Category Archives: Internship Experiences

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To chai or not to chai, there is no question

This is a love story. A love story that started on a cold February day in Naddi.

First minutes of my internship. I just arrived in the place. My first time in India, and everything is new and exciting. The weather is grey and cloudy, but who cares I am in my new home for the next seven months. There is something familiar in the white peaks in can see between the clouds. Even the air reminds me of my beloved Swiss mountains.

The bumpy road and the trash along the street are not familiar, though. Good, I am here for solid waste management. And there is definitely some work to do.

I try to decide if Naddi is colder than the twenty centimetres of Swiss snow that I just left or not. It is not, but still quite chilly, even more for India. What I didn’t took into account is that there is no such thing as house isolation, nor central heating. Paper fin windows, and freezing air blowing right under your nose in your bedroom. Add buckets of water falling on your head every single day for a month, and you have the perfect combination to be eternally cold.

Except if you have something to warm your body and spirit. Except if you can say to you are working while taking this something.

So, here I am.

At Naddi’s main square. The name is quite strange: it is the only square of the village. And, it is shaped like a bodybuilder banana buffed by hormones. Not main, but single. Not square, but banana.

Then, one of my fellow intern ask me in his broken English this very simple question that will change the rest of my stay here:

– Want chai?”

Eventually, someone would have asked it, of course. I might have taken just a few minutes more. Maybe a couple of days. Still, I had set foot in my new home for a couple of minutes, and there it is, the life-changing question. Drinking chai in Naddi’s main square. It is now a daily habit. To the point that when I don’t come one day without previous notice, a shopkeeper will call me, asking what’s going on.

I heard of this beverage before my coming, of course. It is quite trendy in some fancy coffee shops at the moment. Some kind of tea with a lot of milk, some unknown, exotic spices. And sugar. Lot of it. And this is where western chai is failing: the sugar to liquid ratio is way too low. By at least a couple of spoons per cups.

The best is when the top part of your chai cools off and a skin forms itself on top of this small piece of paradise. Then, you can drink it in one good sip can. Or just eat it. As you wish. I am a sipper, but I won’t judge you. Under the first – and quite dominant , let’s be honest – sugary taste, you will find a pinch of spices. That what’s make a good chai. No spices and you have been fooled. This is no chai. It is tea. And tea is boring.

Chai comes served in small cups. So small, that by the time they are finished, you just want another one. That’s where the evilness of it is. Those tiny little things can never fill my insatiable appetite for chai. So, I have to keep drinking over and over.

I just didn’t realised when I had my first cup at Omi’s Cafe on this cold morning that it would become part of my daily life in India. That I would drink so many of them, that I could not even count if I wanted to. You don’t ask yourself how many cup of water you drank in your life. Well, don’t ask me how many chai I had. You will embarrass me and yourself. Me, because you will pinpoint my addiction. And you because, obviously, you are not addicted yet if you ask this silly question.

No chai before noon is usually the sign of a bad day. Four is the average, and eight is definitely the tipping point. Where my stomach can’t handle all the sugar and milk anymore. And this line is often crossed.

That’s one of the many reason why I will Indian trains. You don’t have to get up to have your chai. Some random man will wake you up by yelling at six in the morning the sacred words: “Chai! Chaii! Chaii!” in this very particular singing voice that street sellers have all over the world.

The revelation came just a few days later, during my first day of work on the field. Olivia, my lactose-intolerant colleague, and I went to the shopkeepers of Naddi to have our first trash talk.

First shop, first chai. We continued to the second one. Same deal, another chai. While we get out, I could see Olivia look at the main square with despair: there is still four shops to visit. And then we have to go to the rest of the main street. She knew that her stomach will not be able to handle all this milk, and she was too polite to refuse. And even when she tried, the locals didn’t care at all.

Good thing that I love it. It is actually part of my job. I spend most of my days bounding with shopkeepers, trying to build a relationship, and gain their trust. And they happen to drink a lot of chai. And refusing would be impolite, right? Drinking chai is not an option in this line of work.

A chai on the side in the main square, and I had the most important conversations for my project. Not because of the beverage on itself, of course. But because it meant spending at least ten good minutes of casual talking with someone. And, when you spend enough time, asking the right questions, people will cut the crap at some point, and tell you the real deal.

Recently, I have been asked what qualities should have the person who will replace me in a few months. Loving chai is the first of them. And maybe the only one. The rest will follow.

