Students from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy are in Delhi, India, this month gaining hands-on international experience while learning about practices and policies for social enterprises. The students enrolled in the course are working in Delhi providing direct project assistance to several NGOs and social enterprises in the area. Read below to follow the students’ experiences.
January 23, 2018
January 20, 2018
January 19, 2018
Our team had the privilege of traveling from Delhi to Bihar for our fieldwork. We arrived at the Valmiki Tiger Reserve on January 5 and spent the week conducting interviews with the women participating in the Valmiki Recovery Project’s (VRP) self-help groups, women who had elected not to, women from entirely different villages and their counterparts. The Wildlife Trust of India’s (WTI) VRP aims to conserve and restore the tiger reserve, which was once home to abundant flora and fauna, through, in part, fostering a sustainable relationship between the forest and the humans that inhabit and surround it.
Along with WTI, the Forest Department is also heavily involved in the well-being of the tiger reserve. Throughout our long but breathtaking rides through the forest and river to arrive at the villages in the Done Valley, we’d encounter checkpoints that monitor resource extraction. The Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 gave traditional forest-dwellers and scheduled tribes’ rights to manage the forest and recognize it as their own, for their community welfare. However, the FRA is not recognized in Bihar and people are prohibited from extracting resources from the reserve. Herein lies the dichotomy: the forest and the village’s livelihoods are not mutually exclusive—these tribes (primarily Tharu and Oroan) rely on the forest for survival, as they do not have access to outside or civic resources.
Our team evaluated efficacy of conservation awareness and social development in SHG participants and non-participants. We asked them what the significance of the forest is in their lives and many responded with iterations of, “We are forest people. We were born in the forest and we will die in the forest.” Their understanding of the importance of the forest is great, but it does not extend to awareness of conservation. The FRA (again, not applicable in Bihar) seeks to quell this knowledge gap by establishing a relationship between rights-holders and their consideration/responsibility for conservation. This relationship is unfortunately lacking in the Done Valley especially because these vulnerable communities are very apprehensive of, in their words, “being taken away from the forest” or “further restrictions on their access to the forest.” WTI is handling this sentiment carefully; thoughtfully working to cater to their needs through participatory development while shifting to align with conservation efforts.
The eternal dance between human need and environmental bounty/sacrifice is complicated and tenuous, but I am hopeful that it can become balanced and sustainable. This hope comes from the women’s answers in the form of stories that embody a deep connection to the forest and perhaps, overtime these stories will transform into a deep connection to conservation.
-Marcela de Campos
January 19, 2018
For an American, it is nearly impossible to appreciate how truly ancient India is. Compared to India, America is a baby. India is the birthplace of several major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. Fun fact, Hinduism is older than Christianity and Islam combined. The culture of India has existed for millennia, which explains why the country is home to 27 UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites. On our visit to the city of Agra we were awestruck by the symmetry and beauty of one of these heritage sites, the Taj Mahal.
It was commissioned by the Emperor Shah Jahan in 1632; for those history buffs in the audience that is the same year that Lord Baltimore was given a royal charter to settle the colony of Maryland. The Taj Mahal is the tomb for the emperor’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and stands as a testament to their unwavering love. For almost 400 years it has been a shining example of human passion and ingenuity. It’s awesome, not in the way millennials use the word awesome, but in the literal sense. As thousands of visitors pose for pictures in front of this gem of civilization, it’s hard to focus on anything else but the Taj. However, in a moment I partially regret, I was able to break away from my enchantment to notice something that others might find minuscule: a plastic water bottle. At first it was just a slight annoyance. “What kind of [expletive] would throw a bottle on the ground here of all places?!” I went to dispose of this defiler and return my gaze to the Taj.
Shoes are not allowed on the foundation of the Taj Mahal so guest are asked to remove their shoes. However, for those guests who find the idea of being barefoot too unagreeable, there are polypropylene booties that can be worn over the shoes. You put them on, walk around the Taj Mahal, admire the architecture, snap a few pictures for Instagram, then dispose of the booties in a trashcan. Allow me to explain why I am describing the trash around the Taj Mahal instead of using this forum to describe the beauty of the Mughal architecture. That water bottle and those booties are both petroleum products A.K.A. plastics. They are designed for one-time use. The irony is that these plastics, with an estimated lifespan of 450-1000 years, will likely outlast the Taj Mahal. So as tourists flock to the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, designed to stand as an eternal homage to love, the trash they generate will stand for nothing but an homage to convenience.
