PARLE G!

We may as well have titled this blog “Interning in Undaipur, India: Our gastronomic experiences”.

Because I’m about to write about food…again. And I notice that food really is a theme of all of our posts.

This time, I want to talk about biscuits. And development. Hear me out. If you refer to the one learning camp video, you will see my deep appreciation for biscuits. My English heritage has taught me that tea is not properly drank (drunk?) without a nice hearty biscuit being dunked in it. It was heart warming to find the glucose-packed Parle-G brand of biscuit everywhere I looked here. If  I receive a cuppa, I can find Parle-G biscuits without any fuss. In town or in the middle of some village where the street before the street before the street I took to get there has no name…Parle G is there.

And then last Saturday, I realized how completely insane that is. I was driving through some randomly remote area with my supervisor, Nitesh. We pulled over for a chai break, purchased a double pack of Parle-G, and and tucked in. As we were enjoying the pause, Nitesh laughed to himself and said “Parle-G, its the unofficial official biscuit of India! We are here in this village and can’t get clean water, but at least we can get Parle-G!”.

I mean seriously! It got me thinking of the question we explored a bit in the past year: whether development happens unilinear-ly or if its possible to “skip steps”. A common example that was used in recitation was the fact that there is no need nowadays to install ground phone lines because everyone has cellphones. So, the way I saw it, we are here in a village with no system for clean water access, but are enjoying the product of a very modern large scale business operation. Those biscuits were made in a factory that was likely hundreds of kilometers away, and the supply chain stretches as far as  this remote village (and yes, even west Africa! they are all over…weird). So, the question is: Has this village skipped a step, and moved one small notch up on the development chain because it is part of a massive capitalist enterprise, or is it still totally stuck in neutral, OR worse off? I don’t really know but I sure enjoyed the snack.

Alice J


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Waiting for India………Also I’m sick

So it has finally happened. I was cruising along at the one month mark feeling invincible that my stomach had proven impervious to the spices, oils, and distrustful water that occupy Indian dinner plates and I finally got sick. I would love to fill you in on the delicious details, but lets say that food has been exiting my body at a much faster rate than it has been entering it. After about 6 days of this, I decided it was time to visit the doctor (Yes mom and dad I went to the hospital and I am fine). Actually I just got my lab reports back this very minute and I don’t have anything that cool or foreign, just a little food poisoning they think. Future advice for any of you thinking of coming to India, bring pepto bismol and immodium, and don’t eat the reheated pizza from Celebration Bakery. Though unfortunate that I’m sick, I guess this is my initiation or visa stamp, proof that I did indeed go to India.

What I was initially going to talk about for this blog is in a way connected to my illness, and has been the reoccurring theme in all of my posts now that I think about it, but it begins with food. During my usual fantasies of delicious steaks with baked potatoes and bowls of captin crunch I made the observation that I feel like I am constantly eating appitizers and I’m just waiting for the main course. Its like being in an Olive Garden that has a broken air conditioner and the only thing on the menu is the unlimited bread sticks and salad, its manageable, but I just really want an entre. This feeling of waiting didn’t just occur at the dinner table, instead I have constantly found myself “waiting” during my time here. Professionally speaking I am waiting for the power to come back on, waiting for people to return my emails, waiting for the jeep driver to show up, and waiting for a chance to get some interviews done.

Even beyond that though, I feel like socially I am waiting for India to “mature” a little bit. I know that sounds arrogant and western-colonial, and its a bit ironic given the age difference between my nation and theirs, but taking a walk down the street I can’t help but notice it. Having a group of 50 year old men stop and stare at my female interns, whispering and making jokes to themselves while showing no care about how uncomfortable they are making them just feels childish and immature, and a bit below a civilization that has existed for thousands of years. Its not just the treatment of woman, but of lower castes too. While the caste system has been legally abolished it is still prevalent in everyday action, and I just constantly hear Draco Malfoy’s voice in my ear when he says to Harry, “You’ll soon learn that some wizard families are better than others, you don’t want to go around with the wrong sort. I can help you there.” I mean after thousands of years they must have gathered enough evidence to figure out that we are not chained to the legacies of our fathers? 

I understand that I’m an outsider in a strange culture, and that I am also young and prone to quick assumptions, but I don’t accept the doctrine that we can not judge other cultures. If all humans are equal then there must exist some basic fundamental levels of comparison beyond having two eyes and a nose.

Its time for me to go take my medicine, so thats all for now. Till next time!

