conversations regarding love, sexuality, and femininity are often met with shyness and shame. So, Parodevi creates uplifting and entertaining online resources for women’s empowerment. They face the patriarchy through such a head-on, public manner, and are relentless, courageous catalysts for social change. Their ideologies are considered rebellious and therefore may attract opposition against their wishes. This is exactly why this area could use more passionate voices to fight for the feminist cause.

I’m still figuring out my housing situation, but that’s okay! I was able to talk to Sanchet on the phone (a student from Mumbai who completed a fellowship at U of M), because he’s been advising me through the housing process and suggested I stay with his family friends. He’s going to pass along the details on rent coverage, the contract, and room set-up. But, as of now, I know it’s a service apartment, and I may be living with another Indian-American female who is currently studying filmmaking in Mumbai! The family that would be hosting us lives in the apartment one floor above in this complex. Sanchet told me he lives in this area too (Andheri West), and that he really enjoys it. I’ve heard it’s a lot like Los Angeles, but I definitely still don’t know what to expect.

I definitely feel overwhelmed and rushed right now, but I know this summer will be more than worth the loss of down-time in winter semester. I’m so grateful for this opportunity through SISA, and the help I’ve received through the advising process (shout-out to Janelle, Morgan, and Ariana!). These ladies have not just been logistically helpful, but emotionally encouraging.

Well, I’m off to Japan the day after tomorrow! It’s beyond my wildest dream what’s truly in store for this summer, but I can’t wait to find out what it’s like to explore how working in the creative entertainment industry can help to promote positive ideologies in society.

Erin Haley – Getting Ready For My Three Month Internship Abroad

As the start date for my trip to India inches closer, my excitement continues to build. This summer, I will be working with Atma, an organization that serves as an accelerator for education NGOs in Mumbai and Pune. During my time with Atma, I will work to research what makes some educational programs more successful than others, specifically within the context of India. My journey with Atma began while I was looking at various organizations specializing in education, and I soon found that the firm’s structure very well matches my future career interests. The organization’s volunteer system allows students to take on positions similar to that of a project manager, a role I hope to take on in the consulting realm as a full time career. As a result, the program seemed like a perfect fit, and to give back to Atma for such a great opportunity, I would like to help them develop a tool that measures the success of educational programs through research on various past projects.

For the duration of the internship, I’ll be working and living in the Pune area. While my exact housing arrangements are undecided, I hope to be in the downtown area or near Koregaon Park. The area is home to a college campus, and thus will be an interesting experience around students of many different cultures based in an Indian setting.

I’m incredibly excited to depart and start my journey, but with so many unknowns around my housing arrangements, my flights, and even the status of my internship visa, there’s also a lot to plan. I look forward to making more final arrangements and hopefully getting on a plane to Pune by mid May!