Students from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy are in Delhi, India, this month gaining hands-on international experience while learning about practices and policies for social enterprises. The students enrolled in the course are working in Delhi providing direct project assistance to several NGOs and social enterprises in the area. Read below to follow the students’ experiences.
January 23, 2018
After a tiring, yet extremely rewarding three weeks working with Salaam Baalak Trust, I had the opportunity to take a deep breath and get out of the hustle and bustle of the Delhi. Since our work had been primarily focused in Delhi, I was looking forward to getting out and exploring other parts of the country. I decided to travel to Jaipur with another student and the short trip allowed me to reconnect with the reasons that I love India and the reasons that I can’t wait to come back.
Jaipur is the capital of the state of Rajasthan and is a part of the Golden Triangle, which is along a major tourist route. As the capital of the state of Rajasthan, which translates to “Land of the Kings,” Jaipur is a distinct example of the glory and history that India holds. Jaipur, founded in 1727 when the king, Raj Jai Singh II, who was ruling from the Amer Fort decided to establish a city for his subjects, is one of the first planned cities in India. The perfectly laid out old city is colloquially known as the Pink City since most of its sandstone buildings are painted pink.
While in Jaipur we rented a motorbike and hit the road to see all the major attractions that the city offers. With our newfound freedom, we drove to the magnificent Amer Fort constructed of marble and red sandstone, which contains the beautiful Amer Palace. One of the main attractions inside the Amer Palace is the Sheesh Mahal, or the “Mirror Palace,” which exhibits alluring glass inlaid panels and multi-mirrored ceilings. From there, we explored the Nahargarh Fort where we were able to watch a stunning sunset from a vantage point that overlooked the whole city of Jaipur.
The next day we were able to explore more of the Pink City by foot and all the glory that it's perfectly laid out streets and tight alleys had to offer. We were able to visit the City Palace, which tells the story of the royal family of Jaipur and Jantar Mantar, which contains several equinoctial sundials. The sprawling complex contains the world’s largest stone sundial, which can accurately tell the time to within two seconds. Finally, we visited the Hawa Mahal, which translates to the “Wind Palace,” and relaxed in the cooling breeze that the palace inspires. Each new place was a marvel to behold and further exhibited this city’s ancient glory. As I made my way back to Delhi for my flight home, getting to explore Jaipur was the perfect ending to an exhilarating and exhausting experience in India.
January 20, 2018
We are finished!
Today we presented our findings to the board and trustees of the Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT), the NGO we have been working with since September. SBT is an NGO who set out on its incredible mission to rehabilitate street children in 1988. Since then, the organization has helped more than 80,000 children. In perfect alignment with SBT’s natural inclination to always put the children first, SBT asked us to study the organization’s aftercare program— a program designed to help former street children transition from organizational care to living on their own at 18 years old.
The goal of our consultancy was to determine the challenges former street children face and the coping strategies they adopt in life outside of the organization as well as assess the services SBT is currently providing to help this population. Since September we have had a number of phone calls with the executive director, researched street children and efforts related to helping street children in India and around the world, and created a literature review. We also created project specific documentation including a scope of work, assessment framework and logic model. Then we set off for India!
Since arriving, we have conducted more than 51 interviews with five groups: rehabilitated young adults/former street children, SBT staff, government representatives, employers and other NGOs.
Through our travels to the interviews we have gotten the opportunity to visit a few of Salaam Baalak Trust’s shelter homes where we interacted with the children and found true inspiration for our work. The children were vibrant, happy and interested in learning about us, but also eager to share their stories. We found common interests including music and movies.
After coding the responses collected during our interviews, we were able to determine some of the challenges young adults face after leaving the organization’s care, their resilience and coping strategies, ways SBT’s aftercare program is helping to address these challenges and also areas that could be improved by either SBT or the government.
During our presentation we shared these findings along with recommendations for SBT and recommendations for SBT to advocate for the government to address. The presentation went well and led to a great discussion among members of the organization. I am eager to see what steps SBT takes in the future!