 

– Evan George

 

The Boy and the Goat

This Monday our group visited Shikshantar, a space for alternative learning in Udaipur. It was started by Manish Jain in reaction to educational development schemes led by organizations such as the Word Bank, USAID, UNICEF and Education Development Center. Mr. Jain has degrees from both Harvard and Brown and has worked for many years as a development coordinator in multiple countries. Needless to say, our group was very excited about our meeting with him and hearing his experiences in our field of interest.   His argument, in brief, is that schooling reforms led by large development organizations first ignore the types of traditional learning that take place in local villages by managing to devalue it in favor of literacy and mathematical skills, and second, serve to isolate the individual from the community and promote egoistic versus community minded thoughts and actions. Mr. Jain favors undergoing a process of “unlearning” values, beliefs and assumptions gained via formal schooling and believes that a return to traditional knowledge systems is the key to countering current educational reforms.

His example of traditional knowledge is a boy herding goats. According to him, the boy is forming valuable knowledge about goats and nature that cannot be taught in schools. Furthermore, goat herding is more relevant to the boys experience in his village and prepares him for a future there. Development workers fail to recognize this boy’s particular knowledge and skills under the mask of his “illiteracy” (i.e. because he is illiterate he must not be very smart). Literacy, Mr. Jain argues, comes in many forms, not just the kind associated with reading or writing. Therefore, Mr. Jain is creating a space for fostering alternative forms of “literacy” that are ignored in current schooling.

My comment for Mr. Jain is in relation to the boy’s opportunities. I don’t look at the boy herding goats and think that he has no knowledge or skills due to his illiteracy. What concerns me even more is the central question of capabilities: does this boy have the capability to pursue a life that he has reason to value? If in fact, the boy is only receiving knowledge that prepares him for life in the village, what does this mean for his opportunity to choose his own life and act on his own freedoms? Does goat herding alone, although relevant to village life, sufficient for contributing to this boy’s freedom and agency? By having exposure to goat herding alone the boy is lacking the opportunity to develop other talents that he may have, such as musicality, artistic expression, critical thinking, etc.

My second comment is that education and schooling can foster the development of various talents and knowledge systems. Just because formal (government) and non formal (Seva Mandir and other NGO supported institutions) schooling is mostly focused on literacy and math skills does not mean that it does not have the capacity to incorporate traditional learning techniques and skills such as inter-generational modeling and apprenticeship, environmental and natural systems, physical and mental well-being, etc. However, according to Mr. Jain, education cannot be reformed in this way. Again, my point is that just because schooling does not have that focus now (in the local areas of Rajasthan, India, in particular) does not imply that it can never do so. My own experience as a kindergarten teacher has confirmed the value of fostering different learning styles and knowledge systems such as learning to share and function as a member of a group, how to take care of ones own (and respecting other’s) physical and mental well-being and preserving and protecting the environment IN ADDITION to basic “academic” skills. To my disappointment (and delight), Mr. Jain was not able to articulate a coherent argument against my objections.

My last point deals with Mr. Jain’s assumption that traditional learning is automatically transferred in a village/family setting. Is it really the case that parents/the community are imparting their knowledge systems onto the children? Are families always the best source of learning, by which I mean all types of learning are in practice (social, emotional, physical, rational)? I find this to be a dangerous assumption; one as dangerous as the extremes of the romanticized image of “the happy villager” (will thrive only when left entirely alone/isolated) image or “the helpless villager” (will thrive only through outside interventions and guidance). Again, my experience has led me to believe that family/community knowledge and schooling knowledge must be complementary and reinforcing of one another; neither has the ability to entirely thrive at the expense/rejection of the other.

Following the discussion, my optimism was reinforced. I truly believe that a focus on individual capabilities (such as those of the boy with the goats) is the answer to tough developmental questions. This is not to be taken to mean that development with a capabilities focus is “easy” to implement or can be done so on a large scale (i.e. by cutting and pasting development project proposals from one country to another or even one village to another). Moreover, promoting only one type of capability (i.e. goat herding, literacy and/or math) is not sufficient to increasing the opportunities a person has to lead the type of life he/she has reason to value by his/her own accord and talents (by which I mean it is not decided by others such as parents forcing children to become goat herders or engineers). Of course, after exposure to other opportunities should the boy choose goat herding after all, at least he can make and act on such a decision according to his available freedoms and agency.

I (and Alice, Sarah, Evan and Mike) would appreciate any thoughts on the idea of “unlearning” school knowledge and a return to “traditional” learning. I would also appreciate any other thoughts or considerations on capabilities that require further reflection and/or elaboration on my part.

Stephanie

Residential Learning Camp Videos!

Here are a few videos that support Mike’s post about the learning camp. The 5 of us visited the camp our first week at Seva Mandir to learn about the camp and to observe the classroom instruction. We had a great time!

