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Dispatches from Delhi

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 15, 2018

Varanasi was the most incredible experience I could have asked for. It was moving to watch a culture that is so connected to the circle of life celebrate and mourn those close to them after they die. Aside from the cremation rituals on the Ganges and the evening aarti ceremony we witnessed, my favorite part was being a cultural observer and soaking up the sights, smells, colors and tastes of Varanasi. I kept trying to compare Varanasi to any other city I had visited in my life, but I could not. Parts of Varanasi were stimulation overload, but it was really cool to observe life in a new context. I already miss seeing the herds of cows walk through the city, witnessing those bathing in the Ganges and eating the best dosas of my life. My team (Youthreach) had a lot of work to do in preparation for the week, however, so I knew it was time to leave.
 
During our lunch we learned that our flight had been canceled due to smoke in the south of India, and that our program leadership was working to rebook us to ensure our return transit to Delhi. We later traveled to the airport to work out the remaining flight assignments, but upon arrival we learned that only half our team would be traveling on a flight, and the rest would be returning home by train.
 
I was so thrilled that my team had been chosen for the train by default since we had been unable to acquire plane tickets. I was so excited because I had been getting jealous hearing about the WTI team’s train ride to Bihar. I love train travel; it is one of my favorite ways to experience life in a new geographic and cultural context. I had learned more about India’s train culture through National Geographic, and anecdotally through friends, and was anxious to experience it for myself.
 
We were placed on a sleeper car for our 12-hour journey back to the capital and were assigned bunk areas. Through some musical chairs we were able to place most friends and teams together, which made it so much more fun! We worked on our team deliverables a bit, ate the delicious vegetarian train meal served and ended the night with Harry Potter.
 
We slept quite well throughout the night, and in the morning we awoke to shouts of “CHAI!” throughout the train car as vendors came through to sell tea, omelets, coffee and sandwiches. We bought some chai and looked out the window as we came into Delhi and watched the city wake up and come alive. It was an incredible adventure that I will remember forever. 

-Louisa Olson

 

January 11, 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 their experiences living in SBT’s shelter homes and how their lives had changed since leaving SBT’s care. The majority of the interviewees expressed a fondness and affinity for their life in the homes. They mentioned that they made lifelong friends and they felt as if they were part of a family. This made it difficult for them to leave once they turned 18, which is 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 that street children face, especially the girls who have trust issues and may be shy due to past experiences with abuse and neglect.
 
Thus, when our consulting team arrived at Udaan Rose Children’s Home for Girls, I expected to see a group of reserved girls who wouldn’t interact with us at all. However, I was quickly proven wrong as we were escorted through a classroom where a dozen girls were diligently working on mathematics. They all looked up and enthusiastically waved and screamed “Hello!!!!!” We were then taken upstairs to the roof, which included a metal grate above a courtyard three stories below. Most of the 84 residents were playing in the sunshine and laying on the grate chatting in small groups. The girls immediately latched on to us and wanted to know our names and ages and if we wanted to play some games. Two of the girls told me to climb on top of the grate and start walking across. I’m not scared of heights, but I knew if I mis-stepped I would definitely hurt myself, so I was a little bit apprehensive. However, there was clearly nothing for me to worry about as the girls held my hands tightly and guided me across, all the while chatting. Looking around, Aaron was engrossed in a conversation with one of the teenagers who was asking if he had a wife. Two young girls were teaching Jahan how to dance and Emily was practicing her Hindi with some of the other girls. I was in awe that these girls immediately embraced us, complete strangers, just like we were part of their family. After a few more minutes of playing, we all were ushered downstairs to eat lunch. We joined the girls in their meal of rice, paneer, dal, and roti as well as a dessert of gulab jamun before we left for the day. 
 
This was perhaps the most memorable day of our consulting journey so far as it allowed us to experience a small part of the life the street children have when they are under SBT’s care. I now better understand the sentiments expressed by some of our interviewees, especially regarding the familial atmosphere SBT provides. For a moment, I forgot that these children have experienced unimaginable hardships, as they all looked so happy and carefree. This experience underscores the importance of getting to know the environment in which we are working before making assumptions about how things are or how they should be. Going into our next set of interviews, I will now have a better perspective on why street children face such difficulties as they leave the caring environment of the shelter home and enter the real world.
 

-Amogh Srinivasan

 

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.

 
Thus, when our consulting team arrived at Udaan Rose Children’s Home for Girls, I expected to see a group of reserved girls who wouldn’t interact with us at all. 
However, I was quickly proven wrong as we were escorted through a classroom where a dozen girls were diligently working on mathematics. 
They all looked up and enthusiastically waved and screamed “Hello!” 

We were then taken upstairs to the roof, which included a metal grate above a courtyard three stories below. Most of the 84 residents were playing in the sunshine and laying on the grate chatting in small groups. The girls immediately latched onto us and wanted to know our names and ages and if we wanted to play some games. 
 
Two of the girls told me to climb on top of the grate and start walking across. I’m not scared of heights, but I knew if I mis-stepped I would definitely hurt myself, so I was a little bit apprehensive. However, there was clearly nothing for me to worry about as the girls held my hands tightly and guided me across, all the while chatting. Looking around, Aaron was engrossed in a conversation with one of the teenagers who was asking if he had a wife. Two young girls were teaching Jahan how to dance and Emily was practicing her Hindi with some of the other girls. I was in awe that these girls immediately embraced us, complete strangers, just like we were part of their family. After a few more minutes of playing, we all were ushered downstairs to eat lunch. We joined the girls in their meal of rice, paneer, dal and roti, as well as a dessert of gulab jamun, before we left for the day. 
 
This was perhaps the most memorable day of our consulting journey so far as it allowed us to experience a small part of the life the street children have when they are under SBT’s care. I now better understand the sentiments expressed by some of our interviewees, especially regarding the familial atmosphere SBT provides. For a moment, I forgot that these children had experienced unimaginable hardships, as they all looked so happy and carefree. This experience underscores the importance of getting to know the environment in which we are working before making assumptions about how things are or how they should be. Going into our next set of interviews, I will now have a better perspective on why street children face such difficulties as they leave the caring environment of the shelter home and enter the real world.
 
-Stacie Brown
 

January 9, 2018

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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.

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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!

-Kathryn Allred

 

 

 

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. 

-Caden Fabbi

 

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! 

-Kate Raulin

 

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. 

-Emily Long