Through this experience I have gotten to travel to the other side of the world, work with an amazing and admirable NGO, and conduct meaningful work that will have an impact on the lives of people who live 8000 miles from my home. I am forever grateful for this opportunity!
January 19, 2018
Our team had the privilege of traveling from Delhi to Bihar for our fieldwork. We arrived at the Valmiki Tiger Reserve on January 5 and spent the week conducting interviews with the women participating in the Valmiki Recovery Project’s (VRP) self-help groups, women who had elected not to, women from entirely different villages and their counterparts. The Wildlife Trust of India’s (WTI) VRP aims to conserve and restore the tiger reserve, which was once home to abundant flora and fauna, through, in part, fostering a sustainable relationship between the forest and the humans that inhabit and surround it.
Along with WTI, the Forest Department is also heavily involved in the well-being of the tiger reserve. Throughout our long but breathtaking rides through the forest and river to arrive at the villages in the Done Valley, we’d encounter checkpoints that monitor resource extraction. The Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 gave traditional forest-dwellers and scheduled tribes’ rights to manage the forest and recognize it as their own, for their community welfare. However, the FRA is not recognized in Bihar and people are prohibited from extracting resources from the reserve. Herein lies the dichotomy: the forest and the village’s livelihoods are not mutually exclusive—these tribes (primarily Tharu and Oroan) rely on the forest for survival, as they do not have access to outside or civic resources.
Our team evaluated efficacy of conservation awareness and social development in SHG participants and non-participants. We asked them what the significance of the forest is in their lives and many responded with iterations of, “We are forest people. We were born in the forest and we will die in the forest.” Their understanding of the importance of the forest is great, but it does not extend to awareness of conservation. The FRA (again, not applicable in Bihar) seeks to quell this knowledge gap by establishing a relationship between rights-holders and their consideration/responsibility for conservation. This relationship is unfortunately lacking in the Done Valley especially because these vulnerable communities are very apprehensive of, in their words, “being taken away from the forest” or “further restrictions on their access to the forest.” WTI is handling this sentiment carefully; thoughtfully working to cater to their needs through participatory development while shifting to align with conservation efforts.
The eternal dance between human need and environmental bounty/sacrifice is complicated and tenuous, but I am hopeful that it can become balanced and sustainable. This hope comes from the women’s answers in the form of stories that embody a deep connection to the forest and perhaps, overtime these stories will transform into a deep connection to conservation.
-Marcela de Campos
January 19, 2018
For an American, it is nearly impossible to appreciate how truly ancient India is. Compared to India, America is a baby. India is the birthplace of several major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. Fun fact, Hinduism is older than Christianity and Islam combined. The culture of India has existed for millennia, which explains why the country is home to 27 UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites. On our visit to the city of Agra we were awestruck by the symmetry and beauty of one of these heritage sites, the Taj Mahal.
It was commissioned by the Emperor Shah Jahan in 1632; for those history buffs in the audience that is the same year that Lord Baltimore was given a royal charter to settle the colony of Maryland. The Taj Mahal is the tomb for the emperor’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and stands as a testament to their unwavering love. For almost 400 years it has been a shining example of human passion and ingenuity. It’s awesome, not in the way millennials use the word awesome, but in the literal sense. As thousands of visitors pose for pictures in front of this gem of civilization, it’s hard to focus on anything else but the Taj. However, in a moment I partially regret, I was able to break away from my enchantment to notice something that others might find minuscule: a plastic water bottle. At first it was just a slight annoyance. “What kind of [expletive] would throw a bottle on the ground here of all places?!” I went to dispose of this defiler and return my gaze to the Taj.
Shoes are not allowed on the foundation of the Taj Mahal so guest are asked to remove their shoes. However, for those guests who find the idea of being barefoot too unagreeable, there are polypropylene booties that can be worn over the shoes. You put them on, walk around the Taj Mahal, admire the architecture, snap a few pictures for Instagram, then dispose of the booties in a trashcan. Allow me to explain why I am describing the trash around the Taj Mahal instead of using this forum to describe the beauty of the Mughal architecture. That water bottle and those booties are both petroleum products A.K.A. plastics. They are designed for one-time use. The irony is that these plastics, with an estimated lifespan of 450-1000 years, will likely outlast the Taj Mahal. So as tourists flock to the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, designed to stand as an eternal homage to love, the trash they generate will stand for nothing but an homage to convenience.
