Author Archives: admin

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The EDUCARE life!!

To give you all a bit of a back story to myself my name is Ethan Donovan and my mother Rachael Donovan moved to India to work with EduCARE in 2011. I have been a part of and known EduCARE for a long time now and watched the organisation develop and grow. But only this year, after I graduated secondary school, did I take a gap year to follow my mother’s footsteps and undertake an internship with EduCARE myself.

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Me at the beginning of my Indian journey in 2011

I first started my internship in February 2015, where I was the project manager in the Rait centre for sustainable living and worked with another intern on the SWASH (waste management) project. I had just finished high school last year and had no work experience whatsoever. During my time working in EduCARE India and meeting new people from all around the world taught me so much more than if I had stayed in Australia and gone straight to university. I was in Rait until the end of June, then I went to Nepal to teach English for three months.

I had loved my experience so much with EduCARE that I wanted to come back after Nepal to do something different and new. In the beginning of October 2015 I came back and went to the newest centre in Punjab Harike, and was the centre manager there until December. This whole year I have watched EduCARE develop, grow and learn as an organisation and I was honoured to grow with it.

Because EduCARE just loves creating acronyms, I have created my own to share my experience about my 8 months there.

EDUCARE:

E=Explore
D=Diversity
U=Unity
C=Culture
A=Appreciation
R=Responsibility
E=Experience

E – Explore

I remember the first few weeks of working with EduCARE, visiting one of the newest centres in Rajasthan, Gajner. I was seeing everything for the first time – interns, work, meetings, culture, etc.

I was like a new baby, thirsting to explore and learn. But like any child I was shy, inexperienced, not confident, etc. My time with EduCARE has allowed me to grow out of these fears by facing them head on. EduCARE gave me the full freedom to explore myself, the culture and so many other things. EduCARE never limited me to explore and learn, and in fact encouraged it for me and every intern.

During my first five months with EduCARE I remember being very lost with myself and what I wanted to do in life. Being a part of EduCARE and surrounded by interns who in turn were also facing the same challenges helped not just me but many other interns on the same path. When I came back and took on more of management role by being the centre manager for the newest centre in Punjab, Harike, I could understand more fully what new interns faced. I found that I was more experienced, more confident in myself, my work and what I was doing. Because EduCARE allowed me to explore my own self, the organisation has helped me so much and has given me the life skills through my own self exploration. Even though I will be leaving soon, these lessons will help me to keep exploring and learning throughout my life.

D – Diversity

EduCARE has interns from all around the world from different backgrounds, languages and cultures which also means many differences in perspectives and opinions. Diversity comes in many different forms from how people have lived and interacted with others, to what each person thinks on global topics. Because of all this diversity with identities, ideas, life styles, and journeys, this has really allowed me to open my mind to so many different viewpoints across the spectrum. From living and working with such a diverse group of people I feel I have become much more open minded and have it has challenged my way of thinking and many perspectives on life.  And this is a great thing.

I also got to understand and respect others opinions and then in turn share what I believe. Being with EduCARE and meeting people from all around the world and sharing these differences has helped me better understand myself and what I believe in.

U – Unity

What I enjoyed when being with EduCARE is the unity within the organization, centres and individuals. Working within EduCARE, I’ve found the organization is always looking out for interns to make our experience as enjoyable and safe as possible. During quarterlies, the organisation conducts gender circles for men and women to share their challenges faced here in India.

In both centres I worked in, we developed a strong unity where we would support each other day in and day out with our projects, personal matters, work, etc. Both centres I worked in had a positive atmosphere which was very supportive of each other. Even on an individual level, I have met people that were there for me during my challenging times and supported me through it and allowed me to do the same for them in return. We were always there for each other through thick and thin. EduCARE is one big family, and I will never forget the support I had from the organization, my centres and the individuals I met.

C – Culture

I cannot say that I have seen many other countries and travelled too much of world, but what I can say is that out of all the countries I have visited (which is a few) I have found Indian’s culture the most unique. India as a country is HUGE!!! Just going to another state within India you find a whole new culture and people there, and it is like you are going into a whole new country in itself!!

India’s culture is so complex but yet so simple that it is so hard for some to understand unless you actually look back into India’s history. Even then, the history of India is long and old and it is impossible for almost any outsider that isn’t a part of the culture itself to completely understand its intricacies. What surprised me the most is that many of the locals from the state of Punjab won’t understand the culture and the people of the state of Rajasthan, or vice versa. These states are right next to each other and yet they don’t understand one another completely. This draws your curiosity and you end up falling in love with these unique and bizarre cultures of India.

A – Appreciation

I had never fully appreciated life, and the life I have, until I came to India and worked with the migrant communities (the untouchables) that EduCARE works with. Almost every centre works with one migrant or marginalised group, and it is one the segments of community that is in most need of support. Seeing these communities really touched me and hit me hard in the face.

You see these people living in some of the poorest ways and yet they are sometimes the most happiest and content with their lives. Of course they would wish for better circumstances (better economic opportunities, better education for their children, better health etc) but even with their challenging situation they always keep a positive and optimistic outlook. I’ve found that every time I’ve entered a migrant camp, all over India, the children were always so happy to see us when we came and were so sad when we left. All they wanted to do is play games with us.

But it isn’t just the migrant communities that made me appreciate life more. I also gained such appreciation by just living in India day to day and seeing how the locals live and living among them in the same circumstances, as one of them. Simple living, water shortages, power cuts, bad internet, limited recreational opportunities, challenging transportation is all part of normal Indian daily life. Living this way everyday really made me more appreciative of not just of the opportunities I have been given growing up, but the prospects most of the developed countries have. It really made me question what is important to me and made me less complacent and more appreciative of what I have in life.

R – Responsibility

One of the many things I learnt being with EduCARE is to become more responsible, and not just for myself but for my work and life experiences. For starters this was my first time in the work environment whilst being an adult. I immediately had to learn to take responsibility for myself and my work. Also, EduCARE does not provide daily supervision or management, so I was forced to learn to take responsibility for my own work and time management to ensure that everything got completed on time. Not only that, I am in India and things happen that are unexpected and this happens with almost anything.

This made me take responsibility of situations that didn’t go according to plan, and take ownership of my project and work. By being in India, working, looking after myself and traveling, I really learnt how to become responsible not just for myself, but for others as well. Of course this didn’t happen overnight and at the beginning of the year I struggled. But the first time being with EduCARE really helped me to become more responsible, so that when I came back the second time I was able to take on a more responsible role.

E – Experience

Through all the ins and outs during my time with EduCARE, and living in India, has been one HELL OF AN EXPERIENCE!! I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Working with EduCARE and being in India has taught me so much and helped me to grow more than what I have learnt in any other year of my life!! The lessons, memories, experiences, I have made will forever be with me AND the amazing people I have met along the way.

It saddens me to be leaving India, EduCARE and these amazing people. Each and every one of you has made such an awesome impact on my life in your own way. You will forever be in my heart wherever I go in life and I know the world is a much smaller place by meeting you. So as I am leaving I would like to thank everyone and everything that has come into my path. You have helped me to become the man I am today. Thank you India and THANK YOU EDUCARE!!

A year of quarterlies…..:)

Ethan Donovan – Australia
Harike Centre Manager


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Falling in love with India

Did the time fly or did it crawl? I honestly can’t tell. The last six months have not always been easy. I’ve cursed India, I’ve loved India, but in the end I’m leaving EduCARE feeling pretty good. I didn’t always embrace this experience, but about half way through my internship my attitude started to change for the better, and I think this can best be demonstrated by my very different coordinator’s retreat experiences.

Back in July I attended my first coordinator’s retreat as the new Center Manager for the Paro center. I was a little stressed and overwhelmed at the time, so I was looking forward to going to a new center in Rait, and learning from the other veteran managers. When I arrived in Rait the other interns were busy with meeting the waste department and setting up new waste facilities. I thought “wow, their interns do so much more than Paro! They have a strong project and get things done! Why can’t we do that?” That night the interns cooked mixed veg for dinner, with so much variety, I thought “wow, they have pumpkin and carrots! I wish Paro had as many vegetables as them”. Everything annoyed me little by little. The next day I woke up with the infamous Delhi Belly (my first time experiencing said illness) and I spent the next three days in the toilet stall of the Rait house with some serious bowel issues (“wow, even their bathroom is nicer! I wish Paro had a toilet like this”). I was miserably sick (I even missed the last workshop of the retreat because I had passed out with a half eaten piece of bread in my hand) and between trips to the bathroom I was on the phone with interns back in Paro trying to mitigate conflicts between the team. I just wanted things to be easier. I wanted my team to get along and do their work; I wanted to spend a normal amount of time on the toilet; and I just wanted things to be better. I left the retreat weakened physically and mentally and ready for a holiday (a holiday at this point would just mean a burrito, a smoothie, and a western toilet).

Cut to my second retreat in the middle of October. I was coming directly from my holiday and going to Khuri outside of Jaisalmer. I was so excited to see all of the old coordinators I’d gotten to know, and the new ones who had just arrived. I was so stoked to tell people about my trip and to talk about the projects that were breaking out of Paro. I celebrated my birthday with 20+ co-workers who surprised me with a chocolate cake (no easy feat in the Indian desert), and we slept in the desert under an incredible night sky. The workshops may have been long, but I felt I had a lot to contribute. I had a project that was uniquely my own, I knew the organization better, and I was enjoying myself. Jokes were still made that I was a plagued mess at the last retreat, but I laughed and embraced the Khuri toilet stall happily.

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Celebrating my birthday in the Khuri desert with all of the Educare coordinators

Two things occurred between these retreats, and I owe them a lot. First, I met Daniela; second, I found soap.

Daniela was a new intern that arrived a few weeks following my IBS filled retreat. When I met her, everything was “amazing” and “beautiful” and I thought it was “too much”. Surely, she couldn’t truly find everything “amazing” and “beautiful” when I thought everything was “overwhelming” and “difficult”. But after Daniela came with me back to Paro, and it was my turn to give her a tour of my Indian home, the constant exclamations of amazement and beauty started to resonate with me. She’s right! It is incredible that when you walk down your street complete strangers invite you in for chai and start a dance party! And it’s super cool that the migrant community greets us with hugs and practical jokes when we enter their home! Daniela made me realize I was being negative about an experience that offered so much positivity and beauty. And at the same time that Daniela changed my outlook, I found soap.

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Playing with the Paro kids during Laura and Daniela’s center tour

Finding a project I felt good about gave my time in India a new purpose. I no longer felt I was floundering, but I had something to work toward that could produce tangible results. And having Daniela in the back of my head reminded me to appreciate the opportunity. While I still don’t feel like I’ve finished what I started, and I have so much I want to keep doing in terms of making soap with the community; Daniela reminds me to revel in what I have accomplished and embrace the relationships I made with the community. I still have a list of goals for the soap making project that I hope another intern will take on, but in the end I embraced the work that Paro did, I embraced the vegetables in our town, and I’ve embraced that India does stuff to your bowels that sometimes is funny…after the fact.

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With Geeta, Sonya, and Vide, our soap makers and Restore girls at my final Restore opening

Madeline Zdeblick

Paro Centre Manager – Punjab


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An experience in India

Being part of EduCARE weaves some sort of spell – It constantly requires you to grow and change. Unexpectedly, several things have left a lasting impression on me. In no particular order:

  1. Cows, dogs, birds, spiders, leeches and slugs.

Enough said.

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  1. Girl’s Club

While working on the field for a grassroots organisation in particular, it is hard to see progress unfold in front of your eyes… Unless it’s Girls’ Club. When I met the young girl’s in early July I knew I wanted to inspire them to dream. I knew I wanted to give them a taste of everything I knew.

On my very first session with the girls, we looked at the map of the world. We picked random destinations and then used google images to see the different countries. This was rather interesting since most of them had never been anywhere beyond Dharamshala. As the weeks went by we started talking about deep sea diving and outer space travel. As we grew closer, breaking our personal boundaries, we would exchange views on relationships and marriage and the point of it all. Ofcourse there would be a lot of giggles but we were able to comfortably discuss intimacy too. It was not all serious though! We played an endless number of games, we learnt dance routines and had long henna sessions. I could see them grow as individuals almost every week – and that was most rewarding.