Classroom observation:

Walking over to have lunch:

Kids’ Lunch:

Hanging out with the kids after lunch:

Some Observations and a Day in the Life

We’ve reached the “1 month left mark” meaning that the deadlines for our project goals and objectives at Seva Mandir are creeping closer. So I decided to talk a little bit about why I’m in India, other than to complain about dairy, and enjoy the company of my incredible Indian host family.

My project focuses on data collection about the Residential Learning Camp run by Seva Mandir. The camp was initially created to provide basic literacy and mathematics to children unattached to formal education programs, or Non-Formal Education (NFE’s) Centres run by Seva Mandir. Many of the children attending the camp live in migrant worker families, who move between Rajasthan and the neighboring state of Gujarat to follow agricultural employment opportunities. The camps run 3 times a year for two months, and have now adopted an unofficial purpose of transitioning students from the learning camps to government schools, NFE’s or other institutions of basic education. Evan and I are interviewing stakeholders in the transition (teachers, administrators, parents and students) to examine the methods currently used at the camp to encourage students to enroll, as well as collect suggestions to further ease and support students attachment to education.

This past week we spent several days and an overnight at the Residential Learning Camp, which was an incredible experience.

We had an amazing translator who had some interesting thoughts on how language creates and sustains a hierarchy in India, which mostly, but not always runs parallel with the caste system. He speaks English, Hindi, and 8 or 9 local languages of Rajasthan and Gujarat, as well as some Urdu. The hierarchy explained looked something like this:

Mewar (the local language)- the language of the rural and poor, but still widely spoken by all levels of socioeconomic class.

Hindi (the ‘national’ language)- India’s unifying language, which he argued was promoted through Bollywood and national media preferences as a language of the middle class, and urbanites.

English (the global language)- A gateway to tourist dollars for some middle class, or a symbol of power for many others in the upper and middle classes.

The impact of the language hierarchy on educational priorities, and implications on identity and values could lead to an entire separate post, but I’ll move on for now. Our translator helped us navigate some of these language barriers, and we were able to interview 23 teachers about their opinions on the camp, and efforts to encourage students to enroll in government schools. We also were able to experience a full day in the camp, and here are a few observations.

  • With student teacher ratios of about 12:1, the classes are generally well behaved, and the teachers are encouraged to use storytelling, and activities to keep students active in the learning blocs- 9-12 is Hindi, and 3-6 is mathematics
  • The students all sit in rows for meals, and usually clean their own trays after eating meals, which are usually rice, daal and chapati
  • The classrooms are open and airy, and also serve as bedrooms during naptime and at night. Rolled up bedding is stored on the side of the room during lessons and activities.

We also played with the students during their afternoon recess, watching cricket, jacks, and other games including one solo badminton player. After dinner the teachers were debating whether they should have a Gujarati Dance called “Garbah”. One teacher said that dancing was essential to help with digestion, and then they danced… and we even tried for a bit, with much less rhythm than the children…

 

And now for a breakdown of the mundane daily routine…

5:45/6:00AM- Wake up, have a mandatory cup of chai.

6/6:15AM- Go for a walk around the neighborhood with my host father, or go to a family friend’s house for Pranayam or yoga, which involves breathing exercises, while their purebred indian hunting dog tries to eat my shoes.

7:15/7:30AM- Have a second cup of chai on the porch, and stare at the hindi language newspaper for a while.

8/9AM- Get ready for work, refill water bottle, apply sunscreen, etc., have breakfast parantha then grab my lunch container and walk towards the tempo transport stand.

9/10AM- Hop on a tempo, which is like a tuk-tuk with predetermined routes, and supposedly standard fares. ( Picture a yellow 3 wheel taxi/amusement park ride hybrid that gets stuffed with a minimum of 10 ppl plus the driver) and ride from Badgaon to Fatehpura Circle and then hassle the driver to give  change, while he covers his coins with bills, and pretends that he doesn’t have paanch rupees. Then walk a few blocks, past solicitations for rickshaws, mango, watermelon, and various street food to Seva Mandir.

~10/10:30AM Either find transportation to the Residential Learning Camps at Kaya, or hunker down in the library for research. Meet with staff members, have chai, interview/observe, repeat.

1/2PM – Lunch, usually consisting of chapati, vegetable with spices (often okrah, potatoes, or squash), salad (pieces of onion, tomato and cucumber) and daal, or curry, or chutney.

~Predetermined time posted daily in the paper -Power goes out, fans stop, and I start sweating, or sweating more profusely. Many people leave the office for naps, or to sit in the shade, or to find any breezy or cooler location not already occupied by street dogs.

5/6PM Finish up with work, head home in the tempo, or maybe stop at FSD for Hindi lessons, or workshops.

7-8PM Free time for blogging, bollywood dancing, excursions, chai time, etc.

