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For Community-Driven Global Development

Voices from the Field: Ariel Maschke on Orange Slices and Culture

Voices from the Field: Ariel Maschke on Orange Slices and Culture

By Ariel Maschke


During the Summer of 2011, Ariel participated in the Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI), a Group Engage partnership model between the Foundation for Sustainable Development and Northwestern University. GESI is a unique credit-bearing program that combines intensive asset-based community development coursework with 8 to 10 weeks of team-based fieldwork with one of FSD’s community partners in Bolivia, India, Nicaragua, and Uganda.

I always thought of the moon sliced up like an orange cut down the middle, each vertical piece of fruit a perfect crescent moon. But in Udaipur, India I learned the moon can sit horizontally. As an FSD/GESI intern, I spent the summer at one of Udaipur’s oldest and largest NGOs, Seva Mandir. While Seva Mandir’s commitment to “democratic and participatory development” manifests in myriad program areas including education, women’s empowerment, youth development and social enterprise, I worked in Seva Mandir’s health department. Specifically, my GESI team of three worked alongside Seva Mandir’s Community Care Center (CCC), a HIV/AIDS clinic providing clinical and counseling support to local patients.

In collaboration with CCC clinicians, my team traveled through the Udaipur countryside interviewing approximately a dozen “dropout patients,” or patients who had missed their last CCC appointment and thus not refilled their prescriptions, to learn more about patients’ barriers to access, regimented care, and stable health. Our interviews culminated in a report that identified several major reasons for dropout, including unpleasant side effects from medication, switches to private care, lack of access to transportation, inability to miss work, and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.

Knowing that our team could not make inroads on some of the larger systematic concerns in our remaining weeks, we looked for a smaller-scale opportunity to engage. From our interviews and conversations with CCC staff, we knew that many people also struggled to keep track of their weekly medications, leading to inconsistent care and health outcomes; thus our team and CCC supervisor, Hardeep, developed the idea of a pillbox and chart system to help patients self-monitor their consumption. We created prototypes with minimal Hindi, using suns and moons to denote day and night, as the clinic’s target population was largely illiterate. When we presented the initial drafts to Hardeep she seemed confused -- what is this shape next to the sun? We draw moons horizontally here. It had never occurred to us to draw the moon like a smile – a small difference with huge implications. The correction made, we set about testing our idea.

While parts of our project inevitably failed, my time with Seva Mandir taught me that equally important to the goals of development are the methods by which they are realized – that the process matters. And part of that process is the ability to leave your perceived understandings at the door.

Seeing that that small cultural nuance underpinned the success of our entire project made me realize that I have not yet (and never will) crack the code to cultural understanding -- there are so many more cultural insights I want and need to uncover to be a thoughtful and responsible partner in sustainable community development. Through the GESI program, the Foundation for Sustainable Development and Northwestern University opened my eyes to the value, intention and necessity of asset-based community development and ignited a life-long commitment to thoughtful international development work. I look forward to building upon these experiences in the future and continuing to learn about the relationship between oranges and smiles.