I think that you know you are on the forefront of change when you are speaking to a group of girls that are listening intently, you know you are making some sort of a difference when they let you challenge their thoughts and perceptions. And I know they appreciate it most when I am not necessarily imposing my views on them but rather letting them decide for themselves what they would like for their rights.

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  1. A big, beefy woman, with barely any neck but a beautiful heart.

Living at Indra’s house has been a unique cacophonic experience. Her mother in law coughing her lungs out, her son playing bhangra music on his phone, her grandchild crying, her daughter chasing after the chicken, her neighbours yelling, her dog barking, her tv on maximum volume; are only some of the sounds that would play simultaneously.

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Will I miss it? It’s too soon to say, but I am thinking no.

  1. The Unreserved Compartment

Even though I am Indian, there have been several instances where I felt the challenge of adjusting to Incredible India… But this particular journey did throw me over the edge.

We were under the impression we were going to travel First Class Jaisalmer to Delhi. On reaching the station however, due to the long waiting list, we found out that we would have to experience a 15 hour overnight journey in the general compartment, or otherwise known as the unreserved compartment of the Indian Railway system. We went from a sense of entitlement to a sense of economy within a matter of minutes.

All night, station after station there was a violent scramble on board. I feel the picture below does no justice. Every available centimetre of seating space was occupied – all the way to the metal luggage racks over our heads. The very old, fragile men in the aisle took turns to sit or squat on the floor. Every individual felt the press of at least two other bodies against theirs. Did I mention the stench? There were definitely times we were ruthlessly robbed of our right to breathe some fresh air. But we were already there, sharing with the hapless masses, the full burden of an inescapable Indian experience.

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  1. Weekend Travel Escapades

From Rajasthan’s extravagant palaces, forts and finely carved temples to the Ganges flowing out from the foothills on its journey to the sea in Uttarakhand – I have had the opportunity to travel North India extensively during the weekends and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

My most favourite travel was to the Sikhs’ holy city of Amritsar. Noisy and congested, but as lively as any other Indian city, this city contains the fabled Golden Temple whose domes soar above the teeming streets. The afternoon sun rays hitting the golden Darbar Sahib made a splendid sight. After having the kadha prasad and taking in the view, we further indulged in paranthas and lassis at the infamous Brother Da Dhaba before we made our way to the Indo–Pakistan frontier at Wagha. As the parade progressed, the roars of pride from both, Indian and Pakistani spectators grew equally loudly and strongly. I don’t think I had ever felt more patriotic

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  1. Aloo Parantha, my true soul mate

Aloo parantha and I share an emotional intimacy like none other. They reciprocate my love and are ever forgiving for the times that I cheat on them with, you know, dal-chawal or crepes. Whether at Omy’s or at Restore, I will definitely miss an integral part of my Indian diet and a hot cuppa chai as I would enjoy the view of the rocky Dauladhar terrains, towering high above the Kangra Valley.

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  1. Tulsi

From the ‘ambika’ jokes to her detailed live narrations, Tulsi’s sense of humour will be deeply missed.

I am so grateful for the experience EduCARE has provided me with and thankful for the beautiful people I have met on the way. Each and every individual, uniquely talented and equally inspiring. There is so much I have learnt from all those around me.

Here are some of my favourite people, looking their best :
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They say ‘Everything you ever sense, in touch or taste or sight or even thought, has an effect on you that’s greater than zero … and they change your life forever’… It’s true.

Anamika Choudhury
Women’s Empowerment Coordinator
November 2015


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Feeling free and alive, a feeling of belonging to nature.

Gajner has got a treasure, a treasure that not a lot of people take care about. It is unique, huge, beautiful, amazing. I am talking about the desert and the wildlife sanctuary.

My experience in the dessert started during my first week as an EduCARE intern in Gajner. Léa Monin, the SWASH coordinator when I arrived there, used to run for an hour twice a week. She told me about the wildlife sanctuary in the desert, which seemed to be really interesting, so I decided to go with her. We woke up around 5:30 in the morning, before it started to get hot and then we head off to the sanctuary.

The first thing that struck me was that, as we approached the desert, we met with more and more men with alcohol bottles in theirs hands and looking like being drunk. These men seemed to have spent the night drinking in the desert, and near the village there was pieces of broken bottles everywhere. This event shocked me and soon I found out of the big problem with alcohol that exists in India. In Gajner, many men of all ages get drunk every night, either because it has become a habit for them or because they suffer from depression. This leads to some of them losing their control and spending the night lying anywhere. For me, this was something really sad and shocking.

Running and exploring the desert in Gajner, has been one of the best experiences that I´ve ever had. Feeling the cold breeze in my face, admiring the sunrise and sunset in the horizon and seeing the Gajner Palace far in the distance is incredible, although what really makes the difference is its unique wildlife.

It’s impressive to run between groups of gazelles, feeling their beauty and energy and imagine for a moment that you are one of them. Following footprints and getting lost between the bushes for hours to later realize that what you were following were actually cows. Raising your head and seeing above you huge flocks of eagles and hundreds of green parrots. Sneaking up on the lake and finally finding the blue cow (an impressive sort of large antelope very difficult to find) drinking water. Seeing something moving and running after it as fast as your legs can until you are close enough to hear breathing.

Feeling free and alive, a feeling of belonging to nature.

Enrique Reig Navarro – Spain
Eco-building project manager, Gajner (Rajasthan)

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Lessons learned from EduCARE India Internship

Even after 1.5 years of EduCARE India Internship, I have laughed, cried, been thoroughly stressed, and also overjoyed many times in what feels like a blink of an eye throughout my internship in India. Now that it is time for me to move on, reflecting on what I have learned has showed me that I am leaving EduCARE India as a completely different matured person than the girl I was when I first arrived.

I wanted to first join EduCARE India Internship programme because I wanted community development experience and I wanted to ‘help’ people. I have learned that we all come to do service work for our own reasons but we are not here to merely work for the poor. Yes, most of the communities are marginalized, and many of the people do not have huge financial incomes, but in no way are we doing poverty relief. Everyone I have met in the communities, especially the women, are strong, powerful, capable people, with ideas and opinions on how things should work. This doesn’t mean we can’t come with our own ideas and knowledge of how to improve their lifestyles, but my approach is no longer to help poor people, but instead empower people that maybe haven’t had the same opportunities as everyone else.

During my induction when I first arrived with EduCARE I had a workshop on sustainability. I took my sustainable living index and ranked horribly. If everyone lived like me, we would need 3 planets! Never have I ever had the opportunity to not only become aware about environmental issues, but actually make real improvements in my life to make a difference. Organic gardening, water conservation, reusing grey water, and managing waste were all foreign concepts to me before but have become an integral part to who I am now. I want to take what I have learned in doing my small part to help the world and inspire others in my own country.

I now have so many more couches to crash on during my travels and I have made lifelong friends. Living and working with so many people from all over the world has broadened my horizon of how the world operates and I can now go home with a whole new repertoire of international culinary dishes I have learned from my roommates. In many ways EduCARE is like a family away from home. You would be amazed at the level of comfort and kinship that can arise from living with people in such close proximity in a foreign land. These people have become my family and helped me truly embrace that home is where the heart is.

India is a challenge, no doubt about it. Nothing is done on time, and we must face a language barrier in everything we do. On top of that, EduCARE doesn’t make it any easier. It was definitely a challenge at first to work in an organization where everything could change from one day to the next. As an Operations Coordinator it can be a major challenge when trying to organize meetings for the organization. Now that I have adjusted, I have learned to roll with the punches; meaning change is a good thing. When we are stuck in our ways we fail to see the potential in a different outcome. Yes sometimes the chaos can cause temporary confusion, but in the end it all works out for the better. It always does.

Of course there have been many moments where I have been frustrated, homesick, or even unhappy. But whenever there has been a challenge I have always had wonderful and supportive people around me to help me push through. Sometimes all it took was for me to go for a walk in my community and see the sheer beauty of what lies around me. I mean, I’m in India after all, a country very far and different from my own. It is bound to be difficult at times, but I would just have to remind myself I came here for a reason and the strength and courage that brought me here is the same motivation that will pull me through.

All in all I have fallen in love with EduCARE, the philosophy, and the people involved. EduCARE has given me so many opportunities that I will carry with me for a lifetime. When I signed on to become a fellow one year ago, I wasn’t fully sure how it would be, and one year later I feel that it was one of the best decisions I ever made. There are no guarantees in life; we all have to be objectively selfish. Your experience and your life are what you make it. Learn, be happy and be free. Always be an intern, gaining knowledge and awareness about the world. Make you mark and make it count. And make sure when you have to go, go without having any regrets.

educare india internship Thank you Mr. B, Rachael, COM team, the community and all the interns. You have made my experience amazing and you will be greatly missed.
Margaret Arzon – USA
Operations Coordinator
EduCARE India : 2014-15

My Organic Farming blog
EduCARE India Internship
Maiti (HP)

Current Internship Opportunities – EduCARE India NGO

India Internship


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EduCARE India –the good, the bad, and the disgusting

Seven months ago I remember saying to a fellow intern, “wow, time is going by so slow,” and he responded, “wait until you start working.” He was right. The past few months in Educare have flown by and it has been an amazing experience.

For someone like myself who didn’t join Educare as an internship requirement for university, my reasons for coming to India were a little different. I wanted to leave the regular 9 to 5 job in the States to go abroad to experience life like I never imagined, I wanted to utilize the skills that I have in an NGO helping a local community, and I wanted to learn more about life! I ended up learning so much and about everything – not only about Indian culture and life in India, but about cultures all around the world from my fellow interns, about the concept of objective selfishness and more about myself. As cheesy as it sounds, this experience was life changing.

The most significant change I found in myself is my patience. Patience is a word that was redefined for me while working in Educare and living in India. Internet is slow, ordering food at a restaurant normally can take over an hour, plans change last minute, everyone is late, the bus schedule in Maiti is random, the FRRO change their requirements on the spot, there are power outages constantly, vegetables have to be bought in the next village, flour- two villages over, the new intern you’ve been waiting for never arrives, COM meeting is in a village two hours commute away, you want something done and the answer you are given is “not possible today, come back tomorrow.” I can stay shockingly calm for much longer now.

Thinking about the past seven months, a few moments stand out as the happiest and there are a few that I would have to claim as my worst moments. All in random order…

Happiest moments:

  1. Going on the camel ride in the desert at the Coordinators Retreat in Khuri and playing games in the dunes the next day. Who knew Mathilde and I were evenly matched in strength (we tied in our wrestling match)
  2. Creating the superlatives for the June quarterlies and laughing until 2am with Elliott (whitest trash picker alive), Harmonie (swaggalicious swiss), Bruno (wannabe hippie), Whitney (most likely to tell you the office is her house and she almost pooed herself cleaning your mess), Remy (B’s favorite) and Johann (coolest geek)
  3. Dancing to “Lean On” on top of Triund with Harmonie, Dani, Shannon, Hellen, and Laura (music video coming soon)
  4. Making it to the top of the 5000m pass in Ladakh during my 3 day trek after an interminable trek uphill
  5. Laughing uncontrollably when Pooja, my favorite girl in Girls’ Club, points to the neighborhood dog and says “Lenty is my favorite bitch.”
  6. Discussing our dreams and crafting dream catchers in Girls’ Club with the craft supplies my friends in the US sent me
  7. Shamelessly eating countless chapattis for breakfast, lunch and dinner with Margaret in Maiti
  8. Riding with Elliott in the motorbike I bought and I never used again after falling from it at the beginning.

Unhappiest moments:

  1. Throwing up off the bus at 4am on the way back from Leh, praying nauseated and in fear that I would shit my pants at any moment (luckily I did not)
  2. Spilling liquids from both ends at the same time in Atul’s homestay during June quarterlies with no toilet paper and missing the gender circle. Definitely felt like I hit rock bottom at this point.
  3. Getting peed on by a rat in the kitchen TWICE. I almost died I was so disgusted.

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Michelle Fujisaki
HR Coordinator
USA


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Coordinators Retreat in Rajasthan

The retreats for Coordinators were developed during 2015 as an opportunity for the management team to come together and talk about changes that might have come about in the organisation, what they want to change, issues they face, their job roles, etc. This was the third Coordinators retreat of the year, but it was my first. I had come back to EduCARE after three months in Nepal and decided to take up the role of Centre Manager in a new centre in Punjab called Harike/Makhu. I had worked in EduCARE earlier in the year in Rait as the Project Manager for sustainable living and SWASH. But this time I wanted to get some management skills and try something new. However I didn’t really know much about my role and what I had to do. I am also very young as I turned 18 this year, and I don’t have any past experience or management skills.