Elliott (Switzerland)
SWASH Project Coordinator
Naddi, Himachal Pradesh


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Four Tips for Living in India

Living and working in Gajner, a small Rajasthani village, has been amazing so far for me. It is a complex, incredible and intense experience. The surroundings can be a little startling at first, so being prepared can help you overcome the cultural shocks and quicken your adjustment. Here’s a list of ideas to begin your preparation.

Build relationships : Here, in Gajner, each person lives with their heart on their sleeve. They are very kind and warm and will quickly invite you inside their home to have chai, eat food and look at their family photos. Take time to do that because it shows them you care and it builds trust!

We have been working really hard to establish great relationship with the locals and one way to do it is to spend as much time as possible with them outside your formal project goals and objectives. Even if they are not directly linked to your project, everyone knows everyone here, so once you have been invited somewhere and showed kindness, the good word will go fast. I personally found it amazing to do so because you always learn something interesting about them, about the community and the culture.

When people acknowledge you in the streets, do the same ! Even if someone is passing by without saying Namaste, I find its always good to say those 3 syllables because even a small gesture like that will put a smile on both of your faces. Again, people are very kind here, so you will always get a response. People will not ignore you like they might in your home country.

Try to find common interests: family is always a good way to break the ice as family here in Gajner is highly valued. Be expected to have people asking you « Are you married ?» during the first exchange, of « Namaste »! While it seems a strange question, marriage is extremely important here so don’t be offended. People are very curious about why you’re here, what you do with your life, which country you’re come from, if you have any brothers and sisters, etc.

Learn to let go : In India, the concept of time has a whole different meaning. Things take more time to start here. You can have your schedule and plans ready to go but something out of your control will often occur, disrupting all your plans and sending you back to square one.

When something does not happen your way, which will happen, you will definitely get frustrated. Do not worry, this is normal and every intern goes through this. You will feel that you are not accomplishing anything, you will question your capacity and ability to do things, and even your purpose here. But, take a step back, persevere, re-plan and understand that there’s always a solution.

This is also where the process of building relationships is absolutely critical. The more you spend time with a family, the more you will understand what their priorities are. If something was planned and did not happen, it is NOT because they do not want it. It might be because something more important might have come up or for another reason such as a misunderstanding, etc. But, never take it as an offence ! People highly respect that you are here and regard you as a role model. They will always want to please you, so do not make them feel guilty if something did not happen your way.

Be mindful of the local’s perception of you: Gajner is a very traditional village and before us, people had never seen many westerners except for the locals who work at Gajner Palace (touristic attraction/hotel) and those who watch Hollywood movies. Being highly out-going and talkative is a good thing in our own country but here you should use some restraint. Living in Gajner takes some discretion. Your body language is very important and should be respectful at all times. As for your clothes, same rules apply throughout India. For women cover your shoulders and no skirts and no shorts above the knees for both genders.

Learn Hindi : I found it always useful wherever I go to learn a bit of the language of my host country. But, here in Gajner it will serve you well as not a lot of people speak English. It will help you to interact with people but most importantly it will show them that you care and that you are making great efforts to adapt. They are always happy when you attempt to speak in Hindi. This also reinforces trust.

There is a lot of advice I could give you, but I found these points the most important and you will learn more during your stay in Gajner. After all, being an intern with EduCARE is all about experiential learning. So come, experience and learn !

 Mathilde (France)

Women’s empowerment Project Manager

Gajner centre

 

 

 

 

 


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Every word counts

Working in unprivileged contexts has always been a challenge to me for many different reasons:

The sense of guilt for have been luckier than these people (that is also the guilty of being born in the “wealthy West”);

The doubts and thoughts about which are the real needs of the people and which is the real utility of my work and my presence there;

With every concern about dealing with a different culture, there is also the fear of being disrespectful;

The awareness of the fact that I am going to leave but they won’t;

And a feeling of complete powerlessness in the face of some vulnerable situations.

So the questions are: is it possible to find an alternative way to remove this powerlessness? And how?

And furthermore, if there is no way to achieve that alternative strategy, how is it possible to accept that situation?

Recently, one of the girls we are working with told us that she is victim of domestic violence.

Her parents want to marry her very soon but she knows she is too young to marry (she’s underage) and she’s aware that she is more educated than her parents and that she can build a different future for herself.