January 19, 2018
Namaskar! These three weeks have flown by astonishingly quickly. Yesterday we delivered our final presentation to our client, Katha. You may have seen from previous posts from members of my group that Katha is an NGO that works to improve the childhood literacy rate in India. Our project was to deliver a volunteer engagement strategy for Katha’s latest initiative, the 300 Million Challenge. Katha already does amazing work with its existing base of volunteers, but to expand its efforts across Delhi and eventually across India will take a large leap in the number of reading mentors they work with, which is where we came in.
We delivered a 45-minute presentation on our research into Katha’s existing work with volunteers and recommendations on how to reach out and recruit volunteers at the grassroots level, civil society and from the diaspora population. All of our recommendations were based on the qualitative data we collected from interviews, a survey of current volunteers and our original research. Our work was well received and we had an interesting Q&A following the presentation. The most exciting part was receiving these fun, colorful books published by Katha.
Looking ahead to heading back to America, graduation in May and taking the next steps in my career, I want to share some advice from Prabhat Labh, CEO of the Grameen Foundation India. We had the pleasure of dining at his home late last week and learning about his interesting career path. He said that there are always opportunities coming your way in life, but the difficult part is choosing whether you should take that opportunity or not. There is a three-step test for making that decision:
1. Sleepless nights: Is the opportunity exciting enough for you that you cannot sleep but for thinking about it?
2. Is it big enough for you? Will it satisfy for your dreams?
3. Consider if this opportunity is uniquely made for you and your skillset rather than for someone else.
I look forward to considering his advice and applying it to the next opportunity that comes my way.
For now, I am off to spend one week in south India, in Goa, and then I’m headed back home. Chalo!
January 17, 2018
This week, team Katha is working to finalize a volunteer engagement strategy for Katha. After concluding our qualitative assessment on Friday, including interviews with more than 38 stakeholders and a survey of Katha's current volunteers, we are finishing our recommendations for our final report and presentation, which will take place on Thursday afternoon at Katha’s headquarters.
On Tuesday afternoon, we took a break from brainstorming and writing our report, and we went out to have lunch. After eating too much thali and sweets at Haldiram, we went to Lajpat Nagar to do some shopping at the market. We also went to Humayun's Tomb at sunset. Humayun’s Tomb is the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun, who died in 1556. The architecture of the tomb is said to have inspired the Taj Mahal – a resemblance that was evident to the Katha team. Our favorite aspect of the beautiful grounds surrounding the tomb was the smaller structure next the the tomb, which was used for the tomb of Humayun’s favorite barber.
On Wednesday, we returned to the Katha Lab School, Katha’s model school for its pedagogy located in the slums of Govindpuri. We had chai with Katha’s Executive Director Parvinder Kaur and discussed her experience at Katha, where she originally started as a volunteer in 2000, as well as her views and goals on the organization and the 300M Challenge.
January 15, 2018
Varanasi was the most incredible experience I could have asked for. It was moving to watch a culture that is so connected to the circle of life celebrate and mourn those close to them after they die. Aside from the cremation rituals on the Ganges and the evening aarti ceremony we witnessed, my favorite part was being a cultural observer and soaking up the sights, smells, colors and tastes of Varanasi. I kept trying to compare Varanasi to any other city I had visited in my life, but I could not. Parts of Varanasi were stimulation overload, but it was really cool to observe life in a new context. I already miss seeing the herds of cows walk through the city, witnessing those bathing in the Ganges and eating the best dosas of my life. My team (Youthreach) had a lot of work to do in preparation for the week, however, so I knew it was time to leave.
During our lunch we learned that our flight had been canceled due to smoke in the south of India, and that our program leadership was working to rebook us to ensure our return transit to Delhi. We later traveled to the airport to work out the remaining flight assignments, but upon arrival we learned that only half our team would be traveling on a flight, and the rest would be returning home by train.