I had just come back to India at the beginning of October and went straight to the Coordinators retreat after being back for about a week. I hadn’t yet gone to my centre in Punjab and I was still confused about what I had to do and what my job role was. I had read some documents before coming and had some idea of which ones were my tasks, but I still lacked some knowledge. At the retreat there were Centre Managers, Management team members (HR, Communications, Directors, etc.), Operations Coordinator and the Project Coordinators. At the time, about half the organisation were involved in all the management job roles, so about 20 people joined the retreat!

The retreat went for 4 days and I found it very informative and useful. I got to talk to other Centre Managers and was able to ask them questions about the role and what they thought I needed to do. We had workshops and meetings where all of us would work together to create new systems and plans for the organization, discuss and outline what we need from the organization (facilities, support, etc.) problems we faced (as Centre Manager’s, Project Coordinator’s, etc.).  We made a to do list of all our weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly tasks so that we could manage our time well and stay on top of everything.  We also had team building activities where we came closer as a group and even went on a camel safari and spent the night in the desert J.  And we did many other amazing workshops and meetings!!

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A night in the desert

I really enjoyed this retreat and everything in it. I learnt so much and met so many new people. I got a better understanding of my job role and everyone else’s job role within the organization. But what I learnt the most is that EduCARE is one big family and we are all here to support each other with our job. I LOVE YOU EDUCARE!!

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The coordinators enjoying the last day of the retreat


Ethan Donovan – Australia

Harike Center Coordinator, Harike (Punjab)


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Community Cook off!

After 2 months of intense nutrition work with the community, the cooking competition in Chenni successfully finished one part of the project, opening the door for more workshops and raising of awareness amongst the girls and women.

Everything started months ago when, after one more dinner with a family, I could not walk home because of all the rice I was fed. I decided that it was time to start a nutrition project. After some planning and discussions with Mr. B, we thought it would be good to first increase our knowledge about community’s food habits and then have an event.

In September I started to hand out one nutrition file per family in Chenni. For 7 days, the girls and women had to write down everything that they ate during the day, indicate in which quantity, if there were salt or spices, and if they thought it was healthy or unhealthy food. As this required a lot of checking up and encouragements, those files were given to 7 families over the month of september. 6 files were completed more or less perfectly – quite a success! In the meantime, I went to have dinner with all the families involved, a good way to spend time with the families, talk about nutrition but also observe the dinner habits.

After that, everything was ready for the big finale, the nutrition event! During one Young Women Association meeting, I asked the women the day they would be available for the event. October being an intense month for wedding, we were able to agree on Tuesday 27th of October and thus squizzed the event between 2 weddings. One problem was left though: how to organise and cater for all the families and the interns ??? The cooking competition was the only way and probably the best way to engage and motivate everyone! The rest was just a matter of organisation. Each family received 2 vegetables to cook and was provided with labour force aka 3 EduCARE interns, hungry and determined to provide the best help to the family!

A week before the event, I started reminding the families about the event, 4 days before the event, I was in Chenni harrassing the families, 3 days before the event, invitations were handed out, 2 days before the event I was in Chenni again (!)… The day before I had to mandate the other interns to do the reminding for fear of being too annoying …

On the D-day, I spend the day preparing the dessert and solving last minute issues with the help of Tomasso, Louise and Johnatan. Baking cookies without oven? Check ! Cutting a mountain of pineapple? Check (thank you Tomasso)! At 4 pm, eveything was ready… Chenni here we come!

After gathering most of the girls, Madhu and I did a little workshop where we were able to provide tips on nutrition and give some feedback from the nutrition files. Progressively, no less than 15 other interns arrived, ready to chop, boil, cook and have fun!

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Delicious vegetable dishes made

5pm ish, the competition started! While everyone was sweating over their dish (figure of speech as the temperature in our mountains has dramatically dropped), Priya, Boby and I were taking pictures. At 7 ish, everyone was enjoying a well deserved meal. 7:45, the judges were gathered, the thali plates were displayed on the judges table. No less than 6 judges – Bindu, Abu, Savita, Priya, Boby and I – had the responsability to decide who should win the first ever cooking competition. More than 25 people were squeezed (we were cold) and were intensely observing the judges nimbling on all the amazing food.
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The judges waiting to taste the food!

While everyone was finally allowed to taste each others food, the judges were debating next door on who should win. Despite the difficult task, one team was agreed upon.  After gathering everyone again, Priya announced officially that Sunayna, Kanta, Kuldeep, Anamika, Tulsi and Anesa were the winners. The price – paneer, chocolate and a little cookbook – was given, along with a diploma.

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The winning team!

To thank everyone for their participation and as in the end everyone won (yay!), we all gathered around a dessert before shivering our way back home!
Harmonie Bucher – France
Health Coordinator, Naddi (Himachal Pradesh)

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Protesting in Harike

During the whole time I have spent in India or any country, I have never experienced anything like what recently occurred in a rural town of Punjab. It was the biggest and most extreme protest I had ever seen.

It all started because someone had ripped pages out of a holy book. People started protesting about that and while the police was trying to deal with the situation, one officer shot into the crowd and killed two people. The protest got bigger and then a local man went on a food fast for five days in protest and died. Which made the protesting bigger because he died on duty. The day I saw the protest that guy had just died and they were doing rituals and prayers for him. After that, they burnt his body. All roads in the area had been blocked by the protestors, which had caused a great upheaval to all the transportation throughout the state.

But what made the protest very intense was that 90% of the protestors were carrying weapons. Now the weapons weren’t guns or anything but they were swords, axes, huge sticks, spears, etc. I found this very extreme even though I have lived in India before and seen a lot of intense stuff. But later when I thought about it, I realised that if something similar had happened in Australia then maybe people would react in almost the same way. Maybe not with weapons, but if all that had happened in Australia you would have had a very similar response from the public. A holy object was defiled, two people were shot and killed by the police and someone died while doing a food fast in protest. Maybe a situation like that wouldn’t end up so extreme in Australia, but people would still be very angry and I think it would cause almost the same effect as it did in India. It made me think “are we really that different from each other?” and I came to the conclusion that yes we have different cultures, backgrounds, values, morals, religion, etc.; but at the end of the day we are all the same, we are all human, with human emotions and reactions.

I have been coming to India since 2010 and I have never really thought the similarities between all humans in this way until this incident. I think I always knew, but seeing this situation really made it clear to me. We may look different, speak different languages and have different life styles, but we are all humans and most people would react the same no matter where they are in the world if something like that had happened in their country.

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Protests in Punjab

Ethan Donovan – Australia
Harike Center Manager, Harike (Punjab)

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Colourful and exciting India

If there is one thing to know about India, it’s that they love a good festival and celebrating in style. Luckily, we got to experience every first hand and on a quite a personal level. We started small and by the second day, it turned into one of the most intriguing events in my life so far…

We spent the first night (Saturday), at a small celebration in Janauri, there was some delicious free food, a makeshift temple near the bus stand, and some lovely traditional Punjabi music. It was a nice and low-key event to transition us into what was in store for us Sunday.

Earlier in the week, the councilor from a nearby (and much bigger) town came to invite us to his festival in Hariana. We happily accepted and went over in the afternoon for some more food and music. I think we underestimated our invitation but quite quickly it was brought to out attention we were “esteemed guests” and presented with a picture of some Hindu Gods, which we are planning to hang in the office.

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Aurelien, Amelie, Madeline and Breanne

Immediately after that, everyone around us was preparing for the parade-men in costumes, drum players, cars with stereo systems surrounded us. Much to our surprise, Amelie and myself were asked to ride camels in the parade and wave to the crowds. There were firecrackers and elephants in front of us and the whole experience was loud, colourful and incredibly and uniquely, India. Three hours later we were finally off on camels and own our way home to get back to work until the Kabaddi games on Friday.

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Amelie and Breanne riding camels in the streets of Hariana

The Councilor invited us to come to Hariana again to see a Kabaddi Game with him on 23rd of this month. Once we reached, he got us seats on the stage next to the other counselors from where we had a good view on the Kabaddi field. For most of us it was the first Kabaddi game so it was really interesting to see it live and from a stage as VIP guests. But what was even more interesting was the show inbetween the Kabaddi games. Once, three men tried to fit in a ring that, to us, already seemed too small for two men, and another time they let five men aged over 60 try to catch a chicken. As interesting it was to see all these bizarre shows and talents unfold in front of us, you can’t help fell uncomfortable as you realize these old men are chasing a chicken for a money prize and are quite poor members of the community. To everyone on the stage with us, they roared with laughter as the men tried and failed to catch the bird, falling face first in the sand along the way. It was a good example of the cultural shocks we sometime face in India and how we have to learn to adapt to the situation without being offensive. While watching the game, the counselor introduced us multiple times to the crowd and we got served several snacks throughout the afternoon. And again, we got a painting and orange scarves as a gift for the guests of honour, which will keep reminding us of this interesting part of Indian culture we could experience that day.

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Kabaddi game in Hariana


Amelie and Breanne – Germany/Canada

Microfinance Project Managers, Paro (Punjab)


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Trekking to Triund

I have a tradition of sipping a freshly brewed coffee on the brisk mornings of a hike to take in the sun rising over the beautiful view in front of me. However, after a cold and unexpected trek to Indrahar pass with Mr. B, Rachael, Daikin, Jakob and fellow interns, all I needed to wake and warm me up in the morning was a hot, spicy chai.

It all started with a call from B early on a Thursday morning asking to join him on an overnight trip to Triund, a popular hike among travellers, to survey the trees at different elevations. I had already been to see the unobstructed view of the Dhauladhar mountain range, but going again with B offered a chance to learn more about the flora and government forest management initiatives. So I rounded up a crew- Louise as my forestry team mate as well as Daniela and Kevin and we were off.

We started through the Deodar predominant forest area in Upper Naddi. The morning sun shone through the dark green needles providing us with some serenity before our gruelling trek; it’s no wonder deodar forests are sacred place of meditation in Hinduism.

Ascending from there brought us to a dense Rhododendron forest on either side of the path, which was unchanging for the better half of the trek. Even without their flowers, which bloom in March/April, it made for a pretty sight. This area is also sprinkled with Himalayan Oak trees, which have been severely lopped by the locals. Lopping is the act of cutting off branches of the tree to provide fuel for families and fodder for livestock to the point where the tree’s shape resembles that of a toothpick. Lopping hinders the regeneration of the tree’s population in a region and has adverse effects on the tree’s overall health. Unfortunately, this practice is not uncommon- you would be hard-pressed to find a healthy Oak in the region.

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Kevin, Sydney and Daniela on the way to Triund

The foliage gradually became less dense as we neared our destination and the thick Rhododendron forests transitioned into scattered Kriew trees, also known locally as Triund Oak, which are a type of Himalayan Oak. These trees can establish their roots in the steepest and rockiest of slopes. Unlike their sister species, these trees seemed to be in better shape, however they are largely exploited for cattle fodder (local people send their livestock up the mountain for prime grazing during the monsoon season, before winter).

And alas, we reached Triund for a lunch of Thali and a refill of water. Clouds were blocking our promised view of the mountains, but luckily this was not the end of our trip. We were to set up camp for the night in a cave about an hour and a half’s walk from Triund on the base of the mountain. We set out for our last lag of the journey, energy restored and excited to have made it up the toughest bit of the hike- so we thought.

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View from Triund

Cold from the frigid cave floor, we set the pass the next morning with promising clear skies. Only a 3 hour ascent and we would reach the peak of the monstrous rock! We stopped every couple hundred meters to catch our breath and a glimpse of Naddi from afar. Snacking on whatever food we had in our backpacks and water from the adjacent glacier, we hiked slowly but surely on the faintly marked path.

The dream was dampened once fog surrounded us and the path to the top was no longer visible. It had been three hours since we started for the day; some of us found ourselves questioning our motives, while others were strictly determined to reach the pass. A group huddle resulted in a decision of completing the journey and off we went again without hesitation.

An hour and a half later of a steep, narrow path and we finally reached the peak! Satisfaction overcame us as we high fived and hugged each other with congratulations. The view of Chamba Valley was worth every heavy breath and finally the mystery of what was beyond the towering mountains we see from Naddi had been uncovered. We knew it was our queue to descend when a blizzard obstructed our view and covered the path, adding another degree of difficulty to the trek.