January 19, 2018
January 17, 2018
This week, team Katha is working to finalize a volunteer engagement strategy for Katha. After concluding our qualitative assessment on Friday, including interviews with more than 38 stakeholders and a survey of Katha's current volunteers, we are finishing our recommendations for our final report and presentation, which will take place on Thursday afternoon at Katha’s headquarters.
On Tuesday afternoon, we took a break from brainstorming and writing our report, and we went out to have lunch. After eating too much thali and sweets at Haldiram, we went to Lajpat Nagar to do some shopping at the market. We also went to Humayun's Tomb at sunset. Humayun’s Tomb is the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun, who died in 1556. The architecture of the tomb is said to have inspired the Taj Mahal – a resemblance that was evident to the Katha team. Our favorite aspect of the beautiful grounds surrounding the tomb was the smaller structure next the the tomb, which was used for the tomb of Humayun’s favorite barber.
On Wednesday, we returned to the Katha Lab School, Katha’s model school for its pedagogy located in the slums of Govindpuri. We had chai with Katha’s Executive Director Parvinder Kaur and discussed her experience at Katha, where she originally started as a volunteer in 2000, as well as her views and goals on the organization and the 300M Challenge.
January 15, 2018
January 11, 2018
January 10, 2018
During the first work week, my team worked with our client Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) to conduct more than 20 interviews with their staff and former street children, or rehabilitated young adults. Our interviewees reflected on living in SBT’s shelter homes and how their lives had changed since leaving SBT’s care. The majority expressed a fondness and affinity for their lives in the homes, mentioning that they made lifelong friends and felt as if they were part of a family. This made it difficult for them to leave once they turned 18, as mandated by the Juvenile Justice Act (also known as the JJ Act, this law outlines provisions for the care and protection of children under the age of 18). From these interviewees, we learned of some of the challenges street children face, especially the girls who have trust issues and may be shy due to past experiences with abuse and neglect.
January 9, 2018
Today only marks a week and a half into our stay in India, but we have already learned and done so much! We were able to visit the Taj Mahal and tour Delhi last weekend, and this weekend holds an exploration of another fascinating part of Indian culture. Today we drove six hours to the foothills of the Himalayas to Rishikesh. This beautiful city is known for its gorgeous view of the Ganges River and as a pilgrimage destination for people of Hindu faith. We arrived this afternoon and were able to get some breathtaking views of the river as well as observe a nightly fire ceremony.
Our team has been fortunate to work with an incredible organization that is working toward ending illiteracy throughout India. Katha utilizes volunteers to set up community libraries, run reading programs and spread the joy of reading. The past few days have contained visits to community libraries, observing a writing workshop for students throughout the country and getting to know volunteers and staff members through interviews that will inform our final volunteer engagement strategy. This effort will enable Katha to take its integral work throughout all parts of the country and make sure that all 300 million children in India can read.
One of the many similarities that our group has experienced between teams is the unending optimism for India’s future. The people we’re privileged to work with are confident in their ability to work toward progress for their children and generations beyond. It has been an honor to play a small role in that work, and we are so grateful for the opportunity!
January 8, 2018
This trip thus far has been everything I expected it to be, yet nothing like I expected at the same time! It’s truly difficult to understand the craziness of Delhi and India until you experience it, no matter how much you prepare. The other day, as a group of us were leaving Old Delhi in a tuk-tuk for dinner, we were stuck at a jam-packed intersection of cars, motorcycles, tuk-tuks and pedestrians with every single vehicle honking at the same time. No no one was able to move because Delhi drivers don’t believe in staying in lanes. It was madness, but it was quintessential India, and was a moment I’ll never forget.
One other thing that is next to impossible to prepare for: seeing the economic disparities that exist in this country in the flesh, much of it leftover from the caste system that is still incredibly difficult for people to climb out of. The organization I’m working with, Katha, works to empower children to spread the love of reading. Because half of India’s children are not reading at grade level, Katha is initiating the 300m challenge to improve the literary comprehension rates in the country through a number of different programs. In one of these programs, called C.O.O.L. (Community Owned and Operated Libraries), community volunteers work with young people, called Katha fellows, to create their own library in their community to work and teach the children.