Her strength of saying no to the parents makes her the victim of violence from her own mother and father.

We know that we can do very little for this smart young girl, so we are trying to figure out an alternative way to deal with this problem.

But can we?

In the depth of my heart I know I’m completely powerless in front of this situation.

And even if I tell myself that I’ve done the best I could do for that person, in the end it’s more like an excuse because I want to feel better, I want to believe that I did something for her. And maybe I really did. But I’m still powerless because in the end she has to make the decision and I can’t control her parents.

This said, I still believe that anytime two persons connect with each other, something happens. I can say maybe just one word and in that word she can find herself in a new world, in a new way of thinking.

When I feel powerless, I like to think that no action has gone wasted anyway because even if I plan, organise and prepare for the worst, I can never know which word of what I say that can perhaps enable people to discover new things.

Every word counts.

Every action counts.

Ester (Italy)

Punjab

 


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Arriving in India

Before even arriving in India, I had many problems with getting my Indian visa. At this stage, I thought “Is it that India does not want me or what? ” But finally, after all I journeyed to Paris, excited to begin a beautiful day of long transport – meaning three aircraft, a taxi and a little walking.

I think I am someone who has already traveled a little bit, and saw many things. Yet when I arrived in Naddi, I knew that I had never seen anything similar. Initially, the heat is surprising, but only for a small time. What is most striking is the amazing view from the village.

Induction begins  the moment  I meet the family who welcomes me to stay for a week. This is the family of Pooja with Shika, Mom and “Uncle” (Dad). They are lovely people who did not hesitate to give me their room to sleep in, as they crammed themselves into the other room. At dinner, the menu is very simple (and good!): dal-rice, lentils and rice, which is often accompanied by a light curry sauce. Even full, you will take another plate! Overall, the food in India is excellent. Though taste is subjective, it’s quite hard to deny just how delicious the food is. I must say, however, as tasty as the food may be, it is somewhat difficult to eat potato curry for breakfast. But it is still very good!

Besides the food, induction week served as an opportunity for the new interns to learn more about the operation of EduCARE. Induction also provided insight on cultural differences, comparing India to our respective countries as well as others. Workshops are facilitated by other EduCARE interns, making discussions much more open and spontaneous, which also distinguishes this organisation from the traditional work environment.

To mention the most significant experience during this week of integration, Fun Club was an amazing moment. Looking back, I find myself still excited as I write these lines. We began by retrieving the kids from the village and then bringing them together. We played cricket, football, and improvised with other games. Initially, the kids were quite shy; however, soon enough, they began asking for my name. Next came the invitation for me to play with them. Fun Club ended in a grass battle, which I lost. After which, we took each child home.

funclub

In a few words, this is what emerged from my first week of induction and integration in EduCARE.  I encourage you to come and live it yourself!

Johann (France)

Alternative energies Project Manager

Rajasthan cluser


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The crazy experience of India

For every beautiful thing I can say about India and my experience here I can also say an ugly thing. It has been such a whirl wind experience, from having people in Delhi over-charge me simply because I was a foreigner, to having a complete stranger with very little English hand over his phone to me to make a phone call. In every situation there are ups and downs. I don’t know what it is about India or if it’s simply me but this has been a romance that I know will never end.

Yet despite the challenges in dealing with India itself, or dealing with work related issues I look forward to each day as a new adventure. It’s true what they say, change your thinking and your environment will also change. A change in perspective really is all it takes. I learn this every day at work and in India.

Coming to India I thought I was ready for anything because I’ve lived in Haiti so I figured nothing could really shock me. Boy was I wrong. I learned that my first night at the family homestay. I was greeted by this local girl name Sunita, very nice young lady, she didn’t seem that much different than I was and the house was small yet charming and cozy. So I asked to use the bathroom she points to 2 rooms and mumbles something. So the first door I opened, my mouth dropped. I thought to myself oh she was pointing to the other door; I need to pay better attention. So when I opened the second door it was clear to me that it was a shower. I was not ready for that surprise at all.

Dude it’s a HOLE IN THE FLOOR with a foot stool.

