Mackenzie Berg

Mackenzie Berg (Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group): MacKenzie received her undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology. She then traveled and worked in several developing countries before entering the graduate program at University of Denver. After her fellowship, Mackenzie wrote: "The various opportunities that I had to actually meet, talk to and interact with the waste pickers in their communities were the best for me—this was the most real, the most valuable in terms of information gathered [not just data, but the chance to make observations about sights, smells, emotions, etc, involved with their lives that helped me to understand their points of view and experience]."

Attempts at preparation..

17 May

The past couple of months since I learned I had received this fellowship have been quite a blur, and as I approach the last three weeks to departure, life only continues to pick up speed.

I remember when I found out I had been selected to work with Chintan in Delhi this summer– I was checking my email in a stranger’s apartment in Mexico City, during a spontaneous south-of-the-border jaunt for spring break– and how surreal it felt. Finally, after months of searching for opportunities and wondering about feeling adequately prepared for my upcoming graduation in the fall, something had come through.

I was beyond thrilled. When I interviewed for the position, it seemed too perfect– the project couldn’t have been more aligned with the course studies and interests I’d been delving into for the past several years of undergrad, travel, and now graduate school.
Not to mention, I would be visiting a place and experiencing a culture [actually, several cultures] that have intrigued me since I was a kid watching “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?

In that Mexico City flat, I did a little victory dance and realized that the summer ahead was about to get very real.

Since then, I’ve been trying to prepare myself mentally for the place and project that I’m soon to dive into. To be honest, it’s been a bit of a struggle.

In order to graduate early, I’ve doubled up on class credits each quarter, and as is usually the case with me, have committed myself to a schedule which is on the cusp of being unmanageable– or at least very conducive to sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, and random episodes of existential crisis.

In other words, I’ve been pretty frustrated about not having more time to devote to more extensive research about the issues I will be dealing with in Delhi, in working alongside the waste recyclers, or “ragpickers.”

On that note, let me give you a rundown of what this fellowship will entail for me [OK, I confess.. in order to save time, I’ve copied and pasted this from my profile. I promise once I’m done with this quarter, I wont recycle my own words. All will be New & Improved!]:

I will be working with Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group. Chintan’s mission is to facilitate the participation of citizens in the empowerment of their communities and to advocate for local and national policies that ensure social equity and environmental safeguarding. In particular, they are working alongside the “waste-pickers” of Delhi, to improve their inclusion in policy-making, the recognition of their labor as valuable to both the economy and the environment, and to help their children access mainstream education.

They do this in many facets, including providing informal and formal education opportunities for children that enable them to successfully transition from child laborers to full time students who have equal opportunities in life. Chintan also recently signed a new contract with New Delhi Municipal Council for waste collection in over 50,000 households which will be operated by a collective of local wastepickers.

This summer I will be in Delhi helping the organization improve its advocacy and lobbying work. I will be helping to improve their current communication materials, the use of ICT tools in their advocacy efforts, and helping Chintan network with other organizations and communities around the world that could aid them in outreach. In addition, I will be engaging in a photo documentary project called Images for Change, in which the aim is to generate a more powerful body of work for Chintan to use in gathering support for the waste-pickers. Aside from using my own photography, I will also be training some of the workers to be documentarians, so that they may have control over the portrayal of their lived realities while engaging in a therapeutically expressive process.

I am very excited to be working in Delhi this summer, since the issue of waste-recycling is not isolated to India, but is typically an ignored, but vital informal industry found throughout the developing world. Chintan’s founder, Bharati Chaturvedi, found that community-based recyclers typically dispose of up to 60 percent of the waste in Delhi. Despite this contribution, the government is pushing for further privatization of the waste management industry, a move which has deepened poverty among waste-pickers and reduced garbage collection by two thirds. As a concerned environmentalist, and with an interest in these informal economies that thrive unseen around the world, I am eager to contribute to Chintan’s mission this summer.

So that’s a quick and dirty overview for you. I know once I arrive and begin to gather information, first-hand experience, and start to dialogue with both Chintan’s staff, the workers themselves, and other citizens of Delhi, I will be able to really contextualize this issue– but for now a profile-page summary will hopefully suffice to entice your support in following along during the summer.

Also, another note while I’m thinking about links and blogs: you can follow along visually as well, since I’ll be posting my photos [and hopefully videos if I manage to get a hold of a digi-videocam before I leave] on my Flickr account.

For the time being, if you’re interested in getting some more background on the ragpickers, here and here are some great resources [the first is actually written by Bharati Chaturvedi, Chintan’s founder and director].

Oh, and be sure to also follow along with Paul Columbini, another fellow from American University that will be working with Chintan as well. I’m excited to meet him in a couple days during training, as well as to see what he accomplishes this summer.


So what’s on the forefront of my mind today? Aside from needing to visit Walgreens to fill my Methofloquine prescription for malarial meds [which I hate taking.. but then, nobody likes a girl with P. falciparum], I’m definitely thinking a lot about security and safety issues in the Delhi region.
If you haven’t heard yet, Jaipur, which lies southwest of Delhi, was the target of eight bomb blasts on Tuesday.

To prove how buried I am right now under my load of term papers and work-study, I would have never known about the bombings unless a friend hadn’t texted me– without TV, and much time to read the news, I’ve been completely out of the loop. Again, extremely frustrating..
Anyways, I immediately got caught up, and have now been following the coverage, wondering how this is going to impact everything in the next few weeks and months.

The BBC reported on the blasts, and if you’re the visual type: [youtube]GxvznyOhOHY[/youtube].

I also saw a report two days ago saying that Delhi had its own bomb scare [none were detonated, but threats were called in], although so far I haven’t heard from anyone at Chintan about it.

For now, I’m trying to watch for more news about all this, but haven’t heard or read of any more developments. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m off to D.C. tomorrow night for three days of training and meeting the 2008 AP crew– looking forward to meeting all these incredibly inspiring people!

Be well,


Posted By Mackenzie Berg

Posted May 17th, 2008

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