I was so thrilled that my team had been chosen for the train by default since we had been unable to acquire plane tickets. I was so excited because I had been getting jealous hearing about the WTI team’s train ride to Bihar. I love train travel; it is one of my favorite ways to experience life in a new geographic and cultural context. I had learned more about India’s train culture through National Geographic, and anecdotally through friends, and was anxious to experience it for myself.
We were placed on a sleeper car for our 12-hour journey back to the capital and were assigned bunk areas. Through some musical chairs we were able to place most friends and teams together, which made it so much more fun! We worked on our team deliverables a bit, ate the delicious vegetarian train meal served and ended the night with Harry Potter.
We slept quite well throughout the night, and in the morning we awoke to shouts of “CHAI!” throughout the train car as vendors came through to sell tea, omelets, coffee and sandwiches. We bought some chai and looked out the window as we came into Delhi and watched the city wake up and come alive. It was an incredible adventure that I will remember forever.
January 11, 2018
During the first work week, my team worked with our client Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) to conduct more than 20 interviews with their staff and former street children, or rehabilitated young adults. Our interviewees reflected on their experiences living in SBT’s shelter homes and how their lives had changed since leaving SBT’s care. The majority of the interviewees expressed a fondness and affinity for their life in the homes. They mentioned that they made lifelong friends and they felt as if they were part of a family. This made it difficult for them to leave once they turned 18, which is mandated by the Juvenile Justice Act (also known as the JJ Act, this law outlines provisions for the care and protection of children under the age of 18). From these interviewees, we learned of some of the challenges that street children face, especially the girls who have trust issues and may be shy due to past experiences with abuse and neglect.
Thus, when our consulting team arrived at Udaan Rose Children’s Home for Girls, I expected to see a group of reserved girls who wouldn’t interact with us at all. However, I was quickly proven wrong as we were escorted through a classroom where a dozen girls were diligently working on mathematics. They all looked up and enthusiastically waved and screamed “Hello!!!!!” We were then taken upstairs to the roof, which included a metal grate above a courtyard three stories below. Most of the 84 residents were playing in the sunshine and laying on the grate chatting in small groups. The girls immediately latched on to us and wanted to know our names and ages and if we wanted to play some games. Two of the girls told me to climb on top of the grate and start walking across. I’m not scared of heights, but I knew if I mis-stepped I would definitely hurt myself, so I was a little bit apprehensive. However, there was clearly nothing for me to worry about as the girls held my hands tightly and guided me across, all the while chatting. Looking around, Aaron was engrossed in a conversation with one of the teenagers who was asking if he had a wife. Two young girls were teaching Jahan how to dance and Emily was practicing her Hindi with some of the other girls. I was in awe that these girls immediately embraced us, complete strangers, just like we were part of their family. After a few more minutes of playing, we all were ushered downstairs to eat lunch. We joined the girls in their meal of rice, paneer, dal, and roti as well as a dessert of gulab jamun before we left for the day.
This was perhaps the most memorable day of our consulting journey so far as it allowed us to experience a small part of the life the street children have when they are under SBT’s care. I now better understand the sentiments expressed by some of our interviewees, especially regarding the familial atmosphere SBT provides. For a moment, I forgot that these children have experienced unimaginable hardships, as they all looked so happy and carefree. This experience underscores the importance of getting to know the environment in which we are working before making assumptions about how things are or how they should be. Going into our next set of interviews, I will now have a better perspective on why street children face such difficulties as they leave the caring environment of the shelter home and enter the real world.
January 10, 2018
During the first work week, my team worked with our client Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) to conduct more than 20 interviews with their staff and former street children, or rehabilitated young adults. Our interviewees reflected on living in SBT’s shelter homes and how their lives had changed since leaving SBT’s care. The majority expressed a fondness and affinity for their lives in the homes, mentioning that they made lifelong friends and felt as if they were part of a family. This made it difficult for them to leave once they turned 18, as mandated by the Juvenile Justice Act (also known as the JJ Act, this law outlines provisions for the care and protection of children under the age of 18). From these interviewees, we learned of some of the challenges street children face, especially the girls who have trust issues and may be shy due to past experiences with abuse and neglect.
