Three days left and I find myself preparing extensively for this journey. Tampons (apparently not very common in India), mosquito repellent, all sorts of vitamins and tablets, first aid kit... My backpack feels like a portable pharmacy! I have read like a thousand books and my lonely planet already feels like it has been to and come back from India. The days I was applying to the ICS programme seem like a lifetime away and I cannot believe I am finally leaving on Tuesday.
I am going volunteering in Koraput, a small town in Southern Orissa, India, as part of the International Citizen Service (ICS) Programme. It is an initiative by the British Government that aims
- to give volunteers an understanding of international development
- to have a positive development impact on communities around the world
- to develop volunteers' skills including learning how to live and work in another culture and country
- and to engage volunteers as active global citizens on their return
There are six organisations participating in this programme; VSO, Restless Development, Progressio, International Service, Skillshare International and THET. I heard about the project through a conference I attended at my university, which invited professionals to share their experiences about "making a difference". One of the speakers was part of Skillshare International and he mentioned the ICS programme as a pilot study that was meant to be launched two weeks after the conference. I was then on my final year at university and trying to focus on my professional future whilst coping with academic stress. As I have studied International Business, I thought I would suit the private business world. However, the more I worked in it and found out about the system with a critical eye, the more I believed that things could change. My dissertation about the current financial crisis also made me aware of some of the flaws of the economic system which could, in my opinion, change and be improved. I have become passionate about these issues and decided to completely change my career path into international economic development. The "Make a Difference" conference happened right at the time whilst I was having this mental dilemma and it just felt like fate to take part in the ICS programme. I applied two weeks later and here I am, waiting to depart in three days.
What appealed to me from Skillshare International is that it aims to match peoples' skills with the specific needs of the local communities. It operates in Africa and Asia with local NGOs in order to "reduce poverty, injustice, inequality and to further economic and social development". Instead of imposing a system or structure or just sending economic aid, it aims to create sustainable progress by workinig with the locals and not only teaching but also learning from them. This is why I felt like I was finally going to be able to make a difference not only as an enriching experience for me but also by giving a small contribution to the community.
When I heard that I was going to India, I could not have been more delighted! I have been obsessed with the Indian culture and people since I moved to the UK and was firstly exposed to it in Birmingham. It is also a very interesting country from an economic perspective as it is extraordinarily fast-growing and although it has a very large skilled workforce, it is also known for its widespread poverty. The Hindu caste system assigns a social position to each person in a very stric hierarchy and, although it is now illegal to discriminate against people based on this system it is still very present and socially acceptable. This creates distinctions and discrimination that promotes inequality and justifies racist activities and exploitation.
SOVA (South Orissa Voluntary Action) is an organisation that was created in 1993 to help the tribal people that had to move from their natural habitat due to the construction of a dam. As a consequence, tribes that had been living peacefully and with enough resources for centuries had to establish themselves in an unknown area that lacked the necessary resources for agriculture. Their structures fell apart and SOVA stepped in to help them fight for their rights and rebuild their lives. Since, the organisation has grown to help people in need around the whole of Southern Orissa.
Their objectives are:
- To ensure tribal children (especially girls) enroll an complete their school education by 2020.
- To promote preventative and curative health by 2020.
- To increase the income level of the community by 50% and bring it above the poverty line by 2020.
- To increase the participation of the community in self-government institutions and make these institutions self-reliant in true spirit by 2020.
- To develop the marginalized peoples' skills in advocacy and lobbying.
I will be supporting the SOVA health programme through fundraising, promotion and documentation. We are staying in Delhi for a week of "in-country training" with all the volunteers that are going to different placements in India and after that I will be travelling to Orissa with my team of three :)
I started a blog as I thought it would be a simple way to publish thoughts and share my Indian experiences. I will try to update it regularly and upload pictures. Feel free to post comments to exchange opinions! Enjoyyyy!