The blizzard, accompanied by thunder and lightning, followed us down the mountain, forcing us to seek refuge under overhanging rocks when it became too dangerous to continue. The sun made a short appearance, just enough to warm us up and gain feeling in our fingers and toes, however it quickly retreated back in to the clouds. With wet equipment and a dwindling food supply, there was no choice but to make it to Snow Line. We trekked through the blizzards for the rest of the day into dusk with the promise of a warm cafe to keep us going.

We reached Snow Line and sat down among other hikers who did not brave the trek we just completed. We recounted all that we had done over our hot Maggi and omelettes: you know you have a good crew when all the stories told are done so with giant smiles. We set up our tents once we could phathom stepping into the snow, ready to start the next day’s descent with a hot chai and our favourite view.

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Reaching the top!

Sydney Strelau – Canada

Forestry Coordinator


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Camel safari in Thar desert

One of the nicest aspects of volunteering in EduCARE’s Gajner office is the seemingly unlimited options for travel on the weekends. Situated in a central location in Rajasthan, Gajner has access to more interesting places than imaginable. A short overnight train or bus can bring you to the blue city of Jodhpur, the white city of Udaipur, the pink city of Jaipur or, my personal favorite, the golden city of Jaisalmer:
Jaisalmer Fort

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Jaisalmer fort

I decided to do a short weekend trip to Jaisalmer towards the end of my time with EduCARE with a fellow intern. The trip involved a 6hr overnight bus ride that dropped us off at 5am. We were quickly bombarded with tuktuk drivers trying to bring us to their sponsored hotel, but thankfully our previously booked guesthouse sent a man to fend them off long enough for us to get into his taxi. After a short rest and some breakfast, we were ready to grab a tuk-tuk and hit the city.
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Tuktuk’s waiting for tourists near the bus stand

My favorite thing to do when visiting a new city is to go to the center square and proceed to get lost. This allows you to see a side of the city that the standard tourist misses. For example, scorching hot slides in the middle of a desert!

After a few hours of exploration, we somehow managed to find our way back to our guesthouse and proceeded to plan our next adventure: a camel trek in the desert. Having zero knowledge on how a camel trek is even organized, we opted to ask for help from the owner of the guesthouse we were staying at. Enter Abu, a widely eccentric man named who is constantly talking about how life is “mama mia.” We arranged to do an overnight trip that involved camping under the Rajasthani stars. But first, we had to learn how to get comfortable around these beasts:

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Mama Mia!

After a few failed attempts of grappling on top of my camel unsurprisingly named “Mama Mia,” we set off into the deep desert. I found it interesting how much greenery there was in this desolate place. I also found it interesting how difficult it was to take a clear picture while riding a camel.

After two uncomfortable hours on top of Mama Mia, we finally reached our destination. It was amazing seeing the drastic changes in the scenery during the ride. All the previous green rolling hills had turned to bright hues of yellow. We immediately hopped off the camels and stretched before racing to the tallest dune we could find.

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Sunset in the dunes

Sunset quickly came, and the stars soon followed. I had never seen stars as bright as they were that night. Unfortunately, my amateur photography skills failed to capture the moment. But it was an incredible evening. Even the giant beetles that seemed to constantly gravitate towards us contributed to what I would say was the best two days I experienced in India.

“No hurry no worry, no chicken no curry, no honey no money, no woman no cry, no hi, no bye, no chai, no chapatti, life is mama mia” – Abu desert safari man.

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Alex Grainere – USA
Microfinance Project Manager, Gajner (Rajasthan)

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Leaving Dal Lake

September 30th, 2015 is a day that we, the Naddi interns, won’t forget. Everything had to be removed from the office/intern house of Dal Lake on this day, after months of waiting for the new houses to be built. There, some facilities are still not available and the shower room has apparently no wall to give intimacy in one of the houses… But the houses are built and most of the rooms are ready to welcome interns. So, in the morning, we started to pack our stuff in boxes. There were hundreds of books, bags full of medicines, broken things, electronic waste etc. After packing, we took a little break to take lunch at Cebu’s café, just next to the office. Cebu was sad to see us leave. We are one of his dearest customers and the move will make it hard to see him that often. So we proposed him to move next to the new office!

As requested, the truck driver arrived more or less at the time we asked him to. That’s a big achievement in India! It took at least 2 hours to move the stuff in the truck. Everyone was there to help. Step by step, the rooms were completely emptied. Everything was ready to go. But another work waited us: cleaning the rooms. It took a while to clean everything correctly. Then, the rooms were completely empty. There was nothing… It was an emotional moment to leave Dal Lake, a place full of life and memories. When seeing the empty rooms, I thought we couldn’t leave without keeping visual souvenirs of the Dal Lake house. I hope these photos I took will keep the memories alive.

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Packing the truck before leaving Dal Lake

After taking a last look at the empty rooms, we left the office to carry everything to the new buildings. The truck driver brought us to the ‘Blue house’ where all the personal stuff from interns of the Dal Lake house waited for us. Few minutes of effort and the work was done. The move ended. It was exhausting but it was an amazing experience to move a whole office and an entire apartment with the other interns. It was a good way to reinforce teamwork spirit in Naddi. It offered us the opportunity to discover everything that past interns left for us, intentionally or not. And it remind us some great moments we had in Dal Lake, like the last BBQ party we had.

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Chalk drawing in the Dal Lake house

Now, we have to think about the future. Let’s make the ‘Blue house’ and the new interns house lively places as Dal Lake was. And let’s start a new experience in EduCARE!

Kevin Sundareswaran – France
SWASH Project Manager, Naddi

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An amazing trek for my holidays

“I’m not going to make it, I’m not going to make it,” I kept thinking to myself as I focused on my feet while trekking uphill. I didn’t want to look up because I knew it would be hours of uphill until we reached the pass. In fact, there was so much uphill I couldn’t even see the top.  I was trekking through the most beautiful part of India, and I was dying.

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On Day 1 of the trek from Zingchen

During the two weeks of holiday I took during my internship, I discovered my favorite place in India. I traveled to Ladakh in Northern India with fellow interns, Harmonie and Whitney, and for a lack of better words, it was freaking epic! Ladakh is a high altitude desert (over 3000 meters) and is surrounded by the most breathtaking landscapes. We traveled two days by bus to reach Ladakh and we passed Taglangla the second highest pass in the world (5,328 meters) on the way. Normally I would cringe with the thought of taking a two days bus ride, but the views made even the bus ride enjoyable.

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Me on the second highest pass in the world

I went on a three day trek from Zingchen to Chilling and I couldn’t even believe what I was seeing. Maybe it was the altitude putting me in a daze, but I never imagined mountains in a desert to be so beautiful. The beauty was definitely well earned too: at one point I had to count my steps in order to keep from collapsing… I was so out of breath. Five sets of 8 and then a break. Needless to say I was last in our trekking group.

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We made it to the top of the pass (5.000m)

As Educare plans to open a centre in Leh next summer, I think about all the lucky interns who will be able to work there. It was such a magical place, I will definitely be coming back again…maybe as an Educare intern!

Ladakh is also home to countless Buddhist monasteries and we were able to visit a couple in Hemis and Thiksay. It seemed like a very peaceful place to practice Buddhism and it gave me the sense that they had all the time in the world to reach enlightenment.

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Future Buddha at Thiksay monastery

Michelle Fujisaki – USA

HR Coordinator, Maiti (Himachal Pradesh)


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Burning to leave

I have been in EduCARE long enough to see two dozen interns come in my life and leave it. Most likely forever. No hard feelings there, just a cold fact.

The life of every EduCARE intern flows more or less the same course: confusion, understanding, hard work, leaving party. In between, the glances at the life we all know back home are few. Some search for them harder than other. End of the line, everyone had to abandon such things as a good piece of cheese, maple syrup, or barbecue parties.

Over the months, leaving parties have become less and less appealing to me. I became more distant to the whole exercise. Not that I didn’t care anymore for the people ending their stay in India. Quite the opposite actually. But, it is always the same ritual. It usually involves a restaurant. Maybe a cake and a gift. Most definitely a card with kind words written in the secret of someone’s laps or behind a kitchen door. Some boredom came over the months.

And then it was time for Whitney to leave.

And I knew she would make sure that every generation of Naddi interns will pass to one another the story of the grandiose feast she was to organise.

And she did.

Whitney renounced many of her small pleasures of life, just like the rest of us. But her passion for grilled meat was never one of them. She kept talking about pork, chicken, lamb and turkey. Grilled, fried, sautéed, or pan-fried.

It started in mid-August, a good month before the party was due. Arnaud, my roommate and civil engineer in the making, came to our flat. He also happened to be a DIY amateur. Whitney immediately saw the potential of the young man for her grand scheme. He was to build a barbeque. A tool capable of supporting on its shoulders a whole party to be remembered by subsequent interns until the end of time. For four good weeks, Whitney harassed Arnaud to have her weapon of mass food creation ready. And the harassing was not your regular harassing. It Whitney pursuing her will. There were only two ways out of this: you run as far as possible and change identity, or you accept.

India being India, Arnaud became resourceful in his Eco-Building functions. He no longer looked for a store to buy wood, or used a specially designed piece of metal to have a container for the coal. No. In the greatest of secret, he scavenged wood from a broken bed lying on our rooftop, an old paint barrel from a waste dealer nearby, reused a few nails, and the grills that were available in our office. With a bucket of the ingenuity that characterises Arnaud, he managed to build us a superb grill with a cover and two side stands. The whole thing looked like a real barbeque. One you would buy on a lazy Saturday afternoon in your neighbourhood hardware shop. With a ghetto style that definitely adds to the project. All of that during his weekend, and without Whitney noticing any of it until a few days before the party.
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Arnaud’s DIY BBQ!

Her culinary imagination just got unleashed. And nobody could tell where it would lead us. Probably in a world made of grilled meat and veggies. Where paneer will happily co-habitate with ribs and chicken wings. And who knows other marvellous dishes.Of course, as the D-Day drew closer and closer, we started to tease Whitney about the grill, and how the chalk picture Arnaud drew on the wall was the only BBQ party she will ever get in India. But, we finally reached the point where we couldn’t hide it from her anymore. We had to show it. And it was Revelation.

The day before the party I came home to a marvellous smell embalming the whole four stories building we call home. And I knew it was on. The demon had been released. When I pushed the kitchen door, I saw my friend in front of the stove, a huge pile of marinated meat on her right and even more already cooking, exhaling those divine fumes.

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Delicious marinated meat getting ready in “The Barbecue”

6:30. Our guests are already arriving for what is promising to be an epic evening. I started the grill on our small balcony. The wood began to smoke and vanish into the clear sky. It is good to be out after two months of monsoon and the daily curtains of rain. I looked at the embers getting redder and redder. As the evening grow later, the zucchinis and aubergines, the chicken and the pork slowly cooked on the grill. Inside, the fifteen Naddi team members and other EduCARE interns were peeling potatoes, chopping tomatoes and cucumbers. Pineapple and curd mixed and frozen to concoct us an as amazing desert as India can provide. And of course, the finally result was foodgasmic.
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EduCARE interns enjoying the feast at Whitney’s farewell party

Whitney definitely set the bar high for her leaving party. So high, that I can’t see anyone coming close to it any time soon. And so be it. Some records are not meant to be broken. They are to be looked at and admired for the pugnacity and efforts that they require.Tomorrow one of my oldest friends in EduCARE will be gone. My partner in cooking crimes. But she went away on her own terms: grandiose, flamboyant, and most importantly freaking delicious.

Elliott Messeiller – Switzerland 
SWASH Coordinator, Naddi

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Coming full circle

Sitting on the rooftop of the Gajner intern house, I hear religious melodies travel across the desert’s horizon by speaker. The horn of a passing train blows in the distance, as below, the engine of a tuk tuk shakes in anticipation of its next customer. Looking up, the moon illuminates a slowly dimming sky. Looking around, I see hues of green, blue, and brown— Gajner is decorated with buildings of brick and cement, sandy roads and footpaths, isolated trees, and a small lake—it’s beautiful! The aroma of garam masala and other spices blow along in the wind, as the evening’s cool breeze offsets the Rajasthani heat. Closing my eyes, I take everything in: my surroundings, my thoughts, the nostalgia, and this peculiar blend of every emotion possible. I’m happy, sad, anxious, reminiscent, confused, and thankful. Sitting on the rooftop of the Gajner intern house, I’m reminded of the February quarterlies—where it all began.