Thus, when our consulting team arrived at Udaan Rose Children’s Home for Girls, I expected to see a group of reserved girls who wouldn’t interact with us at all.
However, I was quickly proven wrong as we were escorted through a classroom where a dozen girls were diligently working on mathematics.
They all looked up and enthusiastically waved and screamed “Hello!”
We were then taken upstairs to the roof, which included a metal grate above a courtyard three stories below. Most of the 84 residents were playing in the sunshine and laying on the grate chatting in small groups. The girls immediately latched onto us and wanted to know our names and ages and if we wanted to play some games.
Two of the girls told me to climb on top of the grate and start walking across. I’m not scared of heights, but I knew if I mis-stepped I would definitely hurt myself, so I was a little bit apprehensive. However, there was clearly nothing for me to worry about as the girls held my hands tightly and guided me across, all the while chatting. Looking around, Aaron was engrossed in a conversation with one of the teenagers who was asking if he had a wife. Two young girls were teaching Jahan how to dance and Emily was practicing her Hindi with some of the other girls. I was in awe that these girls immediately embraced us, complete strangers, just like we were part of their family. After a few more minutes of playing, we all were ushered downstairs to eat lunch. We joined the girls in their meal of rice, paneer, dal and roti, as well as a dessert of gulab jamun, before we left for the day.
This was perhaps the most memorable day of our consulting journey so far as it allowed us to experience a small part of the life the street children have when they are under SBT’s care. I now better understand the sentiments expressed by some of our interviewees, especially regarding the familial atmosphere SBT provides. For a moment, I forgot that these children had experienced unimaginable hardships, as they all looked so happy and carefree. This experience underscores the importance of getting to know the environment in which we are working before making assumptions about how things are or how they should be. Going into our next set of interviews, I will now have a better perspective on why street children face such difficulties as they leave the caring environment of the shelter home and enter the real world.
January 9, 2018
Today only marks a week and a half into our stay in India, but we have already learned and done so much! We were able to visit the Taj Mahal and tour Delhi last weekend, and this weekend holds an exploration of another fascinating part of Indian culture. Today we drove six hours to the foothills of the Himalayas to Rishikesh. This beautiful city is known for its gorgeous view of the Ganges River and as a pilgrimage destination for people of Hindu faith. We arrived this afternoon and were able to get some breathtaking views of the river as well as observe a nightly fire ceremony.
Our team has been fortunate to work with an incredible organization that is working toward ending illiteracy throughout India. Katha utilizes volunteers to set up community libraries, run reading programs and spread the joy of reading. The past few days have contained visits to community libraries, observing a writing workshop for students throughout the country and getting to know volunteers and staff members through interviews that will inform our final volunteer engagement strategy. This effort will enable Katha to take its integral work throughout all parts of the country and make sure that all 300 million children in India can read.
One of the many similarities that our group has experienced between teams is the unending optimism for India’s future. The people we’re privileged to work with are confident in their ability to work toward progress for their children and generations beyond. It has been an honor to play a small role in that work, and we are so grateful for the opportunity!
January 8, 2018
This trip thus far has been everything I expected it to be, yet nothing like I expected at the same time! It’s truly difficult to understand the craziness of Delhi and India until you experience it, no matter how much you prepare. The other day, as a group of us were leaving Old Delhi in a tuk-tuk for dinner, we were stuck at a jam-packed intersection of cars, motorcycles, tuk-tuks and pedestrians with every single vehicle honking at the same time. No no one was able to move because Delhi drivers don’t believe in staying in lanes. It was madness, but it was quintessential India, and was a moment I’ll never forget.
One other thing that is next to impossible to prepare for: seeing the economic disparities that exist in this country in the flesh, much of it leftover from the caste system that is still incredibly difficult for people to climb out of. The organization I’m working with, Katha, works to empower children to spread the love of reading. Because half of India’s children are not reading at grade level, Katha is initiating the 300m challenge to improve the literary comprehension rates in the country through a number of different programs. In one of these programs, called C.O.O.L. (Community Owned and Operated Libraries), community volunteers work with young people, called Katha fellows, to create their own library in their community to work and teach the children.
