After a few days at Dilasa, my initial anxiety/stress/general nervousness about going to India has been somewhat eased. While it won’t go away at least until most of the workshop is done, I don’t feel like a TOTAL fish out of water anymore. Still getting stared at, still not understanding a word (I can read numbers though!!), but at least I am getting used to it.
I didn’t really give a great background on what I am doing here and what Dilasa – the organization that I am working with – does. So here is a more in-depth description for the few interested:
1. “Rosa, why the heck are you going to India in the middle of monsoon season??” Well, you curious chap, first of all, that’s the cooler season to visit! That’s actually a fun fact I didn’t realize – the rains bring some relief to India’s heat, including strong breezes, and turn the country green. But, what I am really doing here is facilitating a 5 day workshop (hopefully with two sessions, so for a total of two weeks of workshopping) thanks to the very generous funding of the Social Innovation Public Service Fund, a student-led program at Georgetown University that supports innovative ventures that have a social impact and serve the public good. Grants from the SIPS Fund are made possible by an endowment fund at Georgetown University provided by Georgetown students, and it’s an awesome opportunity to turn your summer/break/any time you would like to spend volunteering or working for a good cause into a funded reality. After being inspired by the India Innovation Studio course I took in the fall, I applied for a couple of grants and received this one to undertake the workshop I created on applying design thinking to water resource issues in villages. The original goal was to focus on reviving traditional water saving technologies, but the main focus has somewhat shifted to just demonstrating how design thinking works and having villagers apply it, since they certainly have a much better knowledge of water here than I do.
2. But Dilasa is really the highlight here and why my project has morphed a bit; they have been doing some incredible work and have already undertaken projects like installing rainwater harvesting tanks, building contour trenches/bunds/nallas, and change farming practices. What has most astonished me is the sheer breadth of the areas they work in. I originally thought Dilasa was mostly focused on farmer suicide prevention, but it really works with any project that can improve the socio-economic situation of rural Maharashtrians. Founded in 1993, Dilasa means “solace”, or “console”. It now does much more than that with 6 offices, 125 permanent staff, 200 field supervisors (direct liaisons with the villages), and programs in place in over 5,550 villages across the state. Dilasa has partnered with organizations and private companies ranging from the UN Development Programme, the World Bank, UNICEF, the World Wildlife Fund, Mahindra & Mahindra, United Breweries, Coca Cola, Oracle, and more. The dozens of projects they have executed, from corporate social responsibility projects to government sponsored plans, include 95 watershed projects, a rice intensification project, school camps, counseling for high school students, and organizing farmers’ producer organizations (cooperatives for farmers to group their produce so that they receive a higher market price). Dilasa has also been working on drought proofing villages, to hedge the risks of climate change. I don’t think I could speak more highly of the organization or its members.
So now you guys are updated. But, I also want to share what I have actually been doing instead of just what I’m supposed to do… here’s two lists to give you all insight on what I have been up to:
Things I’ve Learned (India Week One)
– A newspaper to wrap your samosa or other portably streetfood is a borsa, like the Italian word for bag (not sure if the subsequently added plastic bag was also borsa…)
– If you don’t have exact change to pay the man at the stall, a piece of chocolate instead of five rupees change will have to do for you
– Indian airports are the best place to be a woman: ladies get their own security line, and it’s always insignificant compared to the general line. Not sure what that tells you but…
– Cost of living is…remarkably low. At least on an American salary. My first night in Aurangabad, four of us had dinner at a nice and new place. Dinner included two soups, two large appetizers, a shared paneer tikka masala entrée, and breads for everyone. We spent a whopping $16 total. Did I mention the waiters literally don’t let you serve yourself and there’s a greeter at the door to welcome you?
– Indians (at least the ones I have gotten to know) eat even later than Italians – 9 is normal and 10 is not exceptional. It seems like their schedules are closer to Argentines’! That being said, the work day at Dilasa also starts later, past 10 and extends to 7 or so
– Speaking of work schedules, the good people of Dilasa have really dedicated their all to the cause. Aside from the normal 6 day workweek, one of my roommates went into work on Sunday and apparently has done so frequently lately!
Things I’ve Done:
– Seen so many things I have only learned about! Stepwells, rainwater harvesting tanks, check dams, and bunds. It’s really quite satisfying to see something you have only heard and talked about
– Planted some medicinal seedlings and been offered some ginger fresh from the field (an overlap with things I’ve learned: I never knew what a ginger plant looked like…)
– Ridden on somebody else’s tractor to be spared a muddy trail after a short spurt of monsoon rains
– Been given not one, but two, fresh bouquets of flowers from children in a village school I visited and saw Dilasa host a school camp for
– Witnessed intense, but silent, panic as I took a bite from a traditionally very spicy dish that my colleagues were afraid would make me cry (it wasn’t that spicy). People here are very worried about my well-being and astonished when I eat many different things or walk across a few fields (do they just think I’m super delicate, or all Americans/foreigners??)