8/9PM Dinner with the family, discussions, language lessons, etc. maybe watch one of the  Indian Soap Operas, one on a divorced child bride, or about a family that adopted their orphaned servant

10/11PM Scope out my room for crickets and lizards, and then bed.

Sorry for the long post!

-Mike

Staying Relevant

I know I just posted, and I promise to keep this short. I wanted to just put some thoughts out there of stuff I’ve been mulling over recently. Isn’t that what people do on blogs in general anyway? I’m still getting the hang of this…

This past year during some classes, I’ve taken a bit of a look at education in conflict.  Prevailing in a lot of the literature and best practice guidelines is the theme that education during conflict must be relevant (flashy dime word alert!). It makes perfectly good sense though: in exceptional circumstances such as conflict, education ought to follow suit.  But here’s the thing, I’m wondering why we aren’t really thinking more about relevant education for other populations as well.   As I go to visit the some rural areas in Rajasthan, I’m left wondering why there is an expectation for children to learn “by the book” when their educational needs may actually be altogether different.  Why not focus rural curricula on good farming techniques, animal husbandry, etc.  Sure, basic literacy and numeracy must not be neglected, how could a farmer otherwise barter his or her goods?  Of course, when I actually think about it, creating relevant education for anyone and everyone is a logistic and practical nightmare, if not impossibility.  Aslo, nailing down what children’s specific needs actually are is an entirely different can of worms. But I suppose what I’m left thinking is that education should serve to expand livelihoods (and human flourishing and….capabilities?) in whatever way that may look like for each individual.  And, I think to do that, it’s got to be pretty relevant. 

Thoughts?

Alice J

American Nuts

First of all, unlike Evan, I find the vegetarian lifestyle wonderful! I won’t even mention to the group that US Pizza (pronounced Pizz-ahh), where we are planning to go to dinner tonight after Hindi class, is vegetarian only. Hehe! Maybe they make a good nut pie!

A lot has happened since my last post: Sarah and I have started our scholarship project and have been traveling to the villages and conducting interviews and distributing money; I attended a Indian wedding reception on Tuesday; Our group visited Animal Aid rescue shelter; I spend my free time exploring Old City, reading development books and escaping the heat.

I’ll begin with the wedding. After much anticipation, Nani (my host grandmother), was not able to attend the wedding reception due to her sister-in-law’s death (a Indian custom for mourning). I went instead with Nani’s daughter, Rachna, her husband, and another intern, Pultik, who is Indian-American. Typical weddings have 3-4 separate events. At the reception, the bride and groom sit in their wedding attire on a decorated stage and guests take turns presenting them with gifts and taking pictures with the couple. There is a large all-you-can-eat buffet which Pultik helped me to navigate. I enjoyed tasting all the spicy new Indian foods and having “American Nuts” ice cream for dessert. Overall, the experience was short and sweet (and spicy too).

Yesterday we visited Animal Aid, a rescue shelter for injured street animals. The shelter houses and cares for cows, donkeys, pigs, birds and dogs. Cats are rare in India; I still don’t know why. I didn’t take any pictures of the animals because in all honesty, it’s really sad. Don’t get me wrong, organizations like this are needed, but it’s hard for an animal lover like myself to confront such a reality. There is an abundance of paralyzed dogs that scoot around on their front legs (trailing their lifeless body behind); an incredible feat indeed. I’ll stop there since I favor positive posts. I’ll end this section by encouraging other animal lovers and caretakers to check out the website (just google Animal Aid India).

On the brighter side, a funny experience with animals: Since it was raining, all the villagers (including us) were gathered under the roof of the government school building. Not to be left out, a herd of goats decided to join us. One goat was feeling particularly frisky and decided I was a good choice to relieve some of his energy. He bolted towards me in a mix of humping/jumping and I ran away screaming and laughing at the same time at the treat of being attacked by a horny goat. The only think I could think of saying was “jootha”, which means “impure”. All the villagers found this incredibly amusing but thankfully another goat was in his path, so I was saved. From that point on, I am extremely cautious around goats; they’re nuts.

My biggest realization is that I have only one month left. Despite some of our grumblings about life in India, I’ve considered coming back, which shouldn’t be surprising to those who know me since I’m a travel nut. I say this because India is the educational center for NGO activity. Here, the language of capabilities enters development conversations and initiatives. In future posts, I’ll detail my brewing thoughts of capabilities. In the meantime, Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom is glued to my side. I am slowly beginning to identify the role of capabilities in my interactions with villagers (the parents and students affected by the scholarship program). Needless to say, my mind has been occupied with relating theory to practice, a goal that I had set for myself at the beginning of the internship.

Distributing scholarships in Kaliwas

For those of you following our blog that are planning on interning in Udaipur at some point, please don’t hesitate to contact us with additional questions!