Time has a funny way of playing with the mind. During my fellowship with Vikalp, I simultaneously felt as though the weeks were flying by and as though I had lived in India forever. Now that I am home, my time in India seems like the distant past. Perhaps this has to do with how much has changed in my life in a relatively short period of time. Before this summer, I had never been to India, Nepal, or the Asian continent. Before this summer, I had never lived in a culture so different from my own, nor had I experienced such language barriers. Before this summer, I had very little on the ground human rights fieldwork experience. When I look at it that way, I realize just how much I have changed and grown throughout the summer.
As I settle back into my life at home, and talk to family and friends about my fellowship, my brain is starting to process my experiences. I do not want to force the reflection and the learning process because I think that such things will come over time. And there is so much to learn from an experience like this that I cannot possibly realize it all in a few weeks. A few observations stick out though, and while these are just my preliminary reflections, I wanted to share them with those of you who have joined me on this journey.
The first feeling I identified upon returning home is disbelief. I cannot reconcile how these two worlds, my life in the US and my life in India, can possibly coexist. I just cannot wrap my head around it. How does such pronounced disparity between countries, and within countries, come to be? And how do we even begin to tackle such issues? I know that the answers to these questions are complicated, manifold, and outside of the realm of this blog post. But this simple question keeps popping into my head: How? How? How?
Another observation from my time in Baroda is that life in India can be extremely difficult. Yes, there is a small portion of the population that enjoys a relatively easier lifestyle due to their wealth and status in society. But for so many citizens, day-to-day life is hard and exhausting. The caste system, government corruption, and a general lack of infrastructure are a few of the contributing factors to the difficulties facing Indian society. Even though I was only there for ten weeks, I was exposed to some of these hardships in my own life there, and in the lives of people that I met.
As a result of this, I have learned a lesson or two in patience. In India, you never quite know what to expect. So you have to be flexible and able to adjust. I tend to be a person who likes to plan, but while working with Vikalp, I quickly learned to throw that out the window. This is not to say that people in India do not plan. Obviously that is a false and ridiculous statement. What I mean to say is that in India, you have to expect the unexpected.
The same can be said about working on the ground with a local grassroots nonprofit organization. Numerous times, we would plan a field visit, only to have to cancel due to extreme monsoon rains. Or the internet connection would constantly cut out over the course of the day. Or some sort of backlash against Vikalp and their programs would arise, leading to a change in the day’s plans. It seemed as though something came up everyday, and I was constantly in awe of how easily Indira and Maya could switch gears and tackle whatever obstacle came their way. While I often felt frustrated at the occurrence of these unexpected events, my hosts immediately went into problem solving mode. I can only hope to someday be able to handle obstacles as effectively and gracefully as they do on a daily basis.
My time with Vikalp has also taught me the value of alternative thinking. Coming into this experience, I tended towards a black and white view of development and the issues surrounding it. And there are still many aspects of development work that I see in terms of right and wrong, good and bad. Unfortunately, life is rarely that simple, and we are forced to think outside of the box.
The women’s courts in particular have opened my eyes and mind to the extent of alternatives available in the process of settling disputes. The political, social, and economic context, play a vital role in determining the most just and effective solution to any given problem. As such, it can be difficult to apply the same cookie cutter ideals in the cases presented to the women’s courts. The judges of these courts have an extraordinary ability to arrive at just and consensual settlements that reflect the unique situations of those involved. This has helped me to break down some of the barriers in my thinking and problem solving, and to be more open to alternative solutions. Click on the photo below to link to my AP flickr set!
As I mentioned, these are only a few of my initial thoughts and observations from my time with Vikalp. I am sure that this experience will continue to provide me with valuable insight into my career and personal life in the years to come. To wrap up my blog, I want to thank The Advocacy Project and Vikalp for giving me this opportunity. And I want to thank those of you who have joined me on this journey by reading my blog, viewing my photo and videos, and providing feedback. I am extremely grateful for this experience, and for the support that I have received throughout it. I look forward to working with AP and Vikalp in the future, and to watching as their partnership develops.
Thank you again to all of you who have read along. I wish you peace, love, and all things good.
Posted By Alicia Evangelides
Posted Aug 26th, 2012