Letter Home from India

Namaste friends and family,

After close to twenty hours of travel, we arrived at the New Delhi Airport where we met Team India: Abid, Bhavna, Rajshree, and other staff members. From the beginning until the very end of our trip, Team India was extremely caring, candid, and protective of us all.

During that first week, we stayed for a couple of nights at the Blue Moon Hotel in Jasola. Five minutes walking distance away was the Action for Autism Center, which was one of the only centers focusing on autism in the country as well as our meeting space for lectures, guest speakers and academic related activities. Following our two nights at the hotel, we said temporary goodbyes to each other and introduced ourselves to our new homestay families. In groups of twos, threes, and fours, we were spread out in different areas all around New Delhi. Some of us had a five minute walk to the classroom while others had a thirty minute commute involving a rickshaw, metro, and another rickshaw. During our commutes, we quickly learned the initially daunting task of traveling on the metro and conquering the almighty rickshaws, both auto and cycle. Because rickshaws don’t typically travel by meter, we paid the “foreigner’s tax,” overcharged and sometimes double charged the first week until we understood how to haggle.

Outside of the classroom, Team India did not hesitate to push our limits and expand our horizons with adventures that kept us on our toes. Don’t worry, the connections and social networks of Team India meant we were always safe and had someone to contact in case of an emergency. Within our first week, we visited Rahjat, the final resting place of Mahatma Gandhi. During Neighborhood Day we were given the chance to explore the unending shops of market places as well essential businesses where we could add time to our phones, exchange and withdraw money at good rates securely, and buy toiletries. Last, but surely not least, we all took a bus to Agra on the weekend. We spent the day enjoying the Taj Mahal to its fullest in our newly acquired Indian garb.

During our second week in India, we went to Bahraich which is a rural area in the state of Uttar Praidash. To get there, we had to travel on an Indian train overnight for thirteen hours. How was it? It was a “learning experience.”

While in Bahraich, we got to participate in many exciting activities like: riding elephants; taking a boat ride on the alligator ridden Surayu River at sunset; crashing an Indian-Nepali wedding a few kilometers from the border; and most significantly, pretending to be part of a musical as we performed for 100+ Indians during the Global School of Learning’s 2nd Annual Day. However, it wasn’t all play and no work. Along with all these new and fun adventures, we also got to visit a multitude of health centers and schools that really helped us understand the dire conditions that the people, especially women and children, living in India’s rural areas face. It was both heartbreaking and inspiring for many of us to observe such injustice and poverty and it absolutely fueled the fire that power us to make a difference.

Some of us even took the experiential learning concept to new levels when we got sick and required treatment from local doctors. “Delhi Belly” definitely dampened our group’s atmosphere as many of us were worried for our health, but thankfully, our extremely well-connected, country coordinator got us quality care.

Even with all the gloom, we still saw moments of pure happiness among the locals. It was beautiful to see the schoolchildren walk by us every evening exclaiming, “Ma’am Bye” on their way home. It was inspiring to see the passion that rang among the children and people working in organizations, such as DEHAT, to make a difference and bring positive change. It was uplifting to see members of our group get better as the week progressed and rejoin our group activities. Bahraich wasn’t the most comfortable place, but it was beautiful and well-worth the experience. I’m sure that many of us left it having learned a lot about ourselves as well as public health. A hard place isn’t necessarily a bad place.

The last two weeks were spent primarily in New Delhi, India. We heard from many guest speakers who told us about the state of public health in India and how the rural and urban divide affect the country. For example, we spoke to a UNICEF worker about malnutrition in children, maternal health, and the absolute importance of women’s rights in these issues. Dr. Vir believes that under and over malnutrition can be linked back to maternal health in India. We also had the privilege of going to many site visits in Delhi. One memorable visit was at an NGO called Hope International. Hope works to give primary education to children in one of the biggest unrecognized slums in Delhi. Another example was the trip to Sulabh International. In this site visit we learned about the caste system and mechanisms in place to serve the marginalized population of the untouchables. Additionally, we learned about innovative solutions India is working on to increase sanitary and sustainable washrooms.

Finally, the last week was spent concluding our experiences, saying good bye to our home stay families and even to India itself—a country we called home for the past four weeks. It truly felt as if our time in India was too short. We will miss the bustling markets and bazaars, the spices and never-ending chai, and our new friends and homestay families. Nevertheless, we are all excited to board our plane for the second leg of our trip. Hello South Africa!

Sincerely,

Your students of IHP

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