I can recall the conversations of sustainable development, an all-day workshop on project management, and the many, many tea breaks that took place right here. I had been in India two weeks prior and was already feeling overwhelmed about my project; fortunately, this week of workshops, discussions, and challenges put a lot into perspective for me. I remember feeling ready to get back to my village and being eager to start working. I knew the anticipation, just as vividly as my recollections of disillusionment. Coming to India, I thought I would be working with an already-existing Young Women’s Association, tackling issues such as gender inequality and helping village women enhance their skills, so that one day, they could become the community’s leaders. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way. In fact, we still don’t have a Young Women’s Association in Rait.

Of the many lessons I’ve learned, the planning and the failures are as much a part of the process as the successes. Our initial strategy for establishing a YWA in Rait didn’t happen the way we hoped. The community wasn’t ready for a formal institution like such, so we used other ways to engage and empower local women: the health camp, informal English lessons, our research proposal, various microenterprise activities, and a multitude of broken-Hindi-limited-English conversations coupled with smiles and sweet cups of chai. Serving as centre manager, I’ve seen the Rait Centre progress from none to facilitating six operational projects within the community. Looking back, I’m so thrilled to have been part of this team. The motivation we took from February’s rooftop sessions in Gajner helped us initiate, expand, and continue our work throughout the village.

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Interns in the Rait Center

To ensure a holistic approach to rural sustainable development, the Rait Centre uses a unique strategy for teamwork. We each devote at least an hour each day to working on one another’s projects, offering each other support, and finding ways to integrate our projects with others. This strategy caused me to become enthused about waste management, and it also improved my gardening skills! Some of my most meaningful work came from running other projects, such as the After School Program in the migrant camp. The way the children’s faces beam with huge smiles each time we arrive—excited to learn and play games with us—these are memories I won’t forget. Likewise, the relationships I have built with various community members are interactions I will hold onto for a long, long time. A lot of what I have encountered here in India has changed me, but I find myself in awe of who this experience has shaped me into. Every namaste, smile, peculiar stare, and curious feel of my afro, are all moments I will take with me as I leave India.
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Girls in the migrant camp playing with Alanah’s hair

Reflecting on my seven months here, I’ve seen many sides to this beautiful country. I’ve seen India’s wealthy and urban, just as I’ve seen her rural, and her poor. I’ve seen her pride and glory; her relentless, hard work; her pain, and I’ve seen her struggle. I’ve seen her masses, and I became familiar with her marginalized and ostracized. I’ve witnessed a number of India’s beautiful landscapes, took part in her customs and traditions, learned her history and invested time into her future. I was fortunate to experience her warm embrace, just as I, too, have encountered her hostile hesitation towards the unknown. Countless times, I have been hassled, harassed, and hustled, and I learned to haggle my way around. It’s only been seven months, but it’s all so fascinating! India has this way of forcing you out of your comfort zone, breaking down the barriers you’ve psychologically built up around yourself, and making you begin again.

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Alanah playing with children in the migrant camp in Rait

On this rooftop, six and a half months ago, I sat back, receptively listening and taking note of all of the other interns’ contributions to each discussion. Returning to Gajner, as my internship comes to an end; I now observe and impart knowledge regarding the women’s empowerment projects on ground. A few months ago, that quiet, confused intern became project coordinator. Sitting here, on the rooftop of the Gajner intern house, I am reminded of where I began—completely overwhelmed and unsure of my place within the community and the organization. I found it! I often say that I have taken a lot more from my time with EduCARE India compared to what I have given. Nonetheless, I am grateful. I am thrilled. I am humbled. As nostalgia sets in, thoughts take my mind everywhere: I wonder what my girls in Girls Club will grow up to become; whether they’ll pursue higher education as well as the aspirations they have expressed at the tender age of twelve. I’m curious about the migrant children and what the future holds for them; will they go to school; will they have more economic opportunities; will they be able to settle in one place, and be part of the community. The main road is quiet and the stars now sparkle from a distance. I can hear the laughter of the Gajner team below, as all around me is quiet. Looking at the empty rooftop, I remember the faces from that February gathering. I remember how and what I felt. A lot has changed since then

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Alanah in the migrant camp in Rait

Alanah Grant – US

Women’s Empowerment Manager and Rait Center Manager, Rait (Himachal Pradesh)

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Garmi Garmi, dealing with the heat of Punjab

Before I arrived in India at the beginning of June 2015, the news at home was displaying stories on a near daily basis about the insane heat waves across India. The south was experiencing temperatures nearing 50’C, Delhi was a toasty 44’C (112’F for my fellow Americans), countless photos of people guzzling water crossed my BBC news app. My friends and family loved to alert me of these temperatures, but I assured them I wasn’t going to places mentioned in the news, and thus should be ‘chill’. I was right….sort of.

While Punjab was never mentioned in the history-making heat wave, that did not mean the Punjabis were relaxing in balmier weather. Much of my experience with Educare, and thus living in rural India, has centered on the unrelenting heat. I believe on one of my first days I (naively) asked if the house I would be living in would have hot water. The answer, technically, was no. However when your black water tank sits on the roof baking in 40’ your water really will be hot, whether you like it or not. Living in Janauri I quickly had to be accustomed to stepping out of a shower and not being able to differentiate between what were water droplets from my freshly washed hair, or new beads of sweat already starting to do away with my recent cleaning. It’s a never-ending, and sometimes futile, battle.

You learn to embrace this heat though. Everyone’s affected by it and brings you all together at a basic human level. One of the first Hindi/Punjabi words I learned was garmi (hot), and it is the perfect way to break the silence when meeting people. If one is ever at a loss for their Hindi (which happens in every conversation I’ve entered in India), they simply feign an exhausted face, fan themselves with their hand and mumble “garmi, garmi, garmi”. It is a perfect way to connect with whoever is in the room, and most likely they will respond with the same motion, and you both will chuckle.

I won’t lie, aside from vanity reasons; this heat is difficult to work with. Children that should normally be running and screaming with excitement lay exhausted in the shade. Getting “rambunctious kids” excited for after school activities is often one of our biggest challenges in Punjab. Community engagement is difficult when the majority of people in the villages are sitting inside with their fans on. But we make it work.

I don’t mean to whine about the heat because in fact, life thrives here. Everyone still adds just as many hot spices to their daal (well, maybe not every intern), everyone still drinks their daily hot chai, and we still manage to play games of tag in the migrant camp that leave us dripping in that Punjabi sweat. If anything, the heat just adds a little more flavor to the experience! But that doesn’t mean I’m not excited for that autumn chill!

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Madeline lighting up fireworks on the 4th of July

Madeline Zdeblick – US

Paro center manager and microfinance project manager, Paro (Punjab)


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The monster in my stomach

First of all, I’m not pregnant. Gajner is not one of those places where young people go and parents are scared their girls will come back with a baby in the belly. No sex, drugs and rock n’ roll around, trust me.

Still, somehow a monster came to live in my stomach when I arrived to India, and it’s always hungry. I used to eat a lot back in Spain, but I never reached the levels of the monster. NEVER.

Food in India is delicious and it’s everywhere. I think what attracts the monster the most are the spices. I walk in the streets and the monster is always alert, smelling around, looking for the best samosa. Even when it fails and the samosa was not that good, it doesn’t surrender, and makes me purchase (yes, purchase. In India no one ”buys” stuff, you “PURCHASE” it) another one.

The monster gets very excited when families in Gajner invite us to eat. I personally don’t really like the way of having people invited to eat here. You sit with the other guests, all alone in the floor of some room, and the hosts bring food, nonstop, but they don’t eat with you. My way of understanding the point of having people home to eat is to share the food and the time with them, and talk…but that is not how it works here. The monster does not think much about that, though. Every time there is almost no more dahl in the bowl, or veggies, or there are only two chapatis left, or rice is starting to disappear, more food comes. The plates are never empty; food is infinite, which is like a theme park for the monster.

When all the normal guests are done with the food, the monster keeps on asking for it. It sees though my eyes and it really struggles to stop eating if there is still food on the plates. So after everyone else stops eating, the monster and I have a long discussion while still feeding it. My shame of eating alone against its hunger. I win after a while, as even the monster realizes how people stare at us, trying to understand how is it possible, and it feels ashamed too.

The other interns in the house are frightened about the monster. When they cook, there is always this fear, “will it be enough”? When they serve the food, they look at the monster through my eyes, asking for its approval. When the food is over and the monster makes me wipe clean the few leftovers in all plates, there is always a moment of tension.

But the monster is cool, it’s peaceful. It would never hurt anyone, and it’s very easy to make it happy. If you want it to like you, you know what to do.

Cheers from the monster and me!

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Lucía cooking Dahl for the house

 

Bikaner Cluster Coordinator, Gajner (Rajasthan)
Lucía Villamayor – Spain

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Why an EduCARE India internship won’t be what you expect; and why that’s ok

I find myself at the end of a six-month internship with EduCARE India. As I was saying my final goodbyes, finishing up the last monthly report and making travel arrangement, the Project Director, Mr B, asked me if this internship met my expectations. And I had to say no. Not at all.

Any undergrad, recent graduate or anyone at the “entry-level” of their career knows the importance of experience and how hard it can be to get that experience on your CV. Most of us know that to get that elusive first job, you need to put in a lot of unpaid hours. I had volunteered and interned with many organisations before EduCARE India, both international and domestic. So I’m used to that kind of role. I’m used to coming into the office one day a week and being given some simple tasks to complete. Or sitting in on team meetings to listen and learn. I’m used to being given a little responsibility, even whole projects to oversee, under the watchful guidance of a supervisor.

EduCARE appealed to me because they had a diverse portfolio of projects, offered on the ground experience and focused their efforts at the grassroots level. As I tried to get an idea of what my six months in India would look like, I eagerly read blog posts about successful women’s empowerment projects in a remote hill village called Naddi. I was excited to meet the project managers and pick their brains about what challenging things they debated in their Young Women’s Associations meetings. I search Pinterest and Google for feminist movements and personalities, specific to India, so that I could contribute and prove a useful team member in their operational projects.

I was prepared to watch, listen and learn, as I always had, from those who had done it all before. I wanted to find out what worked and what didn’t, from those who has tried it all before. I arrive in Naddi, with a blank notebook and an eagerness to learn as much as I could from those around me. To gain experience from the experienced.

I spent less than one week in Naddi then was sent 35 km downhill, to a little village clinging to a busy highway, called Rait. Venture beyond the main road and its shoe-box shops and you’ll find quaint clusters of mud rendered homes disperse amongst small wheat or rice fields. For EduCARE India, it was a new centre, which had only been operational for about a month, and whose most senior team member had been living there for little more than three months. A team of seven novice interns from different backgrounds were sent to live and work in a little house in the south of this village. Our goal was to establish the centre, engage the local community and begin projects. It dawned on me that this wasn’t going to be the usual internship.

I’ve spent the last six months learning by doing. I have gained experience, not from observing and copying those who are more experienced, but by experimenting, trying and – at times – failing. I have had the opportunity to develop plans, implement those plans and watch as completely unplanned and unplannable things have happened. There have been challenges and frustrations and obstacles and triumphs. I made mistakes, and witnessed first-hand the consequences of those mistakes. I also found ways to overcome those mistakes and get things back on track. No other internship or volunteer experience has ever given me so much freedom and autonomy over my own projects. With this flexibility comes responsibility, and an overwhelming motivation to make things happen.

Early in my internship, in a project management training workshop, the incredibly knowledgeable Ben Flemming told me “everything you planned to do here, you won’t do. And that’s ok.” At the time I thought that was nonsense.

“Ok” I thought, “so I might not be able to do everything, but surely I’ll achieve some of my goals”.

But as I’ve undertaken this internship, I have seen my plans constantly evolve and adapt. What I thought I could do, couldn’t be done, and other things that I never even considered possible, proved achievable. I have learnt so much professionally. And personally. Just not in the way I thought I would.

It’s true; this internship didn’t meet my expectations. At all. Instead, it presented me with something completely different but equally useful.

