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For Community-Driven Global Development

Family Forever: India Interns Go “Home”

Sometimes, it’s not just the work that’s sustainable. For former FSD interns Caroline Mulligan and Margie Muti, the relationships they built in Udaipur, India have endured as well.

A lifelong interest in Indian culture and community development led Caroline to Udaipur in 2016. Her major in Human and Organizational Development provided a strong framework for her work in resource conservation with FSD partner, Prayatna Samiti, which is devoted to the advancement of poor and rural communities through their own human capital.

While in Udaipur, Caroline worked in 11 villages and focused on water usage and conservation.  She researched and wrote an impact assessment report that laid the foundation for future projects.  “Lots of great work was going on,” Caroline says, “but Prayatna Samiti hadn’t done follow-up research that would inform the best use of resources in the future.” To this end, Caroline amassed hard data on the amount of water conserved and a per-month analysis of water and food availability. She also measured the effectiveness of women’s microfinance groups to determine their longitudinal effects and the number of people they reached.

Understanding that continued community outreach was key, Caroline also helped redevelop her partner’s website for greater navigability and eye appeal. To complement this, she also created a visual presentation to inform villagers of government programs that made monetary and nutritional resources available—one that is still in use today.

She knows this because Caroline was in Udaipur again last month—this time to attend the wedding of her host sister, Piyu, with whom she had grown especially close. Caroline stresses the importance of her host family in integrating her into life in India, and the deep connections she made.  “Although I was only in Udaipur for two-and-a-half months, I have a second family for life,” she notes.

In Udaipur, Caroline was joined by another former FSD intern, Margie Muto, who worked with Prayatna Samiti on a sustainable agriculture initiative.  Together, they aimed to combat the impacts that both climate change and corporate seed and chemical companies have on farmers’ ability to work with their land and produce reliable crops year after year. Rather than creating or introducing new practices, Margie and her team reminded farmers of approaches and techniques that have traditionally worked well and helped them make the changes that would allow them to implement these best practices. Along with fellow intern Kendall Kultgen, Margie talked to many farmers in the Bambora and Rawatpura villages in southern Rajasthan; they then created training manuals from those conversations to help farmers get back to natural farming methods that are both cost-effective and produce more abundant crops with greater longevity.  

The main recommendations in the training manuals the pair created focused on the use of products already on the area’s farms--specifically, items generally considered to be waste. For example, Vermi-Wash, composed of cow dung, water, coconut husks, worms, and broken bricks, can effectively be used as a natural fertilizer. Another treatment Margie and Kendall recommended was the combination of cow urine and cow dung as a natural pesticide.

While she had little free time on her return visit for her host sister’s wedding, Margie was able to meet up with her former supervisor at Prayatna Samiti to catch up on progress made since her visit--and to learn about the sustainability of her work. She tells us, “He was very positive about the work Kendall and I did as well as the implementation of those practices after we had left the program.”

As for the wedding itself, Margie has much to say. “An Indian wedding is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced: the colors, the beauty, the length, the celebration...everything was so meticulous and gorgeous. I was amazed (and still am) by how much goes into a Hindu wedding. We were involved with five days of the wedding, but it had started before we got there and smaller ceremonies would continue a week after we left. My significant other, Tyzok, and I were able to attend the Sangeet Ceremony, which was a night of music and dancing, where family members prepared special dances for the bride and groom, and guests would join in too. The following days consisted of separate ceremonies for the bride and groom so we were only at the bride’s home. We spent two days watching the traditions of a Hindu wedding come to life, and while we didn’t understand much of what was said, it was truly inspiring to see how each tiny moment had meaning--it was all very purposeful and expressive. The final day of the wedding was the most intense by far, starting with the ‘engagement’ in the morning, and finishing with the main wedding ceremony that went late into the evening. Again, every single step of the wedding was important and meaningful and fascinating to experience. Plus, we got to wear a different saree for every event, which was exciting and fun. Still, within my entire time back in Udaipur, there was nothing quite as nostalgic and special as sharing a cup of chai with Mama Sita.”

Caroline echoes the sentiment and advises that “This Indian wedding was a five-day affair,” she says.  “Days of feasts and dance lead up to the exchange of rings, and the groom actually enters on a white horse. I feel privileged to have been asked to stay in my host family’s house and to be part of this important event in my host sister’s life.”

While in Udaipur, Caroline was also happy to be reunited with the founder of Prayatna Samiti, Mohan Ji, and her closest supervisor, Darpan.  “I was glad to learn about how the projects I initiated have progressed since my internships, and how new projects are impacting the community,” she says. “It was especially gratifying to learn how Prayatna Samiti has been implementing the suggestions I provided, especially on land leveling and water conservation techniques. As well, the 50-page report is still being used by the organization, and my recommendations have been condensed into a guide that is still distributed to participants today.”

Caroline, who graduates from Vanderbilt University in May, has been awarded a fellowship with Lloyd’s of London.  She believes that hard finance skills will abet her enormously in her future work, be it in an academic or organizational setting. “Whatever the future holds,” she says, “the work I did and relationships I forged as part of the FSD experience will always be an important part of my life.”