Thursday, May 30, 2013

Preperation and Anticipation

My work in India will not begin until July, when I fly into Bangalore and settle in at the Indian Institute of Science. A few PhD students from the Centre for Ecological Science have welcomed me into their own research, both in the lab at the ISS and field stations near the wildlife sanctuaries and national parks of Mudumalai and Kodagu. Working alongside these PhD students around issues of elephant-human interaction will give me more background information and technical experience to aid in my own survey research, which is focused around how urban citizens in Bangalore view elephant conservation and interaction compared to views of people living in less urban areas closer to the wildlife areas. I am anxiously anticipating the weeks to come in which I will be in India. Until then, I continue my preparation, gathering every possible thing I may need while abroad, including a number of quite fashionable ponchos and rain gear since I will be in India during the monsoon season. More to come with updates of preparations and travel. Can't wait to  find myself in the bustling color and culture of India!

Kicked out of McDonalds... Always a first!

I finally launched my research last week... and it was not without a few hiccups. The last two weeks I have been preparing a survey and talking to a lot of people about women's safety in India and the more I talked to people, the more I heard how horribly dangerous it is for women to be out alone in Delhi. I am in Mumbai right now which is considered if not the safest then one of the safest cities in India. I have been out late for movies and feel very safe even when it is just one other girlfriend with me. However, even after saying that I still wouldn't go on the public transportation alone, especially at night, but I know many Indian women have to commute back from work at night, often alone. One of my Indian friends from Delhi said she didn't feel safe walking out alone or taking public transportation after 8pm... that means going out to meet your friends for dinner, meeting them at the movie theater or just stopping by.. you name it, it wouldn't happen unless everything was organized so that you were directly picked up and dropped off at your own house by a trusted friend. As a very independent and active woman, I know how difficult that would be for me. So, for my research project, I decided to try and measure just how unsafe men and women from Mumbai and Delhi really feel. I want to understand why these two Indian cities have such different ratings when it comes to women's safety, and what are some things that Indians believe need to change in order to see some positive results.

I created a short 12 survey in English, Hindi, and Marathi. Last week I went to one of the popular malls to test out peoples reactions to the survey and see if there was any confusion to any of the questions. I went around asking people to take my survey and finally decided I needed to find some kind of restaurant where people were sitting so that it would be easier to fill out the survey... so I picked  a very packed McDonalds. I quickly got people filling out my survey, surprised that my plan was working so well! I quickly passed out, collected, and chatted with some of the families taking my survey. These nice teenage girls really got into it and sat busily writing a paragraph for each question. I continued with my mission until an intimidating McDonalds employee strode up to me and asked me what I was doing. As he stood a little to close for comfort I explained calmly that I was taking surveys for a university research project. He asked if I had permission from McDonalds to do so, a rhetorical question in my mind, and I answered no. He said he was sorry but he was going to have to rip up all the surveys that were taken in the restaurant. I protested loudly especially as he collected the surveys covered in writing by the teenage girl I had previously chatted too, and a few other employees started moving me towards the door. I tried everything I could think of... I really wanted to keep and use those surveys! I stood outside feeling defeated and trying to decide my next move. Then suddenly a few minutes later, the same teenage girl who spent so much time filling out my survey came running out with all of the surveys in her hand. She shoved them into my chest and with a nervous smile said, "RUN"! I didn't ask any questions but with a relieved and excited smile I shouted 'thank you' over my shoulder and took off jogging to a crowded store. I have no idea how she was able to get the surveys, and I doubt she stole them, but I can't be sure. Either way I definitely enjoyed reading the 20 or so surveys that I got that day... basking in the sweat and struggle that emanated from every written word on those surveys. As much as I enjoyed the excitement of the day, I knew I wouldn't be able to do that every time if I wanted to reach my goal of 100 participants. Its suffice to say I have now created an online version for my survey. If you have any friends from, or that live in Mumbai and Delhi, please share my survey! I will take less than 5 minutes!

Mumbai =

Delhi =

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A fortnight gone working with Sammaan

Working with the 10-man-strong staff, mainly at the Sammaan head office, in the heart of scorching Patna has made the past two weeks fly by extremely fast. A lot of time has been spent getting acquainted with the unique model that Sammaan and its beneficiaries operate on. Sammaan’s main beneficiaries and focus are the rickshaw pullers of the state of Bihar. Having taken a tour around the traffic-congested streets of growing Patna, it is clear to see that rickshaw pullers contribute significantly to the economy and transportation sector, interacting with the town's civilians on an unceasing basis . Little is noticed of the hardships that these rickshaw pullers go through. Many are migrants from rural areas who flock to the city after sowing their crop, looking finding work as they wait for the harvest season. They struggle with finances, having no form of saving accounts, keeping all their cash with the fleet owners who rent our their rickshaws at exorbitant prices. This and several factors leave them in a poverty trap.
 The streets of Patna

Sammaan Foundation, a social business, acts as intermediary between the rickshaw pullers (bottom of the pyramid, underrepresented) and the rest of society (banks, government, corporations higher classes of society,etc). using a unique business model to offer them services that will eventually uplift themselves socio-economically with the help of society and also integrate at the same time. Doing all this is requires work and I'm a witness to how busy the Sammaan office can get. But the real offices are out in the field, where many more grassroots workers labor in the sun to facilitate rickshaw pullers and their families to the services that the non-profit business has to offer. It is these services that I will be further investigating as I begin field visits starting tomorrow and get a chance to interact with the Sammaan rickshaw pullers and their families.
The Sammaan Head Office

Apart from that, I have been offered to help with research into innovative funding models that Sammaan is planning on implementing for future rickshaw pullers to purchase their own rickshaws as a means of  gaining assets as part of their economic uplifting. I am loving the social-impact  driven atmosphere and the attitude of the business aimed at social benefits over profit (which is all re-invested in the business anyway). The staff has also been intent on not keeping me from delicious Indian cuisine, countless cups of chai and one taste of what they call "Masala Cola" (Coke and masala).