If you’re considering an internship with EduCARE India, a word of warning. Expectations can be dangerous. They can let you down or mislead you. Better to go in with an open mind, and a blank notebook, and learn as much as you can – yourself.

katherine

Katherine with Suman in the migrant camp

Katherine Woolnough – Australia
Young Women’s Association project manager, Rait

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Only in India

My intern flatmate Lea and I sat upon the marble wall fencing in the Birla Mandir from its gorgeously kept gardens below, looking out at the busy streets of Jaipur. Nightfall in big cities is always such a rush; I’ve almost forgotten the feeling after being in the village for so long. The streets are always jammed with auto rickshaws, cars, scooters, bikes and young lovers and friends setting out to drink chai at nearby, trendy tea spots or local hangouts just outside the downtown core. As I looked out, my ears absorbed all the movement and sound around me. No matter where you are in India, you can always hear music playing whether it’s from a temple, a tea-stall’s radio, a car, a cell phone, a pedestrian humming the latest Bollywood tune; the entire country eats, breathes and sleeps music. We sat chatting about religion, spirituality and reminisced on our weekend in Jaipur and Sawai Madhopur, where we visited the Ranthambore National Park and watched a tiger casually devour a large deer.

Since I arrived in January, I have been compiling a list of all the very unique “things” that truly describe India. Without noticing it, the list very quickly turned more into a joke with things including “you can start a fire anywhere”, or “you can build your house anywhere” and “India, where 10 minutes is an hour”. Everyday I experience a mix of all these little details that I keep in my teal blue notebook and sometimes when I’m on a bus or in a rickshaw, I take a look at the list and add silly things that come to mind. After being in the train station for over six hours yesterday, waiting for a train home to Bikaner that was five and a half hours late, I compiled five “things” that I truly find hilarious and what make me love this beautiful and over 40-degree country so much.

So , here is a sneak peak to Jazzmine’s “Only in India” collection:

1. Sleeping wherever, whenever, free of charge
I’m pretty famous for this at Hotel Pearl Palace in Jaipur. I’ve never once stayed a night in the beautiful, exotic and expensive hotel but am expected most Fridays to show up for a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs on brown, whole wheat toast, yogurt with bananas and honey, and non-Nescafe coffee. They don’t even greet me anymore when I show up after the 4:30am train arrives at Jaipur Junction. The sleeping receptionist simply peeps his eyes out from under the sheet he uses to mummify his body while sleeping on the floor, then I proceed upstairs to the lounge where I starfish onto one of their couches and pass out until 9am. This isn’t just Jaipur specific though, a whole group of 11 of us did this once in Jaisalmer, sleeping on the rooftop of the Mystic Jaisalmer hotel, not paying a single penny for the few hours nap we had after arriving via bus in the early AM. You’ll also find me sleeping in the Harasar Haveli dining room in Bikaner from 5am to 7am on Sunday mornings when I return home from a weekend away, awaiting their delicious breakfast buffet to open and for the local buses to start running to Gajner. I’ll never understand why this is acceptable and why Indians feel it is totally okay to sleep wherever you want (i.e. bus shelters, train station floors, on boxes outside of shops, etc.) but hey, works for me!

2. Odd Job Men
You really don’t need any type of sales skills to sell something in India. There is also no strategy to the business. You will find rows and rows of men with carts all selling the same thing on the same street and somehow they are all making a living. I’ll never understand it. Even in Gajner, we have three stalls that sell the same fruits and vegetables everyday and they are all right next to one another. Everything is the same price and the same quality. But in the city, men are really creative about what they sell to help with competition, and these are what I call the “Odd Job Men”. My favourite is the “Scale Man” who sits on the side of the road with a scale. To partake in his services, you simply just stand on the scale, view your current weight (sometimes he’ll verbally tell you) then pay the man. And my all-time favorite? The “Ear Cleaner”, who usually walks the trains with a bag of Q-tips and for a small fee will provide you with the most satisfying feeling of a wax-free ear.

3. Bargaining with Style
You really need to be creative when it comes to bargaining, whether it’s for a rickshaw ride or bangles. When it comes to rickshaw rides, sometimes I’ll make a local set the price for me then once it’s agreed upon, I’ll jump out from behind some bushes and get into the rickshaw instead of the local. This seriously drives the driver (ha!) insane because they know how easy it is to fool foreigners into paying crazy prices to go as little as two kilometres. My other go to is by serenading the driver with my guitar and singing, “if you don’t give me the ride for 50 rupees, I’ll never stop singing this sonnngggggg”. This was really only done with Ali since no one is ridiculous enough to do this with me again. For material items and accessories, I usually use their exaggerated compliments against them to get a better deal “but Ji, I really am Shakira”, or start a full on war between shop owners, “I pay 100 rupees or I buy from the next shop” (they usually chase after me and agree to my price before I’m even out the door). It is slightly evil but wouldn’t you be annoyed too if people were constantly after your money and giving you unfair deals just because you have white skin?

4. Candy or Coins?
Tellers rarely have change and they hate to break any bill over 50 rupees. This is a serious issue for anyone who has just left an ATM since it only withdraws your money in 500 and 1000 notes. In India, there are 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 rupee notes and coins of 1,2,5 and 10 rupees, but these are extremely rare. So rare that if they can’t give you change fewer than 10 rupees, simply because they have no coins, they will give you candies instead! One candy is equal to one rupee. If you have 10 candies, you can trade them in for a 10-rupee bill, and sometimes if you’re lucky, they will give you a 5-Star (an Indian chocolate bar made from milk chocolate and caramel). It’s a really good day if you get a 5-Star.

5. Anything you want, you got it!
Indians aim to please and they don’t like to say no or take no for an answer. I’m starting to give in to it and have grown quite used to it now. For example, I am a lot more aware of my time when visiting a friend in the village, allotting myself an hour or so for the visit in case they offer me too many things. I also always prepare my stomach since they will usually force feed me a huge plate of chapati, vegetables and curd, followed by a full cup of sugary chai. If you ask an Indian any type of question, either directions or if they have the colour scarf you are looking for, whether they have it or not, they will find it for you. Even if it requires running two-kilometres down the road to find what you want, buy it and bring it back to re-sell it to you. They’ll even give you wrong directions if they don’t have the right answer for you just so they can give you an answer. Their first motive is to help, always, no matter if they succeed or not.

This is my India. It’s chaotic, loud, silly, accommodating and no other country will match its hospitality, ever.

Jazzmine (Canada)

Bikaner Cluster Coordinator


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My international family

I am here above my past, above negative people,

I am here in search of new learning, some good friends and exposure,

I am here to serve people, understand myself & to deal with my fears,

I am here to make a change,

I am here to listen to every word so I can make a change,

I am here for a beautiful world of sustainability,

I am here at

EduCARE.

I have always been a family boy, born and raised all these years always surrounded by relatives and family members. But here, at EduCARE, I have found my international family; a family that made my journey easy during this internship.

My first week at EduCARE was like a sudden earthquake, everything changed. I was prepared for this but it was hard to manage all the stuff by myself. One day I thought if they (international family) can leave their homes, their developed countries, and live in village environment/culture why can’t I? This question instigated me to be stronger and think more positively. I then realized that what I needed to do was break through my boundaries. Slowly and steadily I adapted to the environment /culture.

Someone once said, “Life starts outside your comfort zone” so here I am out of my comfort zone to achieve many things, to collect stacks of experiences and adventures from my international family. I call all my fellow interns my family because some are interesting, some are boring, some are positive, some are negative, some are happy, others are just lack sense of happiness; they all are just like a typical Indian family. They perceive India and Indians in different ways than the way I do, but I want to say that all Indians are not same, our values/ culture are not same, so never generalise any negative behaviour, value, or action.

While working on a grassroots level, I have realized my potential. I am working on Vertical Organic Farming and Biopesticides in Hoshiarpur, Punjab. Local people here are so helpful and respectful, they treat us like leaders here, and so we are. I work with my international family, share experiences, cook food, share memories and after every week we create memories on weekends. I explored my inner strength here and I will continue to work on it. I will definitely come here again to meet and work with my international family for a long time.

This is one of the journeys in my life that I will never forget. I will take some good friends and good memories from here. I can truly say that this internship brought a spark in my life.

“Mingle together and enjoy the Jingle”

Sincere thanks to; Mr Baljinder Bhullar & Mr Gulshan Manhas

Jaspreet (India)

Organic Farming Project Manager

Paro Centre


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Living in Beautiful and Messy India

While working on my project at EduCARE, I’ve found that many days are emotionally draining and challenging due to my interactions with the local culture. Yesterday was definitely no exception.

I’m based in Gajner, a little village in Rajasthan, and my project is to implement a waste management system. I only started two months ago, but I’ve managed to set up a system in the Intern house and Manoj’s shop, a neighborhood restaurant.

After I’d implemented a sorting system in the intern house and Manoj’s shop the next step was to search for and contact a ‘trash picker’ – someone that could collect trash and sell it. Fortunately, I had someone in mind. His name is Mulcham and he lives with his wife and 5 children in Indira Colony, a marginalized community here in Gajner. His kids are involved in the After School Program (ASP).

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Picture taken in Manoj’s shop by Lachlan Alexander

Yesterday morning I decided to go see Mulcham with Pradeep, an Indian friend who speaks English and helps us a lot with our projects. The plan was simple: go to his house and arrange a time where he could come and collect our waste. In my head I hoped that we could arrange a meeting for the following week. But when Pradeep explained the plan, Mulcham said that he could come right now with his bike. I was really excited and happy to have it all happening so fast. I took a chai with his family and then returned home to wait.

After 3 hours he was still not here. I began to have different feelings. Indeed I actually felt lost. Mulcham had appeared so excited and honest and he said he would come right away. I also felt angry because I wanted to trust him. I felt frustrated because it was like I could try everything, but it will never work. This project was hopeless, I thought.

At this point, Jazzmine and Lachlan, my fellow interns, saw my trouble and challenged me, telling me that I had to make it happen. I had to do something, try harder. It was difficult to hear, I just wanted to stop my work and let it go. But it was also helpful and necessary.

So I finally went to see Pradeep and asked him to come with me to speak one more time to Mulcham and have him come, even if we have to put him on Pradeep’s motorbike. Pradeep was surprised because he also thought that Mulcham was honest. Pradeep agreed to help me again.

Fortunately on our way to Mulcham’s house we met him on his bike; he was finally coming. He came to the house, saw our waste and took all our bags, even if it was not recyclable.

It was a huge victory for me: I found someone to get rid of all our waste. He will sell what he can in Bikaner and throw the remainder in the dump.We also showed him Manoj’s shop’s garbage and he agreed to come the following day to get rid of this rubbish too.We made an appointment for the following morning – this morning!

I felt so relieved, my project jumped forward and Mulcham was able to get rid of all the waste. He is a vital link in project. Of course I still have a lot of questions: what really happened to the non-recyclable waste; how many times can he come to collect the waste?

But I decided that it would be easier to ask him these questions today when he comes to collect Manoj’s waste.

If Mulcham is well involved and motivated, we will be able to expand the project to other shops. All these ideas made me really happy!

But the funny thing is, as I write this blog post, I’m still waiting for Mulcham to return to collect Manoj’s waste!

However, this time I’m not too worried. He came once, I’m sure he’ll come again. I’ve learnt the importance of being patient and persistent in India.  And that time is indeed circular and stretchable.  What I used to think was dishonesty, I now understand is just a totally different way of seeing time.  Its all about perspective.

So, I guess this is how it works in India.

Its India’s mentality: beautiful and messy.

Lea (France)

SWASH Project Manager

Gajner centre, Rajasthan


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Cluster Coordinator Retreat

Over the past 6-months, EduCARE India has seen a lot of development and improvement, and many incredible interns to help lead the way. Job roles have been given more clarity, more resources and tools have become available to interns and overall it has really strengthened the team dynamic across all clusters, from Himachal to Rajasthan. Although the entire COM (Collaborative Operations Management) team strives to ensure this happens, there is one position above all that seems to have a lot of pressure put on their shoulders when policies, processes and procedures are not properly organized within the clusters and that individual is the Cluster Coordinator.

Every cluster in EduCARE has a Cluster Coordinator: Himachal Pradesh (Naddi and Rait), Punjab (Dholbaha and Janauri), Bikaner (Gajner and Chandasar) and Jaisalmer. Their responsibilities include new intern induction, keeping projects inline with the clusters strategic plan, goals and objectives, scheduling, meeting facilitation, conflict management and documentation…to name a few. It is a big role and an important role to ensure the cluster runs like a well-oiled machine.

