It has been a week and so much has happened! The internet connection is very limited and we are still waiting to settle in properly as we are having some issues in finding an approrpriate accommodation for three single girls. It is an absolute exception and rarity to see three girls living and working on their own. In India, women are either with their parents or their husbands and it is really frowned upon to see independent women breaking this tradition.
So, let me start. After an 18 hour journey I arrived in Delhi with a group of seven other volunteers. Skillshare International has one country programme officer that is in charge of the ICS programme, Kim. She picked us up from the airport with a short delay due to miscommunication and we started the adventure of India's crazy capital. The first journey on Indian roads was quite remarcable. The way the driver slalomed along the motorway was very impressive. Skillful and out of control at the same time. In India, traffic lights were only introduced a couple of years ago. The system has therefore always worked based on the instinct, skill, concentration and hooping ability of the car, bus, rickshaw, truck, moped and bike drivers and their interaction with pedestrians. At one point our driver hit a man riding a bike. He stopped in the middle of the road, checked to see if everyone was alive and continued driving. He literally crashed into someone, his wheel was bent, he fell off the bike and all the suitcases fell on us passengers. We would have started talking about insurances, whiplash and injuries but nothing majorly serious had happened so life went on and we continued our journey to the hotel. Welcome to India.
Skillshare organised a very comfortable hotel for us and we stayed there for five days while we had our training and got introduced to the challenges of India. On our first day we went to a market where we had to apply our haggling skills to come out with some lovely colourful trousers, burkas and even a drum. Our second and third days were spent in training which was very intense. We learnt about our specific projects, about Skillshare in India and about personal psycological preparation for the placement. It was very interesting and useful.
India is a country of contrasts; with 1.1 billion citizens, 70% are under the poverty line which means they live with less than $1 a day. On the other side you can find Mukesh Ambani, the fifth richest man in the world, who has built a 27 floor house in the middle of Mumbai overseeing the slums that is worth no less than $2bn... India's economic revolution and fast growth are famous all around the world. People are investing in the country and giving prosperous predictions. This economic progress is nonetheless only reaching a very small percentage of the population. The rest is struck by poverty, starvation and diseases. Because of the apparent success, people are cutting down on their support for India and governments are also reducing their funds and necessary aid programmes. It is however essential that this general attitude is contained as the majority of the people need the help.
At the training we learnt that we have to empty our glasses (our preconceptions, prejudices and habits) in order to be able to absorb all the things we can learn from a different culture and surroundings and to be capable of contributing to change. We have to push ourselves to get out of our comfort zones. And when we decide we want to get out, a whole new world opens up to you. This is what I am trying to do here in India. The culture shock is real and no matter how much you have read and researched beforehand, it is impossible to imagine what it is like to see this misery and poverty. However, it is important to understand, accept and empathise with their lives and perspectives and not judge or be scared of these alien surroundings. Otherwise it will be impossible for us to create anything productive here and, what is more important, to transfer skills and build something sustainable.
We also touched upon the different kinds of conflicts and conflict resolution. This was a very delicate issue as people had contrasting opinions surrounding blame. In the West, we have grown up with theories like Darwinism and its "survival of the fittest" and "struggling for existence" or Smith's "self-interest" concept. So we justify selfish behaviour as a "basic instinct" but this argument is only beneficial to the oppressor and does not really comply with any sort of social justice. We have a tendency to blame the people around us for all the wrongs that happen to us. The repressed blame the oppressors and they, in turn, blame the nature of human beings. When it comes to conflict resolution, it is easy to blame the people around you and act as a victim but that does not solve the problem. Ultimately, you are the owner of your own thoughts and feelings so wherever or whoever started the conflict, it is something that is affecting you. Instead of blaming anyone, we should learn to claim and acknowledge the problem and how it affects us. However angry, frustrated or sad you are at the situation, these feeling will hound you until you take responsibility for your part within the conflict. This is the first step towards resolving it because when you know that you are involved in the cause and the resolution of the problem, you will act upon it and change the situation.
All in all we had a very interesting training. It made us think and reflect upon different concepts and it mentally prepared us for what was expecting us at our respective placements. We did also bond a lot and got to know each other quickly and to a deep level.
But Delhi was more than introspective reflection and training. We got to catch the HOHO bus, which is a sightseeing bus that drives around the capital and in one day we managed to get a grasp of wild Delhi. I have uploaded some of the pictures so that you can see a bit of this amazing city. We also managed to go out at night and dance to some Bollywood music whilst bonding with the locals, which was brilliant.
Vibhuti, Ashley and I have now arrived in Koraput where we will be spending 11 weeks helping out with SOVA. I will touch upon that in the next post.