Our team visited two of the C.O.O.L. libraries in the Sanjay slum of India. While we visited, dozens of kids came in and out of the libraries, which were the Katha fellows’ bedrooms, showing us their books and reading to each other. The conditions of those living within the slum were very poor, some with no plumbing and very little space. Yet, the Katha Fellows gave up more than six hours of their week to open up their space for the kids to teach them. They were inspiring, committed model volunteers and change agents, and I just wanted to hug the kids they were working with. The entire experience was eye-opening for our group, and meeting some of the kids that are impacted by Katha’s programs was a special experience for us. We know that learning to read and communicate effectively is one of the best and most useful tools that they can use in their future prospects to build a good life.
January 2, 2018
What an incredible start to 2018! The few days since arriving in India have been full of captivating history, incomparable experiences, bustling streets and inspiring people. Our stay started off with a meeting with our client, Youthreach, for the first time in person. Then, we began our organizational assessment. Over the course of three weeks we will be interviewing key stakeholders, including staff, corporate partners and donors to provide a comprehensive analysis of the organization’s strengths, challenges and recommendations on how to revise its mission and vision. After only a few hours with Youthreach, it is clear that its strength is its hard working, passionate staff who are doing great work for women and children across India.
Before we dive into our first week of work, we packed an incredible itinerary of sights and experiences this past weekend. We spent the last few days of 2017 in Agra, roaming the grounds of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort learning about the history of the families and personalities that built the magnificent structures.
We rang in the New Year in an area with restaurants and shops called CyberHub—which was fun to do almost half a day earlier than our friends back home! And we spent our first day of 2018 exploring the incredible sites of New Delhi. Our tour started with a visit to the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, a Sikh temple, where through donations, they serve a meal to more than 27,000 people a day, 365 days a year, to anyone who comes! We were fortunate to help cook and be part of those 27,000 people who ate that day. After, we explored the bustling, captivating Old Delhi, a part of the city that was built in the late 1600's. We weaved through narrow alleys lined with shops selling fabric, jewelry, electronics, spices and nuts, trying to take it all in while also dodging the constant flow of people, bikes, motorcycles and cars. It was one of my favorite places in India so far!
If the rest of 2018 is reflective of its first few days, I can say it will be an exciting, adventure-filled year!
December 31, 2017
Each of the four groups met with their respective NGOs for the first time on the 29th. My consulting team is working with Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT), a Delhi-based nonprofit that rescues and rehabilitates street children in India. We began our visit with a City Walk tour, a moving demonstration of SBT’s work and the individuals that it serves. Through the City Walk program, selected former street children who have joined SBT improve their communication and presentation skills by guiding visitors through the Delhi streets, SBT’s operations and their personal stories.
At the beginning of the walk, our SBT tour guide established the ground rule that we ought not to give money to street children. She proposed that a better way to help them would be to give them open food so that they could not resell it and use the money to buy drugs. Moreover, the children must spend all their money each day because they do not have a place to store it and are susceptible to it being stolen. I appreciated hearing the recommendations from an SBT participant, a micro-level example of participatory development. As our guest speaker Anindit Roy Chowdhury championed, “Nothing about us without us”—we cannot be effective if we are not inclusive and considerate of the rights holders’ perspectives and needs.
About as soon as we settled into our base hotel in New Delhi, we hopped on a bus and ventured to Agra yesterday morning. Our first stop was the Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah (affectionately known as the Baby Taj Mahal), and after a brief tour of the premises and our first real photo opportunity, we proceeded to Agra Fort. Both the Baby Taj and Agra Fort were impressive structures with deep histories that embodied the power and poise of their designers, architects and inhabitants.
Today we saw the Taj Mahal (“crown palace”), and it was truly breathtaking. Incidentally, the mausoleum section was closed off to the public the night before because of a stampede, and we were discouraged by the fog that persistently impeded on visibility (and respiratory comfort). However, the stars aligned, the fog cleared away, and we spent a wonderful two hours exploring the Taj. We are very eager to see what kicking off 2018 in India has in store for us.