To help continue the growth and structure of EduCARE, the COM team made an executive decision to try out a “Cluster Coordinator Retreat” – a three day get-together/meeting for all EduCARE’s Cluster Coordinators to come together to discuss topics such as the induction process, human resources, goal setting, conflict management and documentation. The first retreat took place from May 27th to May 29th in Paro, Punjab, where the Punjab Cluster’s ViKAS Center is located, in between Dholbaha and Janauri. The three-day retreat included open discussions on how to improve, grow and organize our clusters, along with workshops as I mentioned above. We also engaged in Punjab’s cluster projects, joining the Punjab team for a visit to the Paro migrant camp where the cluster is managing an eco-garden, eco-toilet built late last year, a chicken coop and ASP (after-school program).

DSCF5635Although the word “retreat” makes it sounds like three days of resting at some exotic spa in the mountains, our group of eight actually had a really great time learning and sharing with one another, engaging in the workshops delivered by OPS and when the days came to an end, cooking, eating and spending time together. Meetings are always easy to do online or over the phone but face-to-face is always a more personal and enjoyable experience. Leaving the retreat, I felt at ease with my workload compared to when I first started. When I first arrived, the only real training I received was being handed an 18-page manual, which gave me an instant headache. I think the three days were extremely helpful especially for new Cluster Coordinators who are about to transition into the role. I now feel extremely confident that they will be able to grasp what their job entails and not feel overwhelmed knowing that the COM team is here to support them, their fellow Cluster Coordinators are here to lend a hand and that although the workload may seem a little heavy at times, the organization is behind them 100%.

As I return to my cluster, I feel very confident in moving forward in my role and am excited to implement some of the positive changes and improvements we discussed. I really feel they will continuously benefit not only the cluster but also our entire team individually in their project management skills.

Jazzmine (Canada)

Bikaner Cluster Coordinator


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Working in India: you reckon yourself flexible enough?

 “It happens, it will happen again. It’s complex, it’s India.” ~Mr B

Hai, my name is Bruno. One of my strengths is that I’m flexible: I easily adapt to new environments, I am able to blend into unfamiliar cultures and lay contact with people unknown.” At least.. that is how I used to reflect upon myself. ‘Self-reflection’: a major aspect in my studies ‘Regional Development and Innovation’. Flexibility.. I’ve never been so wrong.

I arrived in India somewhere in the beautiful month of February. The flexible me myself and I had no troubles with the ten-hour bus drive from Delhi (Kashmere Gate) to Dharamsala, nor finding this Kashmere Gate by metro from Delhi airport. I just asked around and found kind people to help me. One of the first things I encountered and understood from India: helpful people, noted.

I arrived to Naddi with the biggest plans one can ever imagine. Waste management: creating systems, what could be so difficult about that? Getting the right stakeholders together, creating a value chain, monitoring some, and *POOF* gone waste problem. You’re welcome. I have never been so wrong; second time.

Cause in India it’s not only the case that (local) governments do not act on at least trying to solve this problem, waste management itself is a quite unfamiliar and unrecognised concept in Indian society. People’s knowledge on importance of preserving their environments is kind of.. nihil: absent.

So there Bruno Lauteslager, first-of-his-name, stood in the middle of India. With a ‘placement plan’ written for his studies; consisting of learning objectives and achievements to come. A week after arrival I understood that nothing was going to be like expected. This placement plan was of no value anymore and could be thrown away. Time to get flexible: Indian style.

I arrived in Rait, 40 minutes away from Dharamsala. A picturesque village somewhere situated in Northern India. At time of my arrival, Rait Centre was at setting-up stage. Although the centre had existed for a couple of months, some projects had not started yet. SWASH was one of these not-existing projects.

My time here in Rait summarised: after writing a GENUIS project proposal in which my MASTERPLAN on SWASH: Waste Management in Rait was documented, me and my partner-in-crime Ethan Donovan first-of-his-name researched on waste pick-up possibilities. If we could create a system from Rait to e.g. Kangra dumpsite or Dharamsala dumpsite we would only have to connect with shopkeepers or households in Rait. Well, you; dear reader, feel it coming: creating this system was not possible at all.
P1090041Together with these findings and understandings came major changes in the project. First of all: this was not going to be a plain ‘dumping system’ anymore. ‘Waste as resource’ would be the new motto. Or rather: forget about waste: the project had just changed to RESOURCE MANAGEMENT. This also meant: screw your proposal which you have worked on for a week or so, India has just changed your plans boy. And that is where the flexible me, and my perfectly written project proposal both went our own ways.

Well okay, nice and all Bruno, but who is involved in your ‘resource management system’ nowadays? –Very interesting, thanks for questioning dear reader. Right now I am working with 6 shopkeepers. At first ‘households’ was aimed for: this target group changed to shopkeepers –be flexible-. These shopkeepers have agreed on collecting their waste rather than throwing or burning it, and even have to categorise it. However, by the end of the day, if one of the three bins is filled with a combination of soft-plastics, paper, and recyclables, don’t forget to -..be flexible..-. In a meeting at the end of a week, whilst dear respective manager Mr B fires ideas for 20 minutes –stay calm and have your mind BE. FLEXIBLE.-

And then, after your internship at EduCARE India; having experienced to develop and execute in a complex project management setting, you may ask yourself the question: ‘will I ever be able to get back to ‘normal’ project management’ again?

–I doubt it.

Bruno Lauteslager (Netherlands)

Complex project manager SWASH,

Rait Centre


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Coping with Chaos

This past week, the Bikaner cluster had to say a tearful goodbye to a wonderful intern who has been staying with us over the past four months, Lachlan Alexander. A spunky Australian with a wonderful personality, great beard, mind full of creative ideas and wisdom and a huge heart. While Lachlan has been here, he has been working on the MPAT survey (a survey created by IFAD) helping our cluster measure the levels of poverty in the migrant community of Gajner, Indra Colony, to help better our on-going projects taking place within the community and also to help us learn what new programs and projects could, and would, benefit the community. His research and work with the survey has led him to building strong relationships and adorable friendships with many of the families in the colony, specifically the young boys living there.

There are more than 250 children living in Indra Colony and somehow Lachlan found a way to meet almost all of them, and remember their names! This has been extremely beneficial for our after-school program, ASP, which runs in Indra Colony on Wednesday’s around five o’clock in the afternoon. During this time, all the interns in the Gajner center engage children of the migrant community to play games such as cricket, soccer or frisbee. Our overall goal with ASP is to integrate children from all the colonies of Gajner, no matter what class, caste, religion and gender, and engage them in fun and innocent activities where they can all interact with one another. And so far, we’ve been extremely successful in doing so.

Lachlan’s last day with the cluster was May 14th and as a gift to the community, he decided to throw a huge bash and invite all the families from Indra Colony and those he’s been working with from all around Gajner. Together we would spend one last evening dancing and laughing in the vacant lot next to the intern house and enjoy a huge feast cooked by our favorite Chef, Manoj. Although, from experience, we know when we plan something it usually doesn’t go as smoothly as we hope but somehow, although the day was extremely chaotic, it worked out to be the most perfect send off for Lachlan. Here’s how it all started:

Wednesday morning, we all awoke early to welcome our new intern, Laure, and Michelle from the human resources department who was coming to meet with all us interns and learn more about our projects and HR needs. While Mathilde and I attended the Young Women Association’s, YWA’s, morning English and Hindi class, Lea and Lachlan welcomed Laure and Michelle after a long night aboard a train from Pathankot (which was five hours late…as usual). Unfortunately YWA was cut short that morning due to an angry dog biting into Jazzmine’s flesh while accompanying a young one into her home. While Mathilde and Jazzmine rushed off for emergency rabies shots at the hospital, Lachlan and Michelle toured the community gathering those who were part of Lachlan’s survey project to head over to the ViKAS center, our office, for a presentation of the survey results.

Manoj began preparing the feast in the late afternoon, with the help of Mathilde and Lea, while the rest of us participated in the afternoon’s ASP activities in Indra. Now, the first part of ASP is to round up the kids (which can sometimes take an hour in itself). The colony is a giant square measured at about three kilometers in length and width. There are three separate paths we usually take to enter the community, with rows and rows of houses on each with tons of children to gather. On average there are about 3 – 4 children per home therefore making the “round up” the most challenging part of Wednesday’s ASP. We all split up gathering as many children as we could and with luck on our side, we were able to bring out a crowd of about 30. Lachlan led a cricket match with some of the boys, Michelle led a Frisbee game and Laure and I led a dance-a-thon/tickle fest with the little ones, which turned into an epic game of Simon-Says; a game where before each action you call out, you say “Simon says”. The children are to follow suit for every action unless you make a command without saying “Simon says”. If they follow the action when you haven’t said, “Simon says” they are out. Unfortunately this was a little hard to explain in broken Hindi so it just turned into the “Do Everything that Jazzmine says” game, which is exactly how we managed to get all 30 kids from Indra Colony to walk, run and dance all the way to our home at the other end of Gajner, about a 3-kilometer walk in the blistering heat.

As we approached the house, while the kids chanted “Lachy! Lachy!” (their adorable nickname for Lachlan) I started to think “man, I’m thirsty…and so are these thirty kids!” I sat the kids down outside our house and grabbed a small metal jug from inside our kitchen. Lining up the children, I poured water into their cupped hands as they raised them up to their lips and sucked the water spilling into their palms before it all dripped through the cracks of their fingers. After about five trips to the kitchen tap and back outside, I yelled over to Manoj “Manoj-ji, khana kitne badji hai?” Manoj, what time is food? “One hour,” he responded. Uh oh! Thirty kids verses four interns for another hour…what to do?! I busted out the Bollywood tunes. The girls immediately broke out into dance while Lachlan led the boys to the Panchayat field to start another cricket match. As more kids joined us, we moved into the back area of Manoj’s shop, spread out some blankets on the ground and opened a few boxes of puzzles. Michelle, Laure and I spent a whole hour saying “bahut accha!” “very good!” to every child that found two pieces that connected. It was quite hilarious. When food was finally ready, Manoj helped bring out the dining table from our house and a few benches from inside his shop. While Lachlan, Pradeep, a friend of ours from Gajner, and I coordinated where all the children would sit, grouping them in sets of 3, 4 and 5, the rest of the interns helped bring out huge platters of chana, dal, chawal, paneer, chapatti and papadum for each group of children. The children literally feasted while music played and laughter and giggles filled the air. The integration of the children was a huge success for us as a cluster as well, having such a large range of kids from different social and religious backgrounds come and eat, play and laugh together all due to the relationships built between them and the intern team, especially “Lachy”. We couldn’t help but smile while we ran around replenishing plates, patiently handing out sweets to thousands of hands reaching out at us and pouring water on sticky, gooey hands and little faces as they said their goodbyes and headed home to sleep off all the excitement.

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After another couple of hours of hosting more families, Lachlan opening gifts from the community and saying goodbyes, we collapsed into our chairs around the dining table laughing, smiling and reminiscing about how truly chaotic but incredible the day had been. We hadn’t expected everything to work out the way we wanted too and I think we wouldn’t have been prepared to do so even if we had. But somehow, seeing the smiles on those kid’s faces, and Lachlan’s, helped us push through a very sweaty day of cooking, dancing, running and cleaning. On that day, we truly learned how to cope with chaos. We loved it and we succeeded.

“Do you work this hard everyday?” – Michelle Fujisaki

Jazzmine (Canada)

Bikaner Cluster Coordinator

Gajner Centre

 

 


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Learning to adapt

 

Living in India comes with many challenges; I am constantly being pushed outside of my comfort zone and forced to adapt. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines adapt as changing your behavior so that it is easier to live in a particular place or situation. I think the ability to adapt is the most important characteristic in order to be successful here at Educare.

At home, I live in the comfort of a city that maintains a pretty constant 20- 28 degrees, bearing no humidity. I live on the coast and can feel the sprinkles of the ocean in the wind. I shower everyday. In fact, when it is really hot (about 30-35 degrees, which is not very often), I may even shower twice a day. Conversely, here in India I live in a rural village, far from the sea. The temperature ranges from 38-50 degrees every day. I wasn’t even aware temperatures like this existed, prior to living here. The humidity is sweltering and thick—the kind of thickness that makes it hard to breathe some days. My body is constantly wet and sticky and my face glistens with sweat during all hours of the day, like I just finished a 10km race.

