I guess the word I would describe my overall experience with India would be “Up Close.” This word has been in my head since the first day of the trip when little kids came knocking (and some climbing) on our van for money until the last night when our group gathered in a circle at night to share things we appreciated about each other. Being with around 12-20 people throughout the trip (I realized just how around people I had been when I was waiting alone in the Delhi airport for 12 hours…), we were first of all, physically “up close.” Everyday, we shoved ourselves into the 9-person “tourist vehicle” van, squeezing in and sitting on top of one another.Our record I’d have to say was the time when we left the drive-in theater when we fit 10 people in a small compact vehicle meant to fit maybe 5~6 people at most. And since we stayed together as a group most of the time, we spent A LOT of time with each other especially at Riana’s grandparents’ apartment which acted as the headquarter office for ITSA in India.
During my time in India, I also met wonderful people like my host family, Riana’s family, the ITSA India team members, and my workshop students. From them, I got to learn a little more about the Indian culture and also realize the culture I’m coming from. I’ve especially enjoyed meeting Riana’s grandmother “Dadi” who has fed us (almost literally since she stood over us at each meal to make sure we were getting plenty of chapatis to eat). Though I wasn’t always able to meet her standard for eating enough, we bonded over time and made chapatis together during the final week. My host family was also amazingly sweet and made me feel right at home making me the best masala chai and packing me a delicious tiffin (a stacked metal lunch box) full of yummy vegetables, rice, and chapatis for lunch. The many Indian college students who also volunteered with ITSA were also really vital part of our “ITSA family.” As our guides, they helped navigate the crazy-ness that is India by helping us bargain, to not get lost in the streets, and to take rickshaws. As our friends, they introduced us to the latest bollywood hits which we danced to together and celebrated festivals like Holi and Diwali.
Riana’s Family, and their home crashers
The students I worked with in Ahmedabad and Rajkot also made this whole trip experience rewarding and inspiring. It was amazing to see how the lesson plans which we imagined were actually implemented to give ideas and thoughts for the students. I was especially excited for the lesson plan on modern day slavery since it is an issue that I had been much interested in. In this lesson, we first started by asking the students whether or not they thought slavery still existed in India. We had mixed opinions, some saying a definitive yes, some maybe in certain areas of the world, some “not in India.” So when students were given a fact sheet statistics and facts on modern day slavery, many were surprised by the magnitude of the problem. Through watching a video on child trafficking and continuing discussions about the effects of poverty on the security of human rights, students gained a deeper understanding of the complexity of the issue. Students also created a web with words like illiteracy, corruption, and globalization connected to slavery in order to learn about how interconnected issues were in society. I also shared my experience on leading a FairTrade campaign during my high school to show them that high school students are very much capable of contributing a positive impact on the world. It was exciting to see how much students progressed throughout the workshops in understanding issues we discussed (slavery, corruption, gender discrimination, and environmentalism) and also in gaining a sense of social responsibility. Students cumulated so much energy to do something for the world that all the 60+ ITSAprenuers (workshop students) signed up to pursue social action projects at the end. Having worked with such an enthusiastic and bright group of students like our ITSApreneurs, I have gained more faith in the power of education and also hope for a better world.
How could I not? Doing my classic Natalia presentation spreading awareness about Fair Trade
Often times it seems that it’s the sites, the great monuments and museums that we pose in front of that we remember most after travelling. But I think once we get to spend more time in a place, it becomes the people we interact with and get to know that we remember most. Travelling with a large group in the second most populous country for five weeks, I think I’ve gotten to encounter people who’ve left a mark on the way I see the world. I’m grateful for having had such opportunity to meet such a fun and eclectic mix of people whom I’ll miss, but at least I have plenty of wonderful pictures (2000+) and unforgettable memories to look back on and smile on.
The Social Action Team in front of our 60 foot long mural!
My lovely host family!
Celebrating Diwali on our last night
Celebrating Holi, the festival of colors!
Natalia is a student at Swarthmore College and served as an ITSA Workshop Leader in 2012.