Wednesday, June 9, 2010

SSS: Week 1

Sarvajanik Shikshonnayan Sansthan (SSS)
A-3/302, Vishal Khand, Gomti Nagar, Lucknow
226 010 (Uttar Pradesh) India

Initial itinerary:  
16-18 May, Lucknow
Learn about the problems in Uttar Pradesh, government schemes, achievements, and interventions needed

Our first days on the job were full of discussions and meetings with people from the government, non-government and corporate sectors on topics such as the Indian economic situation, and the different schemes and projects/programs implemented for the development of Indian individuals and communities. We discussed and learned about the National Bank for Rural Development (NABARD), 
the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNAREGA) and the 73rd amendment. We had the opportunity to speak to a state specialist on education, as well as to be an audience to leaders of top corporations to discuss CSR at the headquarters of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII). Whew, all that in 3 days! It indeed was overwhelming to interact with such accomplished specialists in the field of development. Moreover, to have learned so much first -hand was way more than I expected to accomplish, especially in the beginning of this internship.

AIESEC trainees with Dr. Mudhapesh Trivedi, SSS founder, Ms. Lalita Pradeep, State Consultant for education, and Ms. Hilda Ferrao, SSS Project Coordinator

Internship. I actually don’t feel at all like an intern working with SSS as they treat us AIESEC trainees more like guests providing us with anything we need, and like partners "joining hands to take action" with us through project Vikaas. It is empowering, and I am very grateful. I know that I'm definitely one of the lucky ones. We even were ambushed by TV media who interviewed us individually on our reasons for coming to India, on our project, etc. Media attention? It's way beyond the job description of an intern. It's surreal! 

At the headquarters of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII)

Being interviewed by Saket Mahavir News (TV)

Initial itinerary:
19-20 May, Barabanki, Sahjahanpur, Bareilly and Rampur
Work with four Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayaschools (resident schools for girls)

The plan was for us to travel to those four areas in the whole state of Uttar Pradesh where the SSS resident schools are located. They're a few hours away from each other, and that scared me because the schedule was a bit tight - 4 provinces in 2 days - and I already knew at that time that traveling by bus (private bus provided by SSS) was extremely tiring due to the summer heat (average of 45-47 C!) and bad roads. Adding to those conditions, the 19th was the day 6 of us 7 interns got sick due to maybe some bacteria  from our drinking water. Only America, the Mexicana, had the stomach strong enough to keep healthy. Most of us had diarrhea, and some were vomiting. Some even had fever and had to rest for days. Consequently, we ended up going to not four but only one of the schools. It was really unfortunate because the children were very excited, and had prepared presentations and the lot for us. We realized this in Sahjahanpur when we were welcomed traditionally with fresh flower garlands and colors. They presented many traditional dances and exercises they learned in the school. It was beautiful. We also interacted with them asking questions about  their conditions , ambitions, etc.  It was difficult to leave. They were such amazing children.

Our visits to Bareily and Rampur were canceled. It was sad we couldn’t meet the girls and their faculty, but we were just too sick to travel far. We were able to visit Barabanki on the 21st, however, and boy it was great. We met some very sweet girls with great ambitions. On the way back, we took a private tour in one of the polyester plantations of Reliance Industries Ltd. We got to see their processes in making their products. We were also able to discuss with them their CSR efforts for their neighboring farming villages.

Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, Sahjahanpur

Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, Barabanki

Our Reliance Industries Ltd. VIP pass for a private polyester plant tour 

Because of the cancelations, we stayed in the office in Lucknow on the 20th while Daan and Tamara stayed in hostel to rest. SSS was efficient enough to invite another speaker to fill in our day and talk to us further about MGNAREGA. I was grateful because it cleared some confusions we had, and that he gave another perspective on the subject.

Initial itinerary:
21-22 May, Hardoi
Interact with students of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya Degree College

We moved our things to Hardoi on the 22nd in the house of SSS' founder, Dr. Mudhapehs Trivedi. Afterwards, we traveled to Allipur to visit the graduating students of education on their last day of examinations and presentations. We interacted with them, and then left after some photo ops and media interviews.

With the female graduating students of education at the degree college

Problems and challenges encountered
Being a foreigner in a country for work, the main problem to encounter is always on having to adjust and be quick to do so. Being in India requires huge adjustments for me because of the differences in culture, religion, living conditions, etc. We had just been in India for one week and already we had moved to a different city and state to start over adjusting. Working in India requires even more adjustments due to the differences in how people relate with other. The language barrier is present, as well as some work behaviors that I needed to be aware of and get used to. Another challenge was the time. We started work the night of our arrival and already, we had a full schedule ahead of us until the end of June. It has been physically and mentally tiring, but we do get to learn and experience a lot.

Knowledge applied
More to working in the field of development, this traineeship serves as a cultural experience exposing me to different cultures in the physical, spiritual and behavioral aspects. I am being exposed to working in India, as well  as working closely in a team with trainees from Holland, Slovakia, Mexico, Malaysia and Ukraine. We get to share stories with each other and discuss the differences between our cultures, systems, behaviors, politics, geography, etc. Our discussion points are endless. This opportunity further expands my global awareness I received from my studies of Europe and cross-cultural communication.

The format of the first part of our week was also like our seminar class on contemporary Europe with Ambassador Manalo where we had guest speakers to discuss with us various subjects from the areas of their expertise. Only, topics were concentrated on India this time, of course. Consequently, it's less about application for me (this week at least) but further education. From learning about the systems in India, I got to somehow compare and contrast it to what I know of the systems, policies and institutions in the EU. 

General Comments and Suggestions
I am lucky for being given this opportunity, definitely. More to getting to travel to India and be immersed in their vibrant culture, I get to really work. Development work has never been more real to me than here. I don’t just get to sit around and wait for an order for coffee. Not at all. SSS treats us very specially, providing us with so many avenues to work and learn. It's been very overwhelming.

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