But here I shower once every three-four days at maximum. I use less then half a bucket, about 5 plastic water bottles in total. Water is a scarcity here and water shortages occur on a daily basis. We have gone two days without water, though I am sure at some point we will go longer. But it is in those days without water, when you realize how critical water is to everything here. Cooking (we cook 3 meals a day here, and cooking requires water), flushing the toilet, brushing our teeth, cleaning our dishes to name a few. But we adapt. All the locals here live in these conditions, so we learn to. We use less water when we have access to it. We create systems to reserve and reuse water. For example we leave out buckets to catch rainfall and we reuse the water from our laundry and our dishes to flush the toilet. And we shower with minimal water, only when we really start to smell. We are constantly aware of our consumption. And after four days in thick, 46-degree heat, when we finally take our bucket showers, (even if 5 minutes later we are coated in sticky sweat) that first pour of the water on hour heads revives us.

Our cluster is also very rural. The closest city is a 1-hour bus ride. We have to walk 20 minutes to the “downtown” area of our village, which consists of a few small shops that sell Indian sweets and pakora, and three vegetable stands. If we want to cook pasta, we have to travel on the bus 30 minutes to get it. If we want Nescafe instant coffee, we travel on the bus 1 hour to the supermarket. If we want to eat at a restaurant, we travel 1 hour on the bus. In our town, there are three options for us to eat at if we don’t feel like cooking. The three dhabas sell some type of prantha, dal, or noodles.

We cook based on what is in season. That usually means for months at a time we eat some variation of the same 3-5 vegetables. This gets hard and people start to get sick of the food. But, we have to eat. So, we try to get creative and cook things in different ways. For example, maybe last night we had a mix veg with eggplant, zucchini, and tomato in Indian spices. Tonight, instead we will grill the eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes in coconut oil to create a more exotic and unique flavor. This way, it tastes like we are eating something different.

Whether there is a water shortage or we tired of the food—we adapt together. It is not necessarily always out of choice, but rather out of necessity. But we do it together. And we make jokes about it together. We lighten the mood about the situations by making jokes about foods we miss or about how good we smell without our showers. We are the only ones who are going through the same experience, so as we adapt we try to make jokes of the situations to create a positive mood and energy. We are bonded to those living with us through our shared experiences.

Being able to adapt, whether it is to the weather, the food, the lack of resources, the isolation, the language, the culture, or the inefficiency, is crucial to your success at Educare. But even more important, is creating an environment with your fellow Educare housemates that enables you to support each other, have fun, and make jokes about the crazy situations that ensue; this is crucial for your sanity.

Brittany (USA)

Punjab Cluster Coordinator

 


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Creating a successful internship

Living and working in Gajner has its perks and its challenges, especially when you are used to a big city like Toronto where you have unlimited space and privacy, and work and home life are completely separate.

When working with EduCARE, it’s important to think of yourself as a role model and a leader in the community, because you are. The moment you are accepted as an intern with EduCARE you are representing the organization, its values and helping develop a sustainable future for a complex and incredible grassroots organization. Now when I say complex, I mean it because the way EduCARE runs is actually quite simple. It’s the simplicity that makes it so complex but the simplicity is what makes it work.

Coming from a western country, you are always jumping through hoops to make projects possible. I come from an event management background and having worked with many NGO’s both in Canada and Ghana, I’ve found that I am always pushing people to do things, draining my energy to get things done and feel no sense of accomplishment when I’ve succeeded because what I had to do to make events, activities and projects possible, was completely forced.

And that’s what I love about EduCARE’s philosophy. We don’t want to push or force people to do anything they don’t want to do. By simply building trusting relationships, which I believe our cluster has done fantastically just by having chai with locals, engaging the community in activities and even just a namaste here and there in the streets of the bazaar, we have been able to start and grow our cluster projects.

The Bikaner cluster was founded in October 2014 and already we have our girls club which runs twice a week, our boys sports club that runs on Sundays, our after-school program which runs in two villages under the cluster (Gajner and Chandasar) on separate days of the week, our young women’s association which runs twice a week and our waste management project. Every single one of our projects came about organically based of the relationships interns built within the community. And trust me, the faces of each intern that has walked the streets of Gajner and Chandasar over the past eight months has made lasting impressions on each local and put a smile on every child’s face. By having patience and managing our time accordingly, we have been able grow the Bikaner cluster faster than we ever imagined in 6 months time.

I mentioned perks and challenges but I don’t want to scare you because they definitely balance each other out. India as a whole is one big community and if you’ve never been to India before, you will feel and understand this as soon as you step off the plane. Everyone you meet is as friendly as could be and will always be there to help you. You have the right to be cautious but there is more good than bad in this country and you will notice this within the first few hours of your arrival. People are curious, they want to know everything about you and they will learn to trust and like you almost instantly unless you give them a reason not too.

The challenges: India is like another world. Think of the plane you get on to arrive here as a space shuttle, taking you to a whole other universe. The culture, the food, the hospitality and the people are like nothing you have ever experienced before. Don’t be scared. Educate yourself on the customs of the country and be prepared to let go of simple things that you will learn to really value at the end of your internship. Like the freedom to wear what you want, but the clothing is so beautiful here this really shouldn’t bother you too much. Think of your home as your office and what is and is not office behavior. Personal challenges that you will be thankful for at the end of your internship include learning to live with a group of international interns, teamwork, personal motivation and goal setting. Then there’s the absence of good Canadian bacon and whole wheat bread, but you will work through it and come out stronger!

What you’re going to learn while living here is who are you, how strong you can be, how far you can push yourself to immerse in such an ancient and beautiful culture and most of all, patience. The best advice I can give you is 10 minutes Indian time is about an hour your time so let go. If it’s meant to be it will happen, and when you are passionate and enjoy working in community development trust me, it will happen. The love you put into your work will help you succeed. You can do it and your team is here to help you. When things don’t go your way, try something new and keep pushing yourself. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure makes you strong and helps you grow personally and professionally.

Well, good luck new intern! Don’t be afraid to try new things and fail multiple times. And lastly, get ready for an adventure of a lifetime both in the community and on your weekends off exploring this incredible India.

Sincerely,

Jazzmine Raine Lawton

Bikaner Cluster Coordinator

ASP Program Coordinator

YWA, SWASH and ASP Project Manager


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A different perspective on India

Traveling to a new country is always a different experience, but when coming to a developing country to live in a rural village and work in community development is an entirely new experience. I have previously lived in India for around 2 years, so I thought I new a lot about the culture and values and what to expect when once again I was set to live here.  Unlike my previous experiences, this time I was coming to India to do an internship with EduCARE India for 5 months working in sustainable living and waste management.   I knew it was going to be a different experience from my past experiences in India but I didn’t know just how different.

Of course I had some ideas of what I was going to do and how the life was going to be working in India, but that was all thrown out of the window when I arrived and got into work. I realised that I didn’t know anything about what it is like working here and this experience has opened my mind to what India really is like on a deeper level.

What I previously believed from what I had read, saw, experienced, perceived and heard through people’s stereotypes, etc – I found that all of those ideas were totally different to my new life in India. One such thing that I noticed was the concept of money vs relationships in the way that business owners interact with me. For example, when business owners think that I am a tourist their focus is to make money off me because they think I won’t be around for very long. Business owners that see that I am living here focus on developing a relationship with me, and so charge me a fair price so that I keep coming back.

Another aspect I have noticed is the level of honesty that I get from the locals. For example, when traveling, locals tend to be less honest with me because they know that we might never see each other again and I probably don’t understand the interaction of locals and their behaviours. However, when they know that I am staying for a long time and working with community members, they tend to be more honest with me over time because they know I am here every day and I understand the local behaviours. But not only that, I find that the more trust I have with some community members the more honest they are with me.

These are some of the main observations I found when I came to India to work for EduCARE. Because I have travelled and lived in India for a few years before, I thought I knew most things about the culture, life styles, beliefs, etc. I have now realised that India is such a big country and the people are different everywhere you go, and that you can just cross to another state and it will be like a totally different experience again.  So you can’t really every make any assumptions or think you know everything, because the next moment something totally contradictory can happen.

20150329-Educare004My time with EduCARE has changed me, in the way that I think about problem solving, how I interact with Indian business people, how I think about travelling, and how I see the lives of all different types of people. It has also made me consider how I will live my life combining work and travel. Therefore my biggest advise for new interns is that even if you have travelled to India before, come with an open mind and very few pre-conceived ideas.  Because when working here life is very different and every environment is so diverse and unique.

Ethan (Australia)

Sustainable housing and Waste Management Project Manager

Rait centre


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Adjusting to India

India is an amazing place with diverse environments and dialects and a peculiar and strong culture. A lot of the aspects of the Indian life may barely show to the tourists passing by, but living and working several months in a rural location will definitely pull you inside the reality of the Indian world.

Sometimes you may have to cope with behaviors that can appear senseless to the eye of a foreigner. Even more, your actions will be observed and judged on the basis of the beliefs of the local people you work with, so it is important that you constantly observe and shape your attitude in order not to create uncomfortable situations.

One of the biggest challenges I faced during my internship was to host a local family in our house for about two weeks. As is in other cultures, hosting duties are particularly important in India. In fact guests are sacred and treated with a respect and reverence that could appear exaggerated to the eye of a westerner. For instance, water and food have to be given to the guests and just when they are finished with their meal the hosting family can start to eat. This and other habits are common practice and it has been a surprise for us to realize that being on the other side, our guests were expecting us to act in such a way.

I believe that if you want to come and work in this environment you have to keep your mind open and be ready to be challenged. India has quite a conservative culture and for instance, some attitudes that are considered acceptable in the west side of the world are banned here. Public smoking, drinking or dressing inappropriately are taken quite seriously and there is not much someone can do apart from trying to give the best image of him/herself and therefore of the organization.

Being ready to change your point of view and not pushing your thoughts on other people lives, this I believe is the key of adaptation. If you are ready to do so you will have a great experience, your life will change and you will be empowered to work in the most effective way and achieve the best for your project.

Matteo (Italy)

Fun Club Project Manager

Punjab cluser


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Implementing a Waste Management System in Gajner

I came to the Bikaner cluster to improve the way they manage waste in the village of Gajner. When I arrived I saw garbage everywhere; trash in the street, in the river and people throwing waste at their feet without consciousness.

At first I had plenty of ideas but I soon learned that in this community, time is necessary. People work with you when they know and trust you. Especially as foreigners, we really have to integrate ourselves with the community in order to be welcomed. And this work, community engagement, is the most time consuming and the most important.

I run my project with a fellow intern named Jazzmine who arrived in Gajner before me and introduced me to the village. She did the initial research about the actual situation in Gajner and together we started the waste management project.

When spending time in the community, it is important to be accepted, it is also necessary to observe and understand their culture and their way of life. To implement a project without understanding the needs of the people is not sustainable. I understood that I couldn’t use systems already in place in my western country here; I had to use their knowledge, their ideas and their tools.

I realized that people care a lot about health but they don’t see the link between trash everywhere and health problems. A lot of work regarding awareness and education needs to be done here.

As a first step, we thought the best way thing to do was to get community members involved in the project, which included starting to work with Manoj, a shopkeeper and friend, who sells juice, samosas and soda. We placed bins to separate waste and ads in his shop. Manoj was happy to comply and excited to work with us on the project.

The next step was to have someone to get rid of the waste. In the village, there are trash-pickers who buy waste from families and sell it in Bikaner for recycling purposes. We met one of the local trash pickers, Mulchand, and started a great working relationship with him. We also involved his kids in our After-School Program and spent time with his family to get to know them, as well as surveying them with our MPAT survey project. Now, starting a new work relationship is not easy: we go through a lot of frustration and disappointment. It is rare that meetings happen at the right hour and everything takes a lot of time. Fortunately Mulchand helps get rid of all the waste and the wet waste and soft plastic that aren’t worth much, he disposes for us in the city dump. The relationship between Mulchand and Manoj is also extremely positive and Mulchand now comes every two weeks to pick up all the trash in the shop.

My work now is to keep following how Manoj and Mulchand work together, to improve the communities knowledge about health, and finally to extend the project to other shops. The road leading to a clean Gajner is still quite long but it is a great feeling to see a project running sustainably.

Lea (France)

SWASH Project Manager

Gajner centre


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