Squat toilet!                                                                                             

That was the first time I wondered what I was doing here and I didn’t realize it was an indicator of what was to come. Everything is to the extreme. Anything from cow poop mixed with mud filled stairs to beautiful mountain views that you cannot get anywhere else. Here in India you may not have water in your apartment to brush your teeth or flush the toilet but you wake up to such a beautiful sunrise that you forget what’s actually happening. And if you wait patiently enough water comes back. Patience is a must here. At work I can go from being totally lost and questioning whether my work matters or what exactly am I supposed to be doing, to feeling energised and rewarded by my work. Through it all the magic that seems to be alive everywhere here keeps you going. You learn that if you are truly present in each moment things will work out. Patience is key.

For everything that is beautiful within my experience the opposite is also true.

But I love it; I guess that is the point to it all…

Beauty is everywhere if even in the filth, you just have to look for it.

Namaste

Whitney (Haiti/USA)

Eco Volunteer Travel Coordinator

Naddi centre


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Avoiding culture shock

Before coming to India, everyone told us about culture shock, everyone was worried how we would manage differences in behaviors, food, weather, work environment…

We did not read 1000 books about India before coming, we did not speak with 100 Indian people or past EduCARE interns and yet we did not really experience any hard culture shock. How is that possible?

We believe that the most important thing to avoid culture shock is to prepare your mind. You must know that everything will be different from home, you must keep in mind that you cannot have the same expectations as in your home country. Being prepared first and foremost means being open minded. If you know before coming that you will experience something special and unique, that some things will please you as much as some will not, the culture shock will be less difficult.

The most important thing seems to be able to say: “yes I am going to India, yes it will be hard but I will manage by being open-minded, resourceful, and ready to learn and change my habits.”

You do not need to know everything about the Indian culture – and there is no way you would be able to know everything – but you need to know your limits, what you are or not ready to accept.

Culture shock is not always a bad thing, by facing challenges and specific situations you will learn more about yourself that you could possibly imagine! Culture shock is real, but it is up to you to get something positive out of it.

Claire and Manon (France)

Punjab cluster


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Pooping in India

Before coming for a 6-month internship in India, you have a lot of preconceptions, fears and questions, and one of the biggest ones includes: what are the toilets like in India? What you usually hear in Western countries is that Indians use squat toilets and don’t have toilet paper. But sometimes you hear worst, like I did: that they practice open defecation.Then I arrived in India. Indeed I had to deal with the squat toilet, but in lots of restaurants, hostels and even in some family homes, I could find western toilets. But it is true: apart from hotels, there is usually no toilet paper available. So during my first week, one of my first concerns was to find toilet paper and never run out of it. I had to look for it every day or two.It was stressful. Usually you can only find single rolls that sell for about 40 rupees each. Then I finally got to my cluster in the rural village of Gajner, located in Rajasthan. With my housemates we bought toilet paper regularly in Bikaner, a city about the 45 minutes away from the village. In India you don’t throw toilet paper down the toilet since the pipes are quite small so we had to burn it and we had to burn it often. Meaning, every day or two we were dealing with bags and bags filled of soiled toilet paper that we had to dispose of in a metal bin outside of the house and set fire to, making the entire area smell horrible. I actually had to deal with one huge bag from our last quarterly meeting where all 30-plus interns were in our house. This bag had stayed weeks on the roof and was soaking wet from rainfall, among other things. It was a very horrible experience…

Toilets in India will always have access to water, either a tap located next to both a squat or Western toilet, or a little sprayer that looks like a shower head (this may sound hilarious but it is very true). I finally got to a point where I was comfortable using the sprayer and avoiding toilet paper when I urinated. Although sometimes your pants and underwear get wet from the sprayer or from using water to clean yourself, it really wasn’t and still isn’t an issue. Plus, it is over 40 degrees in Rajasthan most days. Even your sweat will dry instantly.

One day myself and my fellow interns in Gajner found ourselves arguing over toilet paper,“don’t use too much paper”, “be careful: it is expensive”, “nobody but me thinks to burn it”. To be short: toilet paper was becoming a source of tension. Eventually, we ran out of paper and we were not able to go to the city to buy more. No exit, we stared at each other… there was no choice, we all had to poo and our only option was water. The first few times were quite challenging but then we all got used to it. Finally, no more toilet paper to burn! AND the feeling of being super fresh and clean after each poop is awesome! I now wonder how I will do in France without my little spray shower. I can’t imagine going back to wasting all that toilet paper.

toilet2

So have no fear, we’ve all been in your shoes and look at us now: pooping with no paper…welcome to India!

Lea (France)

SWASH Project Manager

Gajner centre, Rajasthan


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