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For Community-Driven Global Development

Voices from the Field: Reflections on India

Here at Foundation for Sustainable Development, we are endlessly inspired by the knowledge, insight, and perspective that our many interns gain from all six of our sites spread across the globe. However, we are more recently intrigued to hear from the first round of interns that have just arrived home from their time spent working in Udaipur, India.

Known as the City of Lakes, Udaipur is set amidst a series of picturesque lakes in the northwest state of Rajasthan. Its stunning setting, mythical architecture, and rich history, Udaipur is a popular tourist destination; unfortunately, the city’s gaping wealth disparity means that the majority of the population suffers from a severe lack of supporting infrastructure. Since 2004, FSD has worked with organizations that form village level seminars, provide training programs, and organize human rights campaigns. These partner organizations work in the communities to establish local management committees, which generate awareness and encourage political and social change.

When the FSD 2017 interns arrived in Udaipur, their first impressions shed light on life in India and the work that we individually and collectively do.

Julia DiMaria, a psychology major at Northwestern University, recounts her initial observations and emotions following touching down in India. “Upon arrival, I felt overwhelmed - I am in a foreign culture, surrounded by people who do not speak fluent English and truthfully out of my comfort zone. I had an idea of what to expect, but did not want to let my preconceived notions get in the way… I am inspired by the NGOs we have visited in the last few days as they all started and are run by locals who know what the community needs”.

Rachel Epstein, a fellow Northwestern undergrad, expands upon these observations by offering her own first-hand account of ground-up development witnessed in Udaipur, India; “In the orientation presentations that we have had in the FSD office, I have continued to hear the same ideas that were stressed during predeparture in Chicago. We have heard again and again about how development must come from the community itself and how those working in development must be adaptable. Unlike in predeparture, however, we have had a chance to witness these ideas first hand. Overall, my time in India has made me more aware of how the way I live is not the only way to live. It has also made me more excited to begin my work with JJVS.”

JJVS (Jagran Jan Vikas Samiti), one of FSD’s partner organization and the location of Julia and Rachel’s internship, was founded in 1985 by a group of social workers in response to the poor socio-economic status of tribal communities in southern Rajasthan. The group dedicates its work to social and environmental justice issues through local self-help initiatives, tackling deeply rooted issues through improving the socio-economic condition of marginalized communities, Implement educational and health-based programs, and empower communities to participate in governmental development programs

Another intern from Northwestern University, Melissa Calica, spent the last several months interning with FSD partner, Jatan Sansthan. This organization strives to empower local youth by giving them a platform where they can freely express their concerns so to enhance active participation of youth in decision making, policy formulation and advocacy across various forums at national and international level. While Melissa finds value in the work she completed with Jatan, she is also taken with the friendships she made and lessons she learned; “The best part of this experience so far has been the people I have met. The workers through Jatan and FSD are so knowledgeable and helpful that I only wish I could return every favor, but I guess I have a couple of months to work hard and devote my skills and energy to help the organization. From here forward, my goals are to learn and grow in this experience until the unfamiliar feels familiar and not to be afraid to make mistakes.”

David Guirgis, also from Northwestern, provides thoughtful insight into his physical and mental transformations after arriving in Udaipur, India; “I think I might have overestimated the power of Eat Pray Love. We’re all trying to find ourselves—or maybe it’s just people my age, or even just me—and the promises of that movie for my biggest struggle were nothing short of magical. But here I am in India, lost as ever. Granted, it’s been a week at most. I haven’t even started the work I’m about to embark on here, and I know that, at the end of these eight weeks, I’m going to come out different somehow. Change takes time, I’m hopeful I can learn that here. I’m hoping that the days I spend among the people I’m trying to help—the stories I can see and hear—will shape my own”

Julia, Rachel, Melissa, and David participated in FSD through Global Engagement Summit Institute (GESI) at Northwestern University and spent 8 weeks in India as part of a Group Engage model. To find out more about how you can participate in FSD and earn university credit through Northwestern, please visit the GESI website.