Our team visited two of the C.O.O.L. libraries in the Sanjay slum of India. While we visited, dozens of kids came in and out of the libraries, which were the Katha fellows’ bedrooms, showing us their books and reading to each other. The conditions of those living within the slum were very poor, some with no plumbing and very little space. Yet, the Katha Fellows gave up more than six hours of their week to open up their space for the kids to teach them. They were inspiring, committed model volunteers and change agents, and I just wanted to hug the kids they were working with. The entire experience was eye-opening for our group, and meeting some of the kids that are impacted by Katha’s programs was a special experience for us. We know that learning to read and communicate effectively is one of the best and most useful tools that they can use in their future prospects to build a good life.
January 2, 2018
What an incredible start to 2018! The few days since arriving in India have been full of captivating history, incomparable experiences, bustling streets and inspiring people. Our stay started off with a meeting with our client, Youthreach, for the first time in person. Then, we began our organizational assessment. Over the course of three weeks we will be interviewing key stakeholders, including staff, corporate partners and donors to provide a comprehensive analysis of the organization’s strengths, challenges and recommendations on how to revise its mission and vision. After only a few hours with Youthreach, it is clear that its strength is its hard working, passionate staff who are doing great work for women and children across India.
Before we dive into our first week of work, we packed an incredible itinerary of sights and experiences this past weekend. We spent the last few days of 2017 in Agra, roaming the grounds of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort learning about the history of the families and personalities that built the magnificent structures.
We rang in the New Year in an area with restaurants and shops called CyberHub—which was fun to do almost half a day earlier than our friends back home! And we spent our first day of 2018 exploring the incredible sites of New Delhi. Our tour started with a visit to the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, a Sikh temple, where through donations, they serve a meal to more than 27,000 people a day, 365 days a year, to anyone who comes! We were fortunate to help cook and be part of those 27,000 people who ate that day. After, we explored the bustling, captivating Old Delhi, a part of the city that was built in the late 1600's. We weaved through narrow alleys lined with shops selling fabric, jewelry, electronics, spices and nuts, trying to take it all in while also dodging the constant flow of people, bikes, motorcycles and cars. It was one of my favorite places in India so far!
If the rest of 2018 is reflective of its first few days, I can say it will be an exciting, adventure-filled year!
December 31, 2017
Each of the four groups met with their respective NGOs for the first time on the 29th. My consulting team is working with Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT), a Delhi-based nonprofit that rescues and rehabilitates street children in India. We began our visit with a City Walk tour, a moving demonstration of SBT’s work and the individuals that it serves. Through the City Walk program, selected former street children who have joined SBT improve their communication and presentation skills by guiding visitors through the Delhi streets, SBT’s operations and their personal stories.
At the beginning of the walk, our SBT tour guide established the ground rule that we ought not to give money to street children. She proposed that a better way to help them would be to give them open food so that they could not resell it and use the money to buy drugs. Moreover, the children must spend all their money each day because they do not have a place to store it and are susceptible to it being stolen. I appreciated hearing the recommendations from an SBT participant, a micro-level example of participatory development. As our guest speaker Anindit Roy Chowdhury championed, “Nothing about us without us”—we cannot be effective if we are not inclusive and considerate of the rights holders’ perspectives and needs.
About as soon as we settled into our base hotel in New Delhi, we hopped on a bus and ventured to Agra yesterday morning. Our first stop was the Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah (affectionately known as the Baby Taj Mahal), and after a brief tour of the premises and our first real photo opportunity, we proceeded to Agra Fort. Both the Baby Taj and Agra Fort were impressive structures with deep histories that embodied the power and poise of their designers, architects and inhabitants.
Today we saw the Taj Mahal (“crown palace”), and it was truly breathtaking. Incidentally, the mausoleum section was closed off to the public the night before because of a stampede, and we were discouraged by the fog that persistently impeded on visibility (and respiratory comfort). However, the stars aligned, the fog cleared away, and we spent a wonderful two hours exploring the Taj. We are very eager to see what kicking off 2018 in India has in store for us.