 Masala Cola
I think I’ll stick to the chai!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Working with Pratham

After spending the first days interning at Pratham's head quarters in Mumbai, I had the opportunity to go with a team from the Pratham Council for Vulnerable Children (PCVC) to inspect schools in Govandi, a slum area of Mumbai. Govandi is the home of one of the largest dumping grounds in India where many children are sent to scavenge for anything that they can sell. It is extremely unsanitary and unsafe for the children, and although it is illegal to climb up on the trash pile, many children still do as a source of income for their families or simply to just supplement their own meals.

The huge mound of trash in the distance.. and it
extends for miles!

Pratham has set up ground teams to assist these children and get them back in government schools. An informational booth is set up in each community to serve as a resource for members of the community. Anyone can come to the booth and report a child labor case, explain a problem that is preventing the children from attending school or report a child that is not attending school. That booth communicates with the coordinators at the main office where I am interning, and they figure out a solution. The booth is the backbone of the operation and carefully records all of the complaints and concerns of the community.

The child rescue booth that keeps a record of all the
children they have rescued 

They also spearhead anti-child labor campaigns by hanging signs all around the community, and encouraging the community to work with them on this issue.

The anti-child labor campaign signs
If children are found wondering around on the trash pile, or have simply dropped out of school, the Pratham staff enrolls them in a transitionary classroom that helps the children acclimate to the classroom atmosphere before they are put back into the government school system. Once the children enroll in the government schools, they are provided with educational support classes where they are helped with homework and receive extra academic attention.

visiting the children's classroom

Some girls showing us a dance they had learned

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

First few days in Mumbai!

Wow, what a city! Mumbai is huge with so much waiting to be discovered! I’m glad I have a few weeks to explore and get to know my way around. I am living in Colaba which is located in Southern Mumbai. It’s a really nice part of Mumbai, and is known to be one of the more affluent areas of town. Mumbai in general is an expensive city to live in but that doesn’t stop hundreds of laborers living in the rural parts of India from moving to the city to find work. While there is extreme wealth in this city with one family owning an entire skyscraper, there is also extreme poverty, and I see it everyday I walk outside. I have only been able to explore parts of Colaba, and some of the beautiful colonial-era buildings in the city, but I’m sure I will try to get out further once I get more settled.

My trip to India ended up being a little more spontaneous than I had intended. Originally I was going to work in Kolkata for an NGO that uses dance therapy to help victims of violence or sexual abuse. A friend had recommended it, but communication with the NGO was very unreliable. I did not know anyone that lives in Kolkata, and I did not feel comfortable going there with an NGO that I couldn’t rely on for help with accommodation. Finally, I decided to go to Mumbai where some family friends live and stay with them until I can find my own housing. This past month I have been contacting NGOs in Mumbai and I met with Pratham, a child education NGO yesterday who has a project for me while I do my own research.  I am meeting with at least one more NGO today just to give myself some options but I will keep you all posted on how the work is going. Yesterday, I also contacted a broker who showed me some flats in Colaba where I can live for the rest of the 5 weeks that I am here. I am looking at one other place today, but will probably be signing for a room that I will be sharing with another girl which is part of a flat that I will be sharing with about 6 other girls. It will be good preparation for next year at Michigan where I will be housing with 7 other girls! I will write more about how all that is going once I move in… I hope my roommate and I will get along! 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hello Everyone!

I have finally arrived in India after a long 36 hour journey! It is a hot Friday afternoon (90 F) in the city of Patna-where I will be predominantly residing for the next 6 weeks. The NGO I'll be working with (SammaaN Foundation) have organized lovely guest house accommodation in the heart of the city which is also a short walk from their office. The free wi-fi should make blog posting much easier! I hope to use this weekend to get some rest, start getting acquainted with the place and catch up on a bit of Hindi! Work starts on Monday so more to come soon!

Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I am leaving in two days... credit card companies have been warned, vaccines have been absorbed, and medicines have been bought in preparation for the inevitable travelers diarrhea. Now it is time to download the many bollywood films that friends have recommended and brush up on my elementary Hindi that friends have been teaching me. After that, its up to Vishnu and Shiva, the preserver and destroyer in the Hindu tradition to decide my fate as I prepare to board the plane to Mumbai.

I just wanted to give a quick shout out to the Center for South Asian studies for their support and monetary scholarship that has made this trip possible. Thank you to Zilka Joseph, Gloria Caudill and Nancy Becker. I will try my best to make you proud!

See you in India!

Welcome to the Summer in South Asia BLOG

Please post regularly, keeping your topics appropriate and professional.  This blog is a professional space associated with the University of Michigan.

Feel free to share photos of your travels and experiences in India